1.Most years I write a piece in the Pewsheet in April which begins “It’s that time of year again – today we begin the annual diocesan census which takes place over five Sundays. It seems to have come round very quickly!”
This year I have to write that piece today. The diocese has brought the census forward, and it will take place from today until Palm Sunday.
I have to admit that I have made my unhappiness known. On the one hand the bishops urge us to do less bureaucracy and have fewer meetings in Lent so that we can concentrate on Lent’s spiritual imperatives. Then, suddenly, we have one of the biggest bureaucratic burdens of the year dumped on us at very short notice. But being a dutiful Incumbent, I have nevertheless alerted all churchwardens to the need to start the count from today.
In itself, it is an important exercise, designed to enable us to make sure that this benefice pays its fair share (known as ‘The Parish Share’) to the diocese. Most of the Parish Share is returned to the parishes in the form of clergy stipends, pension contributions and the cost of clergy housing. The census is being carried out in different ways in each of our churches so as to suit local circumstances. I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause, but would ask all of you to assist us in dealing with this irritating but nonetheless essential piece of church bureaucracy.
2. Lent is well underway, and the Gentlemen of the Choir are singing the Office of Compline with me each Monday after a devotional address by other members of the clergy team. This begins at 8.00 pm in the Abbey.
The addresses are trying to reflect on the passages from the First Letter of Peter being studied in the ecumenical groups. To help you prepare for the addresses, the remaining passages under scrutiny from tomorrow evening are, in order, 1 Peter 1:13-2:10, ‘Christian character and identity’; 1 Peter 2:11-3:7, ‘Christian behaviour in home & society’; 1 Peter 3:8-4:11 (selection), ‘Suffering and witness’; 1 Peter 4:12-5:14 ‘Final instructions’. You might find it helpful to bring a Bible or New Testament to the Abbey with you. But be aware: we like to dim the lights for these services, so large print will be the order of the day for most of us!
3. Every year we launch a Lent Project in support of two worthy causes, one at home and the other oversees. David Smart has produced a “colour supplement” about this which was distributed in our churches a fortnight ago. If you cannot find a copy in church, you will be able to collect one from the Parish Office.
We are aiming to support, at home, our Diocesan Mothers’ Union “Away from it all” holiday scheme, which provides holidays in Sidmouth for families desperately in need of a break, but unable to afford one. Overseas, we are supporting a USPG Scheme (United Society Partners in the Gospel) working on the tea plantations of Sri Lanka. USPG is working with the Anglican Diocese of Colombo to support its Plantation Community Development Programme, focussing on women and children in the key areas of education and healthcare.
With the “colour supplement” comes a special Lent Project envelope which allows UK taxpayers to Gift Aid their contributions. These envelopes can be added to all church collections or placed in the Abbey alms boxes. Non-taxpayers should use the same envelope, please, but there is no need to complete the details on the front. If you cannot find a special envelope, any of our regular Gift Aid envelopes will do. Just write LENT PROJECT on the front.
4. Looking further ahead to Holy Week, there will be our traditional evening of music and readings on Monday 15 April, starting at 7.00 pm in the Abbey. The Abbey Choir will sing and I will be reading. This is a much-loved and popular devotional occasion.
The next day, Tuesday 16 April, there will be a special evening with Professor Dr. Valdis Teraudkalns, of the Theology Faculty at the University of Riga, Latvia. It was Valdis who invited me to Riga to give two lectures at the university in 2016. Since then, having become an Anglican and part of the congregation of our sister church, St Saviour’s, he has been selected for training for the ordained ministry, and will be spending Holy Week with us on placement. I asked him if he would give us a talk during Holy Week, and he is taking as his title The Via Dolorosa from a Latvian perspective. This will take place in the Church Hall rather than the Abbey and, like Monday’s event, will begin at 7.00 pm. It should last for about an hour.
I very much hope that this will be well-supported. It will strengthen our link with St Saviour’s and be an important part of Valdis’ training for ministry at St Saviour’s. I propose having a retiring collection, as this will help to offset Valdis’ travel costs.Might I suggest £5 per head, the same as a ticket to an Insight lecture? If that is more than you can afford, please do not let that prevent you from coming. All donations, large and small, will be most welcome.
5. I now have four adults exploring with me being confirmed at Holy Trinity, Weymouth, at 10.00 am on Sunday 19 May.There will not be a Confirmation at the Abbey until 2020, and in any case to travel to another church is precisely a reminder that we are not confirmed into membership of the Abbey or any other of our churches, but into full adult membership of the whole Church of God. If you are interested and would like to discuss this further, please talk to me soon, or telephone me on 812452 or email me at email@example.com – or speak to any of the clergy.
There are no “classes” involved, as adults are all starting from different points on their spiritual journey – and also have very different timetables meaning that it is easier for them to see me individually at mutually convenient times. I am giving them all a very accessible book of essays to read, edited by Caroline Chartres, the wife of the former Bishop of London, entitled Why I am still an Anglican. Contributors include the novelists P D James and Fay Weldon, High Court Judge Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, biologist Dr Rupert Sheldrake, John Stott, doyen of the Evangelical wing of the CofE, and the irrepressible editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop. Candidates come back to me when they want to react to something they have read. Want to join in? Contact me soon.