In September of this year I was delighted to take part in a special service with the Bishop of Coventry. Before I came to Hockley Heath and Packwood I was the curate at St.Andrew’s Eastern Green in Coventry Diocese. A curacy is part of a priest’s training and lasts for three years. In my first year as a curate I learned all the basics of priestly ministry, for example how to lead Sunday worship and how to preach. I also gained my first experience in presiding at baptisms and funerals. In my second year I added a number of other things to my skill-set, for example presiding at weddings.
The vicar of the parish, Greg Smith, was responsible for my training. He had had a vision for a number of years to reach out to a neglected part of his parish. In the 1980s, two decades before Greg arrived to be vicar of Eastern Green, a large housing estate had been built which fell within Eastern Green parish. It was on the edge of the parish however, a mile and a half from the church, and was much closer to the parish church of Allesley. Moreover, the estate was named Allesley Green, which would lead the new residents to believe that they lived in Allesley Parish. When the new estate was built, Eastern Green church made no attempt to connect with the residents as they moved in. As a result, hardly anyone who lived in Allesley Green came to St.Andrew’s.
A long time before I arrived in Eastern Green, St.Andrew’s PCC decided that when they finally got their curate, one of their aims would be to start a new work in Allesley Green. To this end the Diocese bought a curate’s house in Allesley Green, so that the new curate would be part of the community they were aiming to reach. And so part of my first few months as a curate were spent building a team that would launch a church-plant in Allesley Green. We obtained permission to use a hall in Park Hill School one Sunday a month; the school were delighted to be able to take part in this community project. I was building a relationship with the school by going in to lead assemblies and by being a school governor.
The church plant was called St@PH, which stood for St.Andrew’s at Park Hill. We conducted our first service on September 23rd 2007. Very soon we moved from once a month to twice a month. Once I was priested we incorporated communion services into our worship pattern. So that St@PH would continue for the long-term, my last year as a curate was spent planning for my departure; lay people from the St@PH team were trained up to lead worship and to preach. By the time I left we had clocked up over seventy St@PH services.
In June of this year I received an invitation to take part in St@PH’s tenth birthday celebrations on September 17th with the Bishop of Coventry. It was gratifying to know that something I had helped to start had continued to flourish, and it was good to meet again with team-members and parishioners who had been there with me from 2007 to 2011.
There are a number of things that I want to draw from this experience. Firstly, we are none of us indispensable. Yes, I started St@PH, but any other curate could have done so, it just so happened that I got my curacy at Eastern Green. People had done the groundwork for St@PH years before I arrived. Greg Smith, the vicar, was key in making sure that people were trained up before I left; without his vision for the future, St@PH may well have folded.
Secondly, ten years does not sound that long in the context of our churches in Packwood, Nuthurst and Hockley Heath that go back centuries. And yet even in these ten short years St@PH has had to change and adapt. The original connection with Park Hill School was lost when the old headmaster retired and a new head came in who did not value the church’s presence as his predecessor had. And so St@PH moved to a new housing estate built this century on the old Massey-Fergusson site in the neighbouring parish. In addition to the celebration of ten years of St@PH, the service I was invited to was also the occasion for the commissioning of a new ordained person to lead St@PH into the future. And with this comes a new name for the church plant, St.Andy’s, because the association with Park Hill had been severed.
Jesus left this world after three years of training his disciples. They trained others, and down the centuries the Christian church has thrived and grown under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It would be good to reflect on this in our two parishes, to continue to train up people to share in ministry, and to remember that we will pass this work on to others in the future. I pray that we will be able to adapt to new situations. I pray that we will be faithful in this work and that we will pass the church on to the next generation in a better state than we inherited it.