We’ve had another theft from the church. Someone stole February. I remember when and where I last saw it, but it seems to have vanished. I’ve been really busy working on plans for the new Greater Dudley Deanery, of which we are now part, and looking forward to some kind of return to some new kind of normality, making plans for the future. Whilst my back was turned, February just went.
I’m sure you’ve had plenty of times when you just wondered where the time went. Bizarrely, lockdown days can go on and on, but weeks and months can pass without you really noticing. Well, there’s soon to be an end to all that.
I was always taught to plan for the best and prepare for the worst. During the past 12 months we’ve proved that we can make it through the worst; what remains a challenge is to make the best of what comes. Now is the time to be planning for the best, and actually that’s what has occupied me during February.
For most people in the church, I expect, the deanery is somewhere out of sight over the horizon, not really impacting on the life of the parish or its members. Deaneries used to be much more influential, but for various reasons they lost their traditional roles and significance. With the reorganisation of Worcester Diocese, agreed last year, the Deanery takes on a new form, and with it the opportunity for an expanded role. With a larger group of parishes, the new Greater Dudley Deanery offers the ability to create better and more local opportunities for training and support for parishes. The aim of the Deanery is to help the parishes deliver the Diocesan Vision – to be Kingdom People. There will be a Deanery Leadership Team (of which I’m a part) so that the work of the deanery is spread more evenly. There are hopes to grow deanery networks, for ALMs, children’s workers and so forth; plans for training; and support for PCC treasurers, secretaries and administrators; overall for fewer meetings and for more events which support our shared mission.
At St Thomas’, two exciting project groups are planned for 2021 that will demonstrate our commitment to building God’s Kingdom here in Stourbridge, with repercussions that could spread to the four corners of the earth.
The first group of projects relates to climate change and reducing our carbon footprint. In February, the General Synod (the church’s national parliament) declared that the Church of England would become ‘net carbon zero’ by 2030. This is a prophetic call to the church and to the country, but it is also extremely challenging. The Mission and Social Concern Group and the Fabric Committee have been discussing what we can do for some time.
Fabric Committee are in discussion with experts about how best to heat the church. Clearly our existing heating system isn’t up to the job and something radical needs to be done. This work is an element of our thinking as part of Project 300 – getting St Thomas ready for the next 100 years, as we celebrate its Tercentenary in 2027. It makes sense to be thinking not just of a warm building, but of a warm building free of fossil fuels.
The Mission and Social Concerns Group are looking to the COP26 governmental climate conference in November and we’re thinking of a ‘ClimateFest’ to raise awareness of the issues for us and for the developing world, in the run up to the conference. It’ll be a festival because there’s lots already being done that we can celebrate. There’s lots that everyone can get involved in, and every small contribution will be important in resolving this issue.
The second group of projects will come sooner, but we don’t know when. Financially supported by Dudley Borough Council, the ‘As-One’ project is a series of events to help the community recover from the pandemic. You will, when the time is right, see banners with the ‘As-One’ logo appearing all over the borough. There will be events to help people process their experience of the pandemic, opportunities to share ‘How was it for you?’ And opportunities to express gratitude to those who were at the front line. Then there is a hope that we can build on the neighbourliness of the first lockdown by creating ‘Street Associations’ where neighbours can organise to form relationships with others that can overcome distrust, loneliness, vulnerability and all sorts of other issues prevalent in our community. Churches of all denominations, and other faith groups, will provide venues for the banners, experiences and the first meetings of the associations. We can make a real difference for our community.
Of course, there are no guarantees. Another wave of virus mutations could put all our plans on hold. We’re planning for the best; but we’ll be ready if it’s the worst. The months are flying by and there’s no time to lose. We want to be ready for ‘As-One’ to capitalise on the moment when community can be built, when it comes. We want to be proclaiming a hopeful message, a celebratory message, that whatever may have gone before, working together there will be a fuller, more abundant, more joyous life to live. This is what you are a part of, as a member of St Thomas’ Church, and I hope that you will be excited by it, and put whatever you have into making it a success building up our church, community and the Kingdom of God. With every blessing
The ‘As One’ group will need creative people and hospitality people, so if you’re interested in getting involved, contact Andrew. More information at as-one.uk.