On Christmas Eve Wentworth Church has held a carol procession by candlelight ever since I started it way back in 1992. In that year 110 people came and, evidently, enjoyed the experience because they have kept coming back, year after year. The general trend since then (except when snow and ice have intervened) has been upwards and in 2010 the attendance was 275. But this last Christmas there was an exponential jump in numbers and the church was absolutely packed (and that is not an exaggeration! We actually ended up with families turning away at the door). We counted the candles we gave out, and there were 425. Amazing! And a record for an act of worship here, surely? As well as a wonderful start for Christmas for those who came, especially for the children. £550 was donated afterwards and this was given away, as it always is, this time split 50/50 between Crisis at Christmas (who work with the homeless) and Bluebell Wood Hospice. Mark Wigglesworth, the Bishop's Evangelism Officer, says that this pattern of increasing attendances at Christmas has been typical across the diocese, and we should thank God that people of all ages seem to be feeling that there must be more to Christmas than consumerism.
Now I hope you know me well enough to realise that there always has to be a 'Yes, but'. And this has to be that, in parallel with the growth on Christmas Eve there has been a fall off in Christmas communicants (these comments don't apply to Harley, I don't have those figures in front of me). In 1999 88 people made their communion on Christmas morning whereas in 2011 that was down to only 54. Maybe this is a reflection of how our lives have changed in over a decade. More of us probably go away for Christmas, so we aren't there to attend our parish church.
However, that's a fall of 61% in communicants against which we can set a rise in Christmas Eve attendance of no less than 386%. There is a sense in which we are beginning to put the Christ back in Christmas, and maybe we can hope to put Him back also in the centre of more people's whole lives. This is what Bishop Steven has been pounding the diocese telling congregations from every parish. It is up to you to share the good news you know with those who don't. And, most important, you can do it. Growth is possible. We do not have to accept decline.
I'd like to use this year's Lent study sessions by looking together at how we, in our parish, can respond to the Bishop's challenge. And how we can try to sow the seeds of growth so that our churches aren't compost heaps, gently decaying, but allotments, full of life and new developments. We shall look together at some of the bible passages about mission, study the booklet the Bishop has produced to accompany his talks, and throw a few practical ideas around. And then I suggest that the group reports back to the PCC at their next full meeting in May.
I shall put a list out in each church to gauge interest, as much as anything to help me decide where to hold the group and, possibly, whether to have one or two of them. But, at the moment, the first is planned for the evening of Thursday March 1st. I have deliberately left Wednesdays free because Bishop Steven and his new colleague Bishop Peter will be leading special Lent groups at Sheffield Cathedral and Rotherham Minster on those nights, starting on 29th February, and beginning at 7.30 p.m. You do not require a ticket, just turn up.
Because I don't live in the village I don't always hear about people who are ill. I don't mean church members, you are always very good about that, but village residents. It would be nice to know, just in case Sylvia or I could help. So if you are aware of a person who is quite poorly, do mention it to one of us (as long as you think the individual concerned wouldn't mind of course).
As you will know, this year the usual late-May Bank Holiday is replaced by the Queen's Jubilee Weekend in early June. The village Community Association is planning celebration events on Sunday 3rd June, likely to include a tea in the afternoon and a band and bar in the evening. Partly for that reason the church's Arts Festival will take place not on the Sunday and Monday, as usual, but on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th, both of which are Bank Holidays. Because there is a wedding on Sunday after lunch most of the setting-up will have to be done from 2.30 until late evening. And then the church will be open for part of each morning and in the afternoons. As a result, we are going to require more helpers. Please mark those days off, try to be available for part of the time, and think about how you can help. We shall be especially glad of extra help with setting up.
With best wishes,