Rector’s Report for the Annual General Meetings of Cleobury Benefice

EASTER 2022

Easter is of course the moment when the Church proclaims the Resurrection at the heart of its Gospel with most vigour and joy. Once more with the impact of world events laying heavily on our community I have taken liberties with the reporting period of this statement and have taken us up to the celebration of Easter Day itself on the 17th of April 2022. The day itself was in contrast to the restrictions of the year before. Our celebrations of Holy Week resembled previous pre-pandemic years, for example in contrast to 2021 we were able to sing in church and of course in 2020 our buildings had been closed for worship. The only remaining vestige of pandemic conditions was the retention of communion in one kind. The day felt like a moment of great spiritual importance and happiness and attendance numbers were good across the Benefice. Early indications appear to suggest this reflected a trend across England and therefore a moment of hope for the national church.

This is a good thing as it seems to me that in the last twelve months the leadership of the Church of England has existed in a state of anxiety with elements of denial. Dramatic actions in terms of pastoral re-organisation in some dioceses have been presented as part of an ideological master plan in elements of the media, rather than the simple consequences of financial strain that they are. The Diocese of Hereford has taken the approach of encouraging its laity and clergy to wait on the times, and see what will happen, although the financial pressures on it are real. I strongly believe that this is a strategy of waiting on God rather than inaction. In the course of the year we have had a new Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev’d Sarah Brown added to our leadership team.

As the pandemic subsides for the moment a second major crisis has struck the world with implications for life in Cleobury Benefice. From the 24th of February the aggression of the Russian Federation and its President against the people of Ukraine has brought great power war back to the European continent for the first time since 1945. Untold suffering has been inflicted on the innocent and millions of refugees have been driven from their homes, the first of whom we expect to welcome into Cleobury as I write. As in the pandemic, as in the setting up and running of foodbanks in the increasing crisis of poverty, so in the reception of refugees local congregations have been central in their communities to practical expressions of the Gospel in working for the common good. Wider society is increasingly taking notice of Christian initiative in all these areas.

It seems to me that in the Benefice we need to press on with hope in all that we do. We are encouraging yet more diversity of worship, our home groups are lively, our relationship with SMYP is fruitful, we have achieved great things like the new access path in Doddington. We are beginning to talk to our communities and ask of them what it is they want from their church, not the building but the fellowship. Our life contains many seeds of hope for the future. We look forward to celebrating the glorious Platinum Jubilee of our Queen Elizabeth in June. None of this potential would exist without the hard work of my clergy and reader colleagues, our churchwardens, PCC members, musicians, ringers, servers, cleaners, flower arrangers, pastoral care group members and everyone else, to whom I can only offer heartfelt thanks, and the promise to continue to do my best to serve you in our mutual pilgrimage with the risen Christ.

God bless,

Ashley