Thought for the month
A review of 2016.
The Annual Parochial Church Meetings in our five parishes took place during April and we include here Revd Becky’s review of 2016.
It was a year of celebrations. First there was Revd Janice Macdonald’s priesting last June where we celebrated her continued journey as an ordained minister amongst us. Also that month we celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday. The street party outside the Rectory gathered together over 200 children. Next there was the special service of celebration to mark Revd Derek Spears' 40 years in ordained ministry. And then in the autumn we celebrated with Margaret Davison as she was licensed at Christ Church Cathedral as a Lay Minister and the celebrations continued the next day with a wonderful benefice service and lunch.
Later that same month we were joined by the Bishop of Reading for a benefice service of Confirmation at St Mary’s Beenham where 13 people from our churches were confirmed. So much to celebrate – and all in one year!
In addition to these big and obvious celebrations there was much to celebrate about the on-going ‘ordinary’ life of the benefice.
The main area of progress was with our children’s work. There was a very high number of baptisms last year – 39 in total – and this alongside the continuing success of Noah’s Ark and Messy Church gave us every opportunity to make connections with an increasing number of children and families.
It was timely that Cara Smart took on the role of Benefice Children’s Work Co-ordinator last year and she has done a wonderful job of helping us to move forward in this area. Beenham and Aldermaston have continued to offer special children’s activities on Sunday mornings once a month, in addition to popular family services. But at Beenham the children have to squash into the vestry for this and at Aldermaston it is only thanks to the generosity of Cedars School that we can accommodate such activities. Both churches have an urgent need for their building projects to get underway.
In our relationship with our church schools I would particularly like to thank our foundation governors for the vital role they play along with the clergy and others in encouraging and deepening the links between the schools and our churches. Clergy are actively involved with four schools in the benefice, leading acts of collective worship, hosting school visits and services in our churches; and at Brimpton, Aldermaston and Woolhampton sitting on governing bodies. We also very much value our relationship with Elstree School who continued the regular pattern of weekly worship at St Peter’s Woolhampton.
Last year also saw further developments with our pastoral training team led by Revd Pat Bhutta. In addition to important work on safeguarding and vulnerable adults we continued our exploration of dementia care and how to meet the spiritual needs of those who can no longer get to church. Home communions were taken by clergy and laypeople across the benefice and the informal monthly communion at Watermill Court continued throughout the year. The café church at St Matthew’s, now in its second year, and the tea party at Aldermaston which has been going for many years, continued to offer a welcome meeting place especially for those who live alone.
There were many community and fund-raising events hosted by our churches last year – barn dances, concerts, quizzes, organ recitals, pig racing (!), fetes… At a very rough calculation I reckon we raised over £10,000 through these events. In many ways it is wrong that we have to work so hard just to keep our six historic buildings standing, but the positive side of this is that it encourages us to put on events which get people together and build up the community life of our villages. The amazing thing – and this is huge credit to all involved – is that in addition to this fundraising we have contributed a record amount to charities over the past year supporting the work of The Children’s Society, Christian Aid, West Berkshire Foodbanks, and the Royal British Legion to mention just a few.
Our connections with the wider community have continued to be supported by the publication and distribution of our magazines, the Weekly Notes and our well used website. Our thanks go to Brenda Scott our benefice Administrator, to Bill Scott, Sarah Henderson, Charles Davison and Nick Humble for the work they have carried out through 2016 on all our publications and website. Mention must also be made of the generous work of all our volunteers who distribute the magazines to every household in the benefice.
Of course the inspiration and motivation behind all of this activity is our desire to grow in love for God and neighbour and so the spiritual life of the benefice is the centre of everything we do. In addition to Sunday worship our spiritual life has been encouraged throughout the past year through the usual pattern of prayer in the benefice, our monthly Thursday service of Holy Communion which has continued to grow in numbers, our homegroups, the popular benefice Quiet Day in October and the Dwelling in the Word group. Our worship has been enriched by the Taizé music group led by Revd Derek Spears and it was lovely to have our choirs ‘from scratch’ at Brimpton and Beenham for our carol services.
It is no coincidence that this benefice has seen so many people confirmed over the past few years and it is our on-going commitment to open-hearted, gracious, ‘real life’ Christianity that is the vital foundation of everything we do.
And what about weddings I hear you ask? We’re well known as a benefice for the number of weddings and blessings we conduct – and last year we had a similar number to recent years. But what strikes me as I reflect on 2016 is that the weddings no longer dominate what we do, they complement and enrich everything else. This is thanks to our excellent team – wedding co-ordinator Samantha Cave, our clergy, especially Revd Chris Stott, and our brilliant wedding vergers who work together in such an exemplary way. What a privilege it is to minister to so many couples and welcome them into the church to begin their married life.
I want to finish by saying a huge thank you to everyone who supports the work of our churches. There is a behind the scenes army of volunteers – unlocking the churches, flower arranging, cleaning, cutting the grass, fundraising, bell-ringing, distributing the parish magazines… the list goes on and on. Thank you for helping to keep our parish churches open and welcoming for all.
Rev Becky Bevan, Rector