A View From The Park

The View from the Churchwarden's Pew

Taking the long view

Our 150th Anniversary Celebrations over, we turn our attention to the next challenge… but which one? There seem to be so many:

Having weathered 150 years on our current site the Church Building is now in need of some tender, loving care. The roof is at the end of its economic life, slates becoming detached with greater frequency, the window fixings and supporting stonework being eroded and, particularly in the depths of winter, the heating system no longer fit for purpose.

Our membership, fellowship and finances, though often fluctuating, are showing marked signs of decline as people move away from the area, die, or find it difficult to maintain their commitment due to advancing years, ill health, limited means, family issues or some of the many other pressures of everyday life. This has impacted most notably on our church finances where, unless circumstances change, we now expect to end the year with a deficit, our regular income no longer covering our running costs!

Our current position is clearly unsustainable.

And there is more. There is a lot more going on in the World, in the Church, in our Community. The rise of popularism in national and international politics, Brexit and the uncertainty it brings; National Church initiatives for Renewal & Reform, “Thy Kingdom Come”; Regionally, Transforming our Diocese and the Archbishop's 2018 Mission initiative; Locally, our own LyCiG follow up programme and the 150 plus Development project. Change is everywhere.

Fulford itself has changed and is changing… the Methodist Church has closed, the Barracks is under threat of closure and the site re-developed, and work has begun on the Germany Beck housing development.

In this, the Politicians' Party Conference Season, I am reminded of Jesus' own manifesto (Luke 4:18, echoing Isaiah 61:1) and the Great Commission he gave to his followers (Matthew 28: 16-20). It is these imperatives that are driving the need for us to change from the largely “maintenance” based church we are in danger of becoming (inward looking, re-active and using our reserves and energies to keep things going the way they were) to a “mission” focused, pro-active, outward looking, dynamic fellowship and community.

So many challenges, opportunities and options to consider but, I believe, they are all part of the one big picture and come down to the same thing: us – the people of God, the folk of St Oswald's - really being the Church in this place. Asked at a conference what his definition of Church was, Archbishop Rowan Williams replied along the lines of: “church is what happens when the impact of Christ on a situation brings two or more people together”. Robert Warren, in 'The Healthy Churches Handbook' comments, “What is surprising about that definition is what it leaves out. There is no mention here of Word, sacrament, priest, building, public worship and much else besides. But it is a mental model that gets back to the heart of what church is all about. In times of change that is vital for us to do.”

Our forebears rose to the occasion when building the new church in 1866, and again when it was destroyed by fire in 1877. Past generations have stepped up to the mark, passing on to us the land and buildings we enjoy today. Now it is our turn. Can we come together to discern the will of God for us, his church here in this place? “The goal is not to abandon buildings, priests and public acts of worship”, Robert Warren writes, “but rather to harness these valuable resources to the higher and more fundamental goal of building churches that are engaging faith communities. That is more likely to happen as we allow both our heritage of faith and the challenges of current circumstances to evangelise our mental model [of church] in such a way that we become open to new possibilities in the 'old' and in the 'new'.”

I hope and pray that we will all be able to play our part in our journey together as the future unfolds for us here in Fulford.

Bryan Milner, Churchwarden

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