Every time we see the news on television, it can feel like we are being shown cuts in services in order to save money. This is being done by Government, local councils and various groups as our county struggles to reduce our national debt.
Sadly, it seems that the Church of England is having to do the same. There are two problems. Firstly, there is a loss in our income across the country that is putting pressure on clergy numbers. Secondly, there are fewer stipendiary (paid) clergy than there used to be. Consequently, when a church loses its vicar it is quite possible that it won’t be able to have a replacement. This has already happened to our friends at St Mark’s Grenoside, one of our neighbouring parishes and part of our mission partnership, or cluster, of four churches.
The Bishop has asked the Deanery, our local grouping of Anglican churches to come up with proposals for new patterns of ministry including sharing stipendiary clergy. Unfortunately, the latest version of this proposes that our cluster (St Saviour’s High Green, St Mary’s Ecclesfield, St John’s Chapeltown and St Mark’s Grenoside) are to have only two vicars by 2019. Just two years ago we had four, now we have three and the plan suggests that we have just two in six years’ time. The plan also seeks to encourage us to develop more lay ministry, to seek out more Self Supporting Ministers (unpaid vicars) and to review all of our activity so that we can focus on mission.
It will be very hard to achieve this. However, the proposals are based on hard reality and will require solid argument if they are to be resisted. Simply not liking what appears to lie ahead of us is not going to be sufficient; any alternative plan will need to be carefully and realistically argued.
In the meantime, perhaps all Christians in this area of Sheffield need to prayerfully reflect upon our priorities and how we can be part of the answer to the challenges that face us. Most of all, we need to pray that the spiritual temperature of our churches will be raised and that people will find our gatherings places of light, love and grace in Jesus Christ.