It was announced yesterday, Sunday 9th February 2014, that I am to become the next Vicar of St Mark’s Grenoside – in addition to being the Vicar of St Saviour’s High Green. There is some technical and ecclesiastical language involved “the appointment to be held in plurality with the benefice of St Saviour’s High Green”, but essentially it is a situation in which I become the vicar of two churches.
There is a context to all of this. Martin Kilner, the former vicar of St Mark’s, retired in October 2012, and tragically died just a few months ago. I am very aware that he was much loved by the people of Grenoside. After he left the parish it became clear that the Diocese could not appoint someone to the parish because of wider issues of lack of stipendiary clergy and financial considerations. The Diocese has to have a strategic perspective for providing ministry across the whole of South Yorkshire. However, this news was inevitably received with great sadness in Grenoside, and some degree of anger.
St Mark’s and St Saviour’s are both part of a mission partnership in north Sheffield, along with St John’s Chapeltown and St Mary’s Ecclesfield. This is part of a wider development in Sheffield Diocese, and in many other Dioceses too, to find ways to embrace the theological and practical dimensions of partnership working, whilst also responding to the reality of reduced stipendiary clergy numbers and limited finance. The local cluster of churches has some good history behind us and the clergy are already functioning as a team. The approach behind all of this is to grow relationships and partnerships organically, not to move towards legal reorganisation too quickly.
The appointment of myself as vicar to the two parishes makes sense in this wider context. Of course, in rural areas there are stipendiary clergy who have responsibility for large numbers of churches – there is nothing new in this sort of development.
There will be many practical issues to be considered in the coming weeks and months. No decisions have yet been made about how we will sort out services etc. This will be negotiated between the two churches, especially through the wardens and the PCCs. However, I will continue to live in the Vicarage in High Green. A date for the institution will be sorted soon; I anticipate that it will probably be just after Easter, so round about the end of April or beginning of May. Of course there is no extra salary involved for me; clergy are paid a stipend, that it is a living allowance – and long may that continue. We don’t minister with a profit margin in mind!
I hope that all of this can be seen as a real moment of opportunity whereby both churches will begin a new chapter which is full of possibilities for furthering God’s kingdom, not least through the wider context of the mission partnership with Chapeltown and Ecclesfield. Additionally, I hope that this news will be seen as ushering in a period of comparative stability for the future of both churches.