I’m conscious that there has been some time since the last Vestry update. Many of the items that have been discussed have been shared with everyone—the discussion on same sex marriage in the church building, the progress with the project to repair the tower and to improve the lighting in church—but there are other matters to bring you up to date with.
As a church we are fortunate to have a number of documents and other items which are part of our heritage. A small number are on display at the front of the side aisle. With the ownership of them comes the responsibility to ensure that they are cared for properly and you may remember that Graham Roberts, who has recently retired as Regional Archivist, came last year to talk to us about how that should be done. At our request he has inspected the documents and other objects we have and has advised which ones would be suitable for transferring to the Archive Centre. The Vestry has accepted this recommendation
- the documents will be properly cared for in the appropriate environment
- they will be available for public access with any necessary supervision (probably more easily than if we kept them)
- what was happening in the church could be part of a wider picture of what was happening in the town and the relevant records will be all together
We have gifted them to the Archive Centre which means that the responsibility for their safekeeping is theirs without limiting our opportunities to access them if we need to.
Graham has told us that other paperwork and objects are likely to be of interest to the Local History section of the Ewart Library but at present we are keeping these to have a closer look ourselves and hopefully to put at least some out on display. We have some scrapbooks from the past which should make interesting viewing!
The work is not finished. There are more documents which need to be listed so that we can if necessary take advice and decide how best to preserve them for the future.
This has all taken a lot of work and the Vestry would like to express our thanks to Heather Barrington, Kim Jackson and Gill Swales for all that they have done.
You’ll recall that a good deal of work was undertaken in the Rectory during the Interregnum and we agreed with Janice that in future there would be a planned programme of regular work or maintenance. This year the outside of the windows will be painted. We are also taking advice on how a building like the Rectory can be insulated effectively and we have to recognise that sooner rather than later we will have to budget to replace the boiler.
As you know because of the unsteadiness of the central altar kneeler when people need to tread on it we have been trying out different ways to make such movement safer. There is no perfect solution and at the 8am service it still needs refining. At 11am moving the kneeler seems to work but we have to acknowledge that this is not done without effort and the Vestry would like to thank the servers who carry out this task.
Over the past months you may have been receiving requests from organisations of which you are a member in connection with the General Data Protection Regulation asking you to check the information they have, to let them know how you would wish to be contacted in the future and to give permission if they use social media to include you. The Vestry hopes to finalise the paperwork for St John’s at its next meeting and then to distribute it. Many of us will have given contact details in the past but wex
may have moved house, use a mobile phone rather than a landline or prefer to be contacted by e mail. Please do complete the form when you receive it. That will help us ensure that our details are up to date and that we contact you in the way you wish
The most important item that we have started discussing is what should be our vision for growth—not for the next 150 years, but certainly over the coming decades. If we want succeeding generations to worship here we have to think not only about the “bricks and mortar” but also about what sort of a church God is calling us to be so that we are effective witnesses.
That doesn’t mean throwing out everything we do/we are and starting again with a blank sheet. It does mean thinking about what we do that builds us up in our individual Christian lives and is a good witness to others, what we might need to rethink and what is God calling us to do that we are not doing.
This has to involve all of us. It’s not the prerogative or the sole responsibility of the Vestry but we did think it was our responsibility to start the process off. We’re not planning to do this immediately when we’re all hoping for a good summer when people want to be out and about. The plan is to start the discussions at the beginning of September and hopefully to complete them in October. The Vestry will have its usual weekend away in November when we want to spend the time concentrating on the thoughts and views we all have and on how God is guiding us.
If you have questions about any of these items please ask myself or a member of Vestry.
Acting Vestry Secretary
Vestry update – April 2016
A fuller Vestry update will appear in due course, but here are some items from the last Vestry meeting, which may be of interest.
- The new photocopier has arrived, to replace the former (second hand) one, which had provided a number of years of faithful service. Farewell, Panasonic DPC263, we will miss you. The new one, which we have purchased (cheaper than leasing, as before) does more things and will cost the same per copy (already quite competitive) as the old one. There are some differences in operation; speak to anyone in the office if you need help.
- Aberlour Trust has been in touch to thank us for the £2.1k we donated to them as a result of our Lent Appeal. This was a record sum and will be used to support their projects in D&G.
- The Choir vestry has been recarpeted, by agreement with the Wilson family, using monies from a generous legacy from Lea.
- MAP3 (Year 3 of our Mission Action Plan – St John’s equivalent of a business plan) is in course of preparation.
- We continue to receive positive comment from visitors with regard to our building being open every day and to the welcome it offers, as well as the people associated with it. See the upcoming edition of Inspires, which will contain a version of Robin’s address to Synod on the subject, entitled Ministry of Interruptions.
- Living Wage/Just Wage: see the poster on display – re an event on this subject to be held in Hamilton on 23/04/2016. There has been some comment in the press that churches (not St J’s specifically) may not be practising what they preach. We can confirm that St J’s is a Living Wage employer; a decision the Vestry took some time back.
- The First Base lunches (Second Friday of the month, from noon) have begun again in the hall. The Vestry recently reaffirmed its commitment to St J’s support of First Base. We know the need is not getting any less and First Base has now launched a project targeted specifically at those from abroad who, for whatever reason, find themselves in the Dumfries area and have no access to benefits. (See article in last month’s Diary Insert.) The support offered by so many of St J’s folk, whether in terms of donated items or attendance at, or assistance with, the Friday lunches is very much appreciated.
- Vacancy: Easter Holidays got in the way of the production of an article with regard to the vacancy which will occur when Robin and Helen depart in the summer. See previous Diary Inserts for the information published so far (mine on Robin’s retirement and an overview of procedure and the arrangements put in place in the January insert; Jim Booth’s explanation of the role of Interim Priest in the Feb/March one) and more will follow in due course. In the meantime, if you have any queries, please contact a Vestry member.
St John’s Vestry, 2016
The newly constituted Vestry (now consisting of The Rector, Annette Beagrie, Amie Byers, James Clark-Maxwell, Margaret Dobie Heather Gibbings, Deirdre Holding, Pauline Mason, Harriet Oxley Andrew Ratnam Linda Scott, Paul Tofield, along with Officers of the Vestry Alicen Byers (PVG Co-ordinator) and David Kerr (Secretary) met for its customary annual weekend away at the College of the Holy Spirit, Millport, in November. We were joined, for some of the time, by Andrew Baker, newly appointed Convenor of the Strathclyde Methodist Circuit, of which St John’s is a member, and by the Bishop. Vestry Members have said how much they value these weekends away; affording, as they do, the chance for us to get to know each other better (particularly new members) and to discuss the affairs and direction of St John’s in a more relaxed and wide-ranging way than is possible at our regular meetings.
Picture by Helen Paisley
Vestry update – February 2016
There follows the text of David Kerr’s Vestry Update, delivered at 11.00 on Sunday, 24/01/2016; including an explanation of the expected procedure and timeline for things, following the
announcement, made at all services on that day, of the Rector’s intention to retire.
“…so here’s an update on Vestry business since the last time I did this. Full Minutes become available in the Church Library once they’ve been approved at subsequent meetings and I’ll say a bit more about the Vestry update itself in a minute. Meantime, we’ve looked at…
- Finance: current liquidity is good, but there are a number of capital projects (Tower pointing, Rectory and Hall roofs) looming. Some grant assistance should be available for these various projects; they will inevitably involve us in significant expenditure, but this is not a cause for alarm. Connected with that…
- Buildings: We discussed how we access advice on our extensive and complex buildings, now we no longer have the wonderful Lea to guide us, and we have identified suitably qualified and, if I can put it this way, empathetic professionals to do so
- Events: A member of the Congregation, Chris Guthrie, with relevant professional experience has kindly offered to help with organising the many (external) events, concerts etc, which St John’s is asked to host.
- Communications: We are still – in particular – aiming to develop our use of Social Media. You’ll remember that, at the AGM, the Vestry agreed to review the Magazine. We did that and we also spoke with one or two individuals who had raised issues. The result was that we enthusiastically approved, as, according to the feedback we have had, do the majority of its readers, its quality and content, but we also decided to experiment with providing some extra space in the monthly Diary for more time sensitive items, or those of more internal interest than are considered appropriate for the Magazine itself.
- Pastoral: The Vestry welcomed the development Sarah Clark-Maxwell’s Lay Ministry role in pastoral care; that a very successful Healing Prayer Ministries Taster Day had been held in November; that a further such day was planned; also that the idea of ‘pastoral care by phone’ was being considered as an addition to that already provided.
- Library: Winifred Wilson continues to do a great job looking after the Library, but under difficult storage and display conditions. A group will look at how things might be made easier in due course.
- Reordering: It was noted that various people are finding the transition to the use of the chairs and the Nave Altar challenging, but are generously making an effort to try things. There has also been a lot of positive comment received about the experimentation – for that’s what it is – and also about the Baptism recently performed with the temporary Baptistry. Following the Healing Prayer Ministries Taster Day, several members of the Congregation had provided personal testimonies of how it had impacted on them and this, too, had been very positively received. Incidentally, there will be a Special General Meeting, scheduled for 24/04/2016 to consider the feelings of the Congregation as a whole about the various experimental forms of worship we have been trying.
- Helping Others: It was noted, with approval, that the Pastoral Team has been providing occasional support to families in need, separately from our regular support to First Base and the like. The principle was that we would do what we could, when we could do it, but that that might not be in every case. The Vestry reaffirmed its support of the work carried out by members of St John’s in support of First Base and of the bona fides of that organisation.
- Welcome, Integration etc: Following attendance by some members of the Congregation at a Welcome, Integration and Numerical Growth Strategy (WINGS) training day at St Silas’, Glasgow, a few weeks ago, various matters are being considered, including
- Laminated cards for visitors, many of whom have little or no church experience, explaining what happens, ‘how it all works’ etc. These are now available and any feedback on how useful – or not – the card is, would be appreciated.
- We are looking at the provision of an electronic noticeboard (possibly a surplus computer, adequately secured and protected) in the porch or at the rear of the church
- Including more of our children and young people in day to day church activities, such as stewarding, reading, intercessions etc. Some of you will have been present at the play that was performed at the 11.00 Service on Sunday, 20 December, involving members of the Congregation with a fairly wide spectrum of age and you may have noticed the presence of one of the younger Messrs. Clark-Maxwell amongst the Welcomers this morning. Those involved in Youth Work suggest that more young people would be likely to attend St John’s if they were given things to do – if they were welcomed and involved, in fact – as the current culture does not lend itself to ‘sitting through’ things. In this context, Alternative provision; known as ‘Fresh Expressions’ or ‘Messy Church’ has led to spectacular growth in churches of many sorts and in different parts of the U.K. Such provision would be in addition to, not instead of, our current provision.
Finally, and rather briefly, [believe that if you like! – Ed] for the moment, I need to tell you about a meeting the Vestry had with the Bishop yesterday. You’ll mostly be aware that Robin is approaching 65, though that, as they say, is merely a number and is belied by the energy and enthusiasm he continues to bring to being Rector of St John’s. That job, though, is enormous and, in many ways, bears little resemblance to how it was ten years ago, when he arrived; still less that of twenty or thirty years ago. You will have guessed, by now, if you hadn’t already, that Robin is proposing to retire; and that that will be at the end of June this year.
The first thing is to reassure you that he is not ill; nor is there any other negative reason for his retirement. He wishes, as we all would wish for him, to be able to enjoy his retirement, Helen’s retirement, their grandchildren and all the normal things, while they are both still fit and healthy.
The second thing is that, inevitably, people retire, or move on. I wasn’t at St John’s in those days, but I know that there have been times in the past where these transitions have happened in sad, or unplanned, circumstances. But this is something that Robin has planned, after consultation with Helen, the Bishop and others; and there is evidence that God has been planning this, too. What do I mean by that? Well, consider, firstly, the strength of St John’s position: we are a viable, active, diverse congregation, which has experienced competent, pastorally and spiritually sensitive leadership for the past ten years. We have a Vestry which is an elected spiritual eldership and a supportive Bishop and Diocese. It won’t be an overnight process to find a new Rector. But there are recognised structures in place to help charges deal with the situation. More about those in a minute. In the meantime, I was talking about God’s planning. In the past year or two, our already generous allowance of retired Clergy has been added to by the arrival of Hamilton and Grace and by Jim and Carole Booth all of whom have been with us for well over a year. This means we have a wealth of experience and spiritual and pastoral depth to draw on meantime. God’s provision. And it means we don’t have to rush out and collar the first person with a collar that we see.
Let me say a bit more about the protocols and so on that are in place to keep us on track in the absence of a Rector. I’m not going to go in to the Chapter & Verse of this just now, or we’d be here all day. That detail will come later and is governed by the 2010 Constitution and the rules and procedures of the Diocese and Province.
Firstly, Robin will still be with us for the next few months. His last weekend with us is expected to be 25/26 June. There’s more detail and a rationale for this, but I’ll save that meantime.
Secondly, it falls to the Bishop to appoint an Interim Priest, after consulting the Vestry. What it says is, ‘The Bishop appoints the Interim Priest to keep a watching brief with the Vestry during a vacancy. The priest is there to offer advice to the Vestry as issues arise in the ordinary life of the charge and may need to deal with pastoral emergencies…. It is expected that the Interim Priest would be the first point of contact for funerals, marriages and other occasional offices. The priest may decide to officiate at these or to delegate them to another priest.‘ The Vestry felt that Jim Booth, who has been amongst us for some time and has contributed to the development of healing prayer ministry would be a good person to fulfil this; Jim has indicated a willingness to do so, and the Bishop will shortly formally confirm this.
The Interim Priest is not expected to chair the Vestry. The Vestry has meantime agreed that James Clark-Maxwell will do this, and that Heather Gibbings will be his depute.
So that’s how we keep the lights on and the services happening with no Rector.
The procedure for appointing a new Rector is governed by the 2010 Constitution, so may vary from what people may remember from last time.
Within a reasonable period (and we have provisionally agreed with the Bishop that that would likely be in June), we have to hold a Special General Meeting at which 7 constituent members of what I’ll call a Vacancy Committee are elected. In many charges, this is the Vestry; here there can be an overlap to a greater or lesser extent, but the only actual requirement is that members be constituent members of the congregation of at least a year’s standing. That committee is required to act in consultation with both Bishop and Vestry in finding a suitable candidate for recommendation to the Bishop for appointment. The Committee cannot begin to search until the existing Rector has left. A Parish Profile, describing the kind of church we are, and a Person Specification, outlining the kind of person we’re looking for, would be drawn up. The post can be advertised and it is possible, also, that the Bishop might make a recommendation (which the Vacancy Committee is not obliged to accept) if there is someone he knows of and whom he thinks might be suitable. Eventually, an agreed candidate or candidates is/are arrived at, interviewed, recommended to the Bishop and, if approved by him, appointed.
So: a likely timeline for all of this is:
- Mid-June, 2016: SGM held; vacancy committee elected
- End of June: Robin departs
- September: AGM and Vacancy committee starts its deliberations
- November: Vestry at Cumbrae and final work done on the Parish Profile and Person Specification and approval by the Bishop.
- January, 2017: Search, advertising etc begins
- March, 2017: Interviews and successful candidate appointed; likely 3 month notice period to his/her existing charge.
- June, 2017: New Rector at St John’s.
You may feel that’s a long time, but the Bishop advises, and the Vestry agrees, that it is already a fairly tight time scale to do all the things we need to do. We need to do it once, and do it right.
There’s more detail available, but I’ve kept you long enough. Just to finish; different people will have different, and complicated, emotions about this news. My personal feeling, which some, but not all of you, may share, is that I wish neither Robin nor Helen were going, but I have to recognise that everyone eventually must retire or move on and, in terms of the planning Robin has put in to this and God’s provision of so many people (and that includes each other) to look after us, this is the ‘least worst’ time for a change of Rector; it’s not a disaster and we mustn’t make them feel it is; we need to release them with our blessing, with our thanks for the past ten years and to wish them every blessing in the next stage of their life together.
The Vestry – any of us – can answer any other immediate queries you may have.”
Vestry Update: June, 2015
Let’s see if this is shorter than my effort in February! There’s still a lot going on …
I’ve missed out most of the stuff about drains and the like. As you know, we do look at that kind of thing, but the main work of the Vestry is as an elected spiritual leadership of St John’s, so that’s what I’m going to concentrate on.
Since February, we have been looking at …
- Health & Social Care Integration: As you will be aware there’s a big national shake-up of how the NHS, social work and the so-called Third Sector (which includes charities, such as churches) all fit together and how they can work better together. There does seem to be proper account being taken of how important an asset churches are to these plans. Despite the newspaper stories about people not being allowed to wear crosses at work and so on, churches are being taken seriously in this. And we are in a fortunate position, having Robin, whose particular interest is in the interaction of medical and social care, as well as James, Gordon and most recent arrivals, Hamilton and Grace; all of whom have a wealth of relevant expertise. ‘Spiritual Care Giving’, as it’s officially called, is now recognised as a major plank of personal care and gives us the chance to serve others beyond the traditional evangelical model. And you’d have to say, looking at the people we have, and the new people we’re being sent, that it looks as if God is expecting us to address this whole thing in detail. So we’re looking at the ways we might do that.
- Service to the Community:
- First Base: On a fairly crude calculation, St John’s has provided well over £3,000 worth of food to First Base over the past year, as well as the funds raised by the Soup Lunches. There are other food banks setting up in town and who are collecting in supermarkets and the like. We looked at all of these and have come to the conclusion that FB are both the most locally-based organisation with the ethos that is most in tune with our own; also that those who need to use the services of food banks locally find that FB’s parcels are more accurately designed to meet their needs. So the plan is to continue to support FB, though we will be keeping under review how we do that. In the meantime, Pauline & Annette are very appreciative of people’s donations; we ask you to please keep them coming.
- Dumfries Northwest: We have had meetings & discussion with the Revd. Neil Campbell, as to how we, as a congregation, might build links with them and support the very valuable work they do, both in north west Dumfries and in addressing poverty generally. There are various possibilities for this, but maintaining anything that we start is the important thing. If there’s something you’d like to help with, Ruth McLellan or Kalpana Ratnam are your women.
- Bethany Homeless Drop-In Centre: This work continues to be supported by Linda Scott and by Raymond. As founder donors to the original CCH project, we have also been involved in the questions relating to the proposed winding up of CCH and the transfer of the Whitesands building to Bethany, whilst seeking to protect the original charitable purposes of the gift. That one is still in the process of negotiation, and we have been grateful to have the advice of the Diocesan Registrar.
- Faith in Older People (FIOP) and the Dementia Pilot: We have had meetings with Jenny Henderson, and FIOP about running a pilot here to help assess whether we are a dementia-friendly church. Essentially, this needs some people from the congregation, who feel a prompting about it, to undertake some training and then have a look at how we might adapt what we do to make St John’s a more welcoming place for those with dementia. We are already some way down this road and FIOP report that the project has stimulated five other churches to express interest in joining. More about this in the autumn.
- Charitable Giving: St John’s continues to spend at least 10% of its income in our own charitable giving. Deirdre Holding is overseeing that. The Bishop’s Lent Appeal this year raised over £3,000 from St John’s, in support of the Scottish Episcopal Institute, the new Theological College.
- Children & Youth: We are continuing to support the Dumfries Youth Choir and also the Drop In, on a Wednesday afternoon, for S1 pupils and above, that’s being run by Alicen and Sue St Joseph.
- Safeguarding: In connection with both our work with children & young people and with the elderly or vulnerable, it’s worth mentioning Safeguarding. Protection of Vulnerable Groups is the generally accepted term for this, and there is legislation to comply with. Alicen is our new PVG co-ordinator and she has been seeing to that. At St John’s, we prefer the more blanket idea of Safeguarding, as, for us, it is more about the care we provide for everyone, rather than just keeping the right side of the law. There have been recent training events both here at St John’s, where about 30 people attended, and a more recent one in Paisley, to which some of us went. The general idea is that any of us might be vulnerable in a given situation. I might not be vulnerable most of the time, but as soon as I’m in a Doctor’s surgery, or am ‘lifted’ by the police (as they say in Dundee), I, too, am considered potentially vulnerable. So as many of us as possible need to know about this and it’ll be announced, from time to time, as further sessions become available. Anyone carrying out what is called ‘Regulated Work’ with the church (includes clergy, those working with children or formalised visiting, such as Home Communions and the like) has to be PVG checked and to join the PVG national scheme. I should say, also, that the Scottish Episcopal Church has introduced the concept of ‘Position of Trust’ for people, such as Vestry members, finance people and the like, who are not covered by the PVG scheme as such, but of whom we must keep a record and have them sign a declaration that they have no convictions for dishonesty, etc. That’s a quick zip through a rather complicated area. Ask Alicen, Robin or me if you want to know more.
- Art Installations: the stars at Christmas time; the Tongues of Fire at Pentecost. The Vestry has been receiving a lot of positive comment about these. They are building on the tradition that the Scottish Episcopal Church has for using art to stimulate; not merely communicate.
- External Communication: As you know, Mike Tyas had a part-time stipendiary role with us for a few months, during which he managed to get us more traditional press coverage, help update our thinking with regard to the website, got us to dip a toe in social media and the like. Although he has moved to Scarborough, the Vestry has agreed to use him as an occasional consultant and ‘critical friend’ for the website and our other external communications.
- We have kept the part-time stipendiary posts under review. I have been trying to catch up with volunteers such as the Holy Dusters, a lady called Sue Plunch and the array of people involved in arranging and providing the hospitality that St John’s offers; conveying the congregation’s appreciation for what they do and trying to ensure that they are doing so under the least possible stressful conditions, and with the right facilities. Peter and Lauren Johnson, between them, have made a noticeable difference to the appearance and facilities of our buildings and I’ve already mentioned the art installations of Simon; as also his various forms of outreach work. We may need, in time, to fund a part-time Pastoral Care role (that’s distinct from my Pastoral Administration job; more to do with hospital visiting, home communions and the like) and an Events Co-ordinator. As it is, we are more or less fighting off the groups who want to put on concerts and events at St John’s. We could do with someone to strike a balance between making the space available and having too many money changers and pigeon sellers.
- Finance: The more time goes on, the more apparent it becomes how much Lea did and how much he had at his fingertips and in his head. In the meantime, we are very grateful to Carol as Finance Officer, Ian Livingstone and the Finance Committee for getting to grips with the new accounting software and for all their efforts to make things clear. There was a fairly good response to the annual Giving Review letter and we are predicted to show a small surplus this year; but there is still more we could do, so, if anyone has still to complete and return their review letter, it’s not too late.
- We have now received our Canon 35 approval from the Diocese for the removal of the front five rows of pews and the installation of chairs. We are in possession of one quote for the chairs we need and another one is on its way. The finance for this is largely in place, but the Vestry is confident that the small shortfall will be made up by the time we need it. Preparation work is expected to start over the summer.
- The St John’s Magazine: As you will have heard, this impressive magazine won the Association for Church Editors’ Silver Award recently and it has also proved to be something we can hand to visitors or enquirers with real pride to give them an idea of what St John’s is about. The magazine is offered to everyone free of charge, but those of us who receive it regularly might like to consider making a contribution to the cost of its production (maybe £10 a year?), which can be done either by means of the jars by the magazine folders, or through Carol.
- MAP: You’ll remember that the Mission Action Plan, or MAP, is effectively, St John’s Business Plan and that we are coming to the end of our second MAP year. As happened in November, 2013, the Bishop is coming to visit us for the weekend of 4 and 5 July, to help us review our activities during our MAP 2 year. This will take the form, as last time, of an act of worship, a meal and an informal discussion with, and review by, the Bishop. Everyone is invited and there will be sign-up sheets appearing shortly, whether you are planning to attend, offering to help, or wishing to showcase something that your group does.
- No shorter, was it? But, at least, if you’re not wiser, you’re better informed.
This might be a bit like one of those Christmas letters you get, which start, ‘I can’t believe it’ a whole year, since…’. But it was March of last year, when I last did one of these slots (‘could do better’, as my school reports used to say, ‘and be more regular’ as Matron used to add). So here’s a whistle stop tour of what the Vestry has been up to…
I’d thought about doing this chronologically: “In March we did this, this and this, in April, we did that, that and that”, but we would have been here all day. So, first, a brief reminder of how the Vestry works.
It’s not, as I’ve often said, a committee that just deals with drains. We are, in the Scottish Episcopal Church’s current description, an elected eldership of spiritual leaders of the congregation. So everything that we are, and everything that we do, as Vestry members is, so far as we can, with God’s help, make it discussed, processed and decided upon with careful spiritual discernment.
This has been described as ‘trying to notice what God is doing, and joining in.’ We rarely vote on things. Rather, we discuss, pray, consult with others and discuss again, by which time we have almost always reached a consensus. This takes longer, but is recognised in more places than this as a sound decision-making process; better than the “all in favour…all against” method, though sometimes we use that method, too. As you’ll see there was quite a lot of stuff going on and that there was relatively little about drains. Items tend to come up several times for consideration and discernment before they are finally decided on.
So, in no particular order…
There was a lot of discussion, consultation, including the SGM in March, and planning to do with reordering within the church. The major noticeable feature of that, was the decision (and here’s an occasion we did vote), made at the SGM in March, to apply for permission to replace the front five rows of pews with chairs and to experiment with the use of a Nave altar, including bringing the choir more into the body of the Kirk. Although that was an occasion when we did vote, that was partly because of the numbers involved and because it’s a requirement of the Diocese before we can apply for permission to do this. Various people said that the SGM was very long. As the minute-taker I was well aware of that, but we were also exercising an important principle, taught us by John Bell of the Iona Community, of the importance of allowing everyone to have their say. In the end, the vote on those two major things (chairs and Nave altar) was 60 favourable; seven unfavourable; five abstentions, from a constituency of 72.
The Magazine has been reviewed and celebrated. We talked about the following aspects:
Striking a balance between inward and outward-facing material (in other words, between things that would be of interest only to ourselves, and those with a wider appeal) and that the weekly Service Sheet has evolved to fill some of the gaps in dealing with more immediate news
Noting that it makes us look ‘like a credible outfit’
That perhaps not many people know about how to contribute voluntarily to the cost of the magazine which is deliberately provided free of charge. While the
coffee fund is well supported, maybe people are less aware of the opportunity that exists to contribute to the cost of the magazine via donations in the jars at the time of distribution or annual donations in an envelope.
External Communications: There is a growing need to communicate to the rest of Dumfries and beyond the complex organisation that is St John’s. We’re not ‘the English church’, the ‘County’ church, or some people who dress up and process about on a Sunday – but that’s still what a lot of people think. So we need to get ourselves noticed. That includes the use of social media. Lots of us, including me, don’t really ‘do’ that. But we need to beware of being like the Edwardian gentleman who wouldn’t have a telephone apparatus in his house for fear that it would enable other people’s servants to know what he was having for dinner. Anyone here have no phone at all? Are you having trouble with other people’s servants?
We looked at legacies, will planning, etc. We have been blessed a lot, in the past, by legacies left to St John’s, but we need to encourage those who are still with us (that’s you and me) to address it, too. Besides, irrespective of St John’s, we owe it to those who are close to us to have this in order. I’ve been involved in dealing with the estates of two close family members in the past few years and, trust me, at what can be a difficult time for everyone, it helps to have clear and up-to-date instructions. It inspired me to get my own will updated and to tidy up the other arrangements. It’s easy to ‘be inspired’, but I have, actually, now done this.
We considered the charities we support, including Let the Children Live, First Base, Bhopal and so on. It’s quite a complex picture that has built up over the years and we now have a Vestry member, in the person of Deirdre Holding, whose function is to have an overview of all of these; to make sure that money raised for particular causes is properly accounted for and timeously passed on to the recipients; also keep under review whom we support and whether there should be additions or substitutions. That includes accounting for the things we provide in kind, such as, for some things, free use of the hall or church building. Did you know that an additional sum, which matches at least 10% a year of the income St John’s itself receives, is raised for others?
We completed and published our second year Mission Action Plan (MAP 2), which, as you know, is, effectively, the church’s business plan. It’s a somewhat wordy document, so there’s also a digest leaflet, which sets out the main points. We had a so called MAP Facilitator; effectively a critical friend, to guide us through the process of putting the Mission Action Plan together. For several years, that was Anne Tomlinson, but she is no longer available, being now Principal of the Scottish Episcopal Institute (the new name for our Theological College which is the beneficiary of this year’s Bishop’s Lent Appeal). The Dean has been consulting about a new Facilitator for us and that should be announced shortly.
A big change at St John’s over the last year or so has been the departure of Steve Butler, our Associate Minister. In order, partly, to deal with the kinds of things Steve used to do, and to address some others, the Vestry decided that, rather than try to appoint one more or less full-time person, we would appoint a number of people to carry out various tasks on a part-time basis. One such is the job that I’m doing, one day a week, as Pastoral Administrator, doing, well, various administrative things and also, for example, beginning to meet with the large number of groups of volunteers, like the Holy Dusters, the people who deal with Soup lunches and the like, partly to express the appreciation of the rest of us for what they do, and also to see if there’s anything that can be done to make things a bit easier for them. And there’s Simon Lidwell, who is doing various forms of outreach, including some school chaplaincy; Peter Johnson, who is overseeing and carrying out various janitorial and fabric maintenance tasks; Mike Tyas, has just begun a short-term project to develop our external communications in the local press and social media (getting us noticed), and so on. Robin has talked several times about the concept of stipend and stipendiary roles, so I’m not going into that again here, but, if you want to know more, ask Robin, or me, or any Vestry member. St John’s is a big truck, and it takes a lot of people, both volunteers and stipendiary, to keep it on the road.
And we also lost our wonderful Treasurer (and he was much more than ‘just’ a Treasurer), Lea Wilson. It has taken a group of eight people to replace what he did as Treasurer:
Carol Finlay as day-to-day Finance Officer;
Deirdre Holding to look after our Charitable Giving,
William Clark-Maxwell as Chairman of the Finance Committee,
Paul Tofield looking after our complicated set of energy contracts,
Ian Livingstone acting as Consultant and advising Carol on the software we use
Muriel Jefferson, dealing with stipends and PAYE
We’re also seeking someone to oversee insurance matters
So we’re not ‘without a Treasurer’ as someone suggested to me the other day, any more than we’re ‘without an organist’, now we no longer have Tom Carrick; you’ll remember Ecclesiastes, ‘a rope made of three cords is hard to break’; we’re working towards a model where nothing is dependent on any one single person.
Bells: You won’t have failed to notice that they’re in, and they work. The Vestry is monitoring the reaction (generally pretty favourable) of the community and the arrangements for recruiting, training and managing ringers, though the day-to-day management is looked after by Debbie Johnson. There will be a formal inauguration event in due course, once all the systems are in place.
We considered, in some detail, the Cascade process (the way the Scottish Episcopal Church is responding to the questions surrounding same sex marriage) in some detail; the experiences of those attending and how the process, though considered a masterclass in how institutions approach the question, had nonetheless been hard for many involved. It had nonetheless demonstrated the principle John Bell had emphasised to us: the importance of letting everyone have their say.
We looked at questions surrounding which versions of the Lord’s Prayer might be used, and when, and how. You’ll note that both versions are printed in the liturgy booklet currently in use; the celebrant picks one introduction, but that anyone is free to use the version they prefer, with sensitivity to those round about them.
We responded positively to Dumfries Civic Pride’s proposal to site benches round the War Memorial.
Jesus’ charge to ‘go and make disciples of all people’ is interpreted, at St John’s, in our aim to be a Church for Everyone; that encompasses hospitality and ecumenical welcome to those who come here, as well as service to the community at large. Rather than going out to the High Street and telling people they’re doooooomed, St John’s is increasingly becoming involved, as are other churches, and listened to, in the field of spiritual care within the Health Service and in the integration of Health & Social care and the addressing of issues of poverty, and the Vestry is keen to resource all of that, as best we can. It’s a job for all of us.
At the same time, we are conscious of the need to care for members of our own Congregation; both in terms of their spiritual growth (House Groups, Lent Groups and the like), socialisation (hence the popularity of the soup lunches, both on Fridays and Sundays) and we are looking at a project at the moment, to make ourselves and our buildings more Alzheimer’s and Dementia-friendly. We are also considering what arrangements we might make for newcomers, and how we might better manage the transition of our children to our teenagers and beyond.
We reviewed St John’s investment policy and made a few tweaks, on the advice of the Finance Committee, to tidy it up and ensure that it complies with St John’s ethos.
We spent time designing the Review of Giving letter, which goes out annually; deciding how much information we could get in without making it unreadable.
We kept an eye on the situation to do with the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (what used to be called Child Protection, though PVG has a wider scope). Rachael Thompson Smith has been looking after that for us for several years, but she is now handing over to Alicen Byers
And, lastly, we welcomed, over a period of three or four months, our Ministry Student, Jenny Holmquist, who did a lot of very valuable work in St John’s and its community and beyond. She also provided us with a great deal of valuable insight. Following Jenny’s return to Sweden, we’re hoping to welcome Kymm Byers both to undertake some of the roles Jenny undertook but also to be co-opted on the Vestry to fill a vacancy created by Lauren Johnson taking up the role of cleaner. Kymm has already, and very competently, taken over a number of the things Jenny used to do.
We’ll try and make these updates more regular, and shorter. Sorry if some of you are sitting there, thinking, ‘I knew all of that’; compared with a lot of the places I’ve worked, and the churches I’ve been part of, I think communication at St John’s is quite good; but there’s always room for improvement, and this is an effort to address that. In the meantime, I think that’s long enough, don’t you?
David Kerr, Vestry Secretary