In the weeks after Easter the disciples meet the Risen Lord in a variety of ways. But there is one constant in their experiences: they all at first fail to recognise him. It takes some word or action to open their eyes to his presence, and the trigger is something different for each of them, whether it is Mary being called by name, Thomas recognising the wounds, or the pair on the Emmaus road in the breaking of bread. Jesus calls to each of them, reveals himself to each of them, in different ways according to who they are.
We have achieved a lot this year, and I mean ‘we.’ We are an Anglo-Catholic church with a high view of priesthood and a tradition of expecting the clergy to be in charge, I know – but this doesn’t mean we have to have a low theology of baptism. We are all baptised to fulfil God’s potential in us as he calls us one by one, and my vision for this church is one in which everyone here discerns and fulfils his or her own particular vocation, hears Our Lord calling in each of our particular ways. I’ve challenged you over the year to find where Christ is calling you, to find your role – and you have done it. Let’s remind ourselves of what has happened as a result.
We have offered more worship, and a greater variety: We have new Taizé and Vespers services. An additional two masses in the week bring up our midweek attendance to around 40, and we are up to the mid-80s most Sunday mornings now, thanks to the good offices of our sidesmen and welcomers. We had Holy Hour in Advent, Stations in Lent. We have had two weddings, three people have been baptised and five confirmed, two of them newcomers to the faith. I have also been out saying mass for a Japanese church elsewhere in London.
We have done more socially: Sharline has put on new Sunday meet-ups. We had a relaunch party and so far I have invited church cleaners, the choir and legal drop-in volunteers to the Vicarage for drinks. Nick has introduced Theology in the Pub. More volunteers have stepped up to make coffee after mass (including two men). Andrea and her Catechists brought people together with new, inspiring ideas for Sundays at 12. Our annual Youth Holiday has brought children and teenagers together for First Communion and Confirmation classes.
We have done more volunteering: Jane has built up the Legal Drop-in and Cathy has started running a Homeless Drop-in for around 15 regular guests. Marion has built up a new team of garden volunteers. Richard Miller has multiplied the choir fivefold following his successful come-and-sing last November, and I think you’ll agree that the musical standards are high at the moment, thanks to our singers and organists. John Cochrane has had tour guides trained, who have given over 50 tours. In total, our active volunteers number over 60, at least ten of them newcomers in the last year, of whom I must make special mention of Nicholas Pomerantz for his hard work as a newcomer to the team.
We have improved our governance: Our Church Warden, Deputy and Treasurer in particular have worked extraordinary hours behind the scenes on top of demanding day-jobs. They have balanced our accounts, launched a more efficient scheme of Planned Giving, and liaised with architects, church restorers and our neighbours, to keep the church running with gentle but effective leadership and invaluable expertise. Our DCC has met 6 times and given careful consideration before authorising several new schemes and projects, including poring over the volunteer restructuring plans and role descriptions. Thanks to countless hours of pro-bono help from Martin Moore and Karen Fonseka, we now have role descriptions, safeguarding policy and a structure for volunteers, and have held a Volunteer Day, with more to come.
We have started improving our communication: We have a new Communications Officer, Matthew Johnston, who has worked with our DCC Secretary to make sure that DCC minutes are now published in hard copy after every meeting at the back of church. There will soon be an online archive of all of these, too. There is a monthly Parish Newsletter. We have active Twitter and Facebook accounts and all my sermons have been posted online. Plans are afoot for more hard-copy publications to help those without computer access and the hard of hearing, including printed sermons and a calendar of forthcoming events at the back of church. Jay has been spreading news of us around the university campuses.
We have improved our facilities: Thanks to our newly employed Verger, Richard Gosnold, the rats have been evicted, we have new portaloos, a tidy storeroom, new signage and weekly building maintenance.
We have gained the chance to become a live music venue: After much legal wrangling and ambiguous press interest in November, Brendan Collins, Jim Moreton and Richard Gosnold, with the help of our lawyer Stephen Thomas, managed to gain permission from Camden Council to hold live music in the church, potentially a source of outreach and of much-needed funding.
...And this is just the new things that have happened in the year. With all this going on, we have still managed to keep the usual work of the church going, too. It is thanks to you that the church gets cleaned, the flower arranged, the linen washed, the altar served, the readings and prayers read, the housebound visited, the strangers welcomed, the minutes typed, the drinks served, the library maintained, the children taught in Sunday school, the Michaelmas Fair organised and delivered, the pewsheets and posters printed. You know who you are.
So, thank you. You have a lot to be proud of this year.
There have been losses, too. I valued Fr Simon as a colleague and was sorry to see him leave in June, and am grateful to Susan Webster who left us after many years of work in our garden. Helena will be leaving us as Pastoral Assistant soon, after two years of hard work.
And there have been challenges. Looking back over the past year’s calendar, I can see a lot of things that have happened at St Michael’s in which – to put it mildly – I somewhat struggled to see Christ at the time. Many of these come with the territory of Camden Town and its less stable denizens, but I am sorry that some of our volunteers have suffered as a result, and want to make sure that we can improve the experience of volunteering here, as well as trying to help those who come through our doors. Jane, Jeannie and Nicholas have borne a disproportionate brunt of abusive and anti-social behaviour, and the risk to our volunteers has given me sleepless nights. That is why I am so keen to get what might seem like the boring details of our infrastructure and policy right – a wing and a prayer are not enough. I hope that you are starting to see some of the fruits of these labours, launched at our Volunteer Day.
Still, we have exciting times ahead. Our church’s tagline is “making a family out of strangers,” and I think that’s a good start. But looking for Our Lord in the events of the past year, I see more to St Michael’s than just that. My vision is of a place of sanctuary amid the bustle of Camden Town – a place where we offer healing from the social ills of isolation and self-hatred that beset our city to friend and stranger alike. That’s why I want every person here to listen deeply for Christ within, to seek the specific, tailored sign that he is sending you of his resurrected life, which is life in its fulness: a life of growth to the full adult stature of humanity which we see in His divinity