Benefice Report for 2017 in lieu of Rector’s Report
As we are currently in a Vacancy due to our Rector leaving, this report has been compiled by the lead churchwardens of some of the Parishes in the Benefice. Revd Becky Bevan moved on from the Benefice at the end of July 2017 to take up a new position in the south of Newbury. She was installed at Wash Common on 4 October 2017.
2016 was seen as a year of celebration, whereas this year has been more one of consolidation and steady forward progress. Our Ministry Team continued to grow with Cara Smart, our children’s work co-ordinator, being accepted for training as a stipendiary priest and commencing her training for ordination on the Oxford Ministry Course at Cuddesdon.
The large number of special services we have had in the past few years continued to grow, with 38 Baptisms, 66 Weddings and Blessings and 37 Funerals in 2017. It is an enormous credit to our current Ministry Team that these were conducted despite our Rector leaving mid-way through the year. This considerable number of special services, whilst a challenge in some ways, provides numerous opportunities for engaging with those on the fringes of the church and a number of ideas to capitalise on this are being explored.
We continued to work with our three Church and other schools in the Benefice. Particular thanks go to our Foundation Governors for the extremely helpful role they play, along with our clergy and others, to maintain and continue building the links between the schools and our churches. It is heartening to see the numbers of parents, grand-parents and siblings attending the school services held in our churches. This provides a solid grounding of understanding for our future generations.
Our Pastoral work, led by Revd Pat Bhutta, continues to provide support for those in need and meet the spiritual needs of those who can no longer get to church. This year also saw an expansion of our Mental Health awareness initiative with the start of a monthly Walk and Talk Group. This group is specifically aimed at those who are currently or have suffered in so many ways, and their carers. The walk of an hour or so ends back at a pub for a warming drink and further chat and fellowship. There is also a small and confidential pastoral team made up of both clergy and lay members from our villages with particular gifts. All have received training in pastoral work to meet the needs of our six churches. The group have monthly meetings to hold those in need in prayer. They also carry out personal home visits to celebrate a home communion or simply have a chat to break the long periods of loneliness for those who have difficulty getting out.
When the news of our Rector’s impending departure surfaced a meeting of the churchwardens from our six churches was held. Subsequently a meeting was held with Bishop Andrew, the Bishop of Reading, when the procedure and timeframe for finding a replacement was set out. The first step was to write a Benefice Profile and a small group of one member from each parish and a member of the Ministry Team was set up to do this. A meeting of all five Parochial Church Councils was followed by a meeting with the Bishop and our six patrons, one for each of our churches. The Benefice profile was approved at this meeting. As Christmas was fast approaching it was felt that no one would be thinking of applying for a different position then so advertising the vacancy was scheduled for January. So at the time of writing this report we are still in the vacancy period and pray that someone is moved to join us and lead us in worship.
It is a huge credit to our Ministry Team, Revd Pat Bhutta, Revd Janice Macdonald, Revd Derek Spears and Margaret Davison, ably supported by Brenda Scott, Benefice Administrator, Samantha Cave, Wedding Administrator, and Cara Smart, Children’s Work Coordinator, as they have risen to the many opportunities that have arisen since our Rector left. They have adopted a ‘business as usual’ ethos with all our church services and the many Benefice activities, as detailed in the following paragraphs, continuing.
Spiritual Development alongside our Sunday Services continues thanks to the above and many others who work and offer support behind the scenes. These include: the monthly Noah’s Ark baby and toddler group which continues to flourish, as does the bi-monthly all age ‘Messy Church’; the monthly Midgham Café Church which continues to be appreciated by many who attend; the weekly week-day Benefice prayer service, which rotates around the different churches in the Benefice during the year, and the monthly week-day Benefice communion services at Midgham Church and Watermill Court.
Lent Groups were held at three different locations in the spring and a series of Home Groups in the autumn. The monthly ‘Dwelling in the Word’, a session of quiet contemplative time listening to a passage of scripture, continued. In October a successful Benefice Quiet Day was held in Cold Ash, giving an opportunity for self-reflection in different surroundings.
There were also a number of community events run throughout the year, many raising money for charity, with The Children’s Society, Christian Aid, the Royal British Legion, the Salvation Army, Water Aid, the Mothers Union and West Berkshire Foodbank being among the more prominent, with many others also benefiting. We also kept in touch with the wider community through the publication and distribution of our church magazines to every household in the Benefice, the Weekly Notes distributed to congregations at the beginning of each service and our website. Sincere thanks go to our volunteer editors and those who administer the website and to the numerous volunteers who deliver the magazines
In closing we give our heartfelt thanks to everyone who supports the work of our churches in so many hundreds of diverse ways. The army of volunteers behind the scenes, from flower arrangers to church cleaners, bell ringers to the people who unlock the buildings to grass cutters and all the people who work on the upkeep of the churchyards, the list goes on and on as do our sincere thanks for your help keeping our churches open and welcoming for everyone to enjoy. And finally, we cannot forget the sterling work of the Ministry Team. They have excelled and gone the extra mile during the vacancy period for which we all appreciate beyond doubt and are extremely grateful to them.
Brenda Scott George Dunford Charles Davison