(Taken from my introduction to the APCM Report)
It is my privilege to introduce the Annual Report on the life of Tavistock Parish Church during 2022, my first Annual Report as Incumbent. In doing so, I invite you to call to mind Bishop Robert’s vision for the Diocese; summed up in the three key tasks – to grow in prayer, to make disciples and to serve the people of Devon with joy.
There has been a lot to celebrate, to give thanks for and to be encouraged by over the last year. Tavistock Parish Church remains a busy place that is, at the same time, an oasis of peace in the middle of the town. It is at the centre of the community and worship is offered there every day of the year. The reports that follow give an indication of the large number of people who contribute to making the church such a lively and engaged community.
The year began with the Benefice still in interregnum and a lot of people hard at work, living out their faith in a host of ways. The year ended with an incumbent in post, and a lot of people hard at work, living out their faith in a host of ways. I hope you will forgive the rhetoric, but that is the nature of the life of the church. Actually, as we reach the end of the year, across the Benefice there are signs that, as church communities, we are starting to ‘go up through the gears’ following an interregnum which was probably three months longer than all parties would have liked. We are starting to look at how we can be effective in witnessing to the Good News of Jesus Christ in this generation and there is a sense of excitement.
I was licensed as the Priest-in-Charge on the Feast of St Matthew, 21st September. However, on 8th September the nation had received the news of the death of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The day before that, I had received a telephone call from the Archdeacon of Plymouth, who said, ‘with regard to your licensing, all bets are off, crack on!’ We immediately convened a meeting of the Ministry Team and the Churchwardens to coordinate our response, as a Benefice, to the imminent death of Queen Elizabeth II. Once the sad news was confirmed, our churches were opened in very short order, with candles and books of remembrance, services were organised, flags were half-masted and so forth. At St Eustachius’, the first people arrived to pay their respects within half-an-hour of the announcement and the church then remained open for the whole period of national mourning. The following week, the church hosted one of the four civic services of commemoration for Devon.
As well as the regular drum-beat of worship throughout the Church Year, the Ministry Team has continued to lead the occasional offices (i.e. baptisms, weddings and funerals), along with a range of other services, schools, harvest, civic and remembrance, to name but a few. Funerals continued apace, as did baptisms. Once again, there were very few weddings in 2022, although, towards the end of the year, there were signs that those numbers might be increasing again, post pandemic. My thanks go to all those who help lead Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, Monday to Saturday, week in week out. Often they are on their own, occasionally one or two might join them, but those individuals have been there faithfully, praying on behalf of us all and for us all.
Music always plays an important part in the life and worship of St Eustachius’ and this year was no exception. As well as concerts and another fantastic festival given by the Exon Singers, the choir went to Exeter Cathedral to sing as part of the St Boniface Festival, a real highlight. With the departure in September of Scott Angell, who left to train for ordination, and finances not allowing for the recruitment of a new Director of Music, Andrew Lundie kindly offered to step in to help lead the choir and for that he has my grateful thanks. I also congratulate Mary Mazur-Park on her appointment as our Organist, from the beginning of January 2023.
Our ministry to children, young people and their families has continued to be a strength of the now and a source of hope for the future. The numbers taking part in Messy Church and/or coming to our parent and toddler group, Little Deers, are really encouraging. The Sunday Vestry Group continues to nurture the faith of our children. Open the Book continues to take the Gospel into our schools in such an attractive way and, of course, our Ministry Team has continued to support the schools with Collective Worship (assemblies) and with their festival services in church. On behalf of us all, I would like to thank Sarah Pendle, The Rev’d Rosie Illingworth, Maryjane Traber and all those who work so hard in this vital area of ministry.
Another strength of the church over the last year has been our large Pastoral Care Team, which quietly works to share God’s love with so many people who are sick, housebound or going through difficult times for one reason or another – visiting, taking Holy Communion or simply keeping in touch by telephone. For a number of years now, we have been blessed to have had Elizabeth Maslen to lead and coordinate this important area of ministry. As she now hands over the baton to Diana McDowell, I would like to thank her for the utter dedication, love and wisdom with which she has exercised this ministry in our midst.
The Friendly Friday fellowship morning is yet another aspect of the life of the church which should be mentioned here. My thanks go to Barbara Miller and all the wonderful helpers who make Friday mornings a place of such warmth and hospitality. The welcome that so many people find here week by week might remind us of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed (see Mark 4). And thanks to vision of the Friendly Friday team, their hard work in raising funds and with the generous support of The Ven Nick Shutt, Archdeacon of Plymouth, the kitchen facilities in Dora’s Cupboard were renovated during the first part of 2023.
Thinking about hospitality and welcome, the cost of living crisis that has engulfed the country, coupled with soaring energy costs, led to many churches throughout Britain taking part in an initiative broadly termed warm spaces. Thousands of buildings, including churches and church halls, started being opened and refreshments and meals provided, along with hospitality and fellowship, to support those who cannot afford to heat their homes or who, for a variety of reasons, value the opportunity to be with others. We, as a church, decided to set aside Mondays to provide such a space, called Warm Welcome. In an example of what is sometimes called God-incidence, it turned out that four other churches in Tavistock had all planned, without consultation with one another, to do the same thing, on five different days. So, there has been somewhere for people to go from Monday to Friday.
The work of the Churchwardens during an interregnum is significant and I would, therefore, like to thank Graham and Mary Whalley, for their tremendous hard work and commitment. Not only have they had all the behind-the-scenes work to do, they have also continued to take an active role in our regular worship, to verge for weddings and funerals and to be there to welcome people into church for concerts.
The Parish Office continued to be staffed between 10am and 12 noon and I would like to thank Jo Barton, our Administrator, for her careful management of the diary, Parish Centre bookings and much else besides. I would also like to thank Rachel Toms for her work keeping both the Parish Centre and the church looking clean and tidy.
Tavistock, along with the other parishes in our Benefice, has continued to play its part in the life of the Deanery this year, regularly hosting Deanery Synod at the Parish Centre. I would like to thank The Rev’d Andy Atkins who, as Rural Dean for most of the year has supported this parish tremendously, offering advice and encouragement during the interregnum.
Our relationship with the other Christian churches in the town and the wider area, through TACT, has continued to be a source of mutual encouragement and joyful fellowship. The annual unity service, the Lent Lunches and the Easter services were all great opportunities to worship together and to witness together to God’s transforming love.
Towards the end of 2022, the Finance Committee, ably led by James Teague and supported by Ann Townsend, did a tremendous amount of work to address the deficit in our budget for 2023. Thanks to their hard work, the PCC was able to approve a budget which will, by the grace of God, and in conjunction with a review of our financial procedures to be carried out in early 2023, mean that our financial position looked much clearer by the end of this year. However, in the light of the deficit, a decision was made at the November PCC meeting to put the Galley & Toilets project on hold. The reasons for the decision were that it is not possible to apply for grants while running deficit and that, given the financial situation facing the country, it was not the right time to approach local businesses for contributions.
The hard work of our Ministry Team over the last year has been remarkable and my heartfelt thanks go to each of them. It was a real bonus when I took on the role as Priest-in-Charge, to know that there was such a great team in place already. It was then a great joy, in my first week in post, to attend the licensing of Amanda Harris as a Licensed Lay Minister for the Benefice at Exeter Cathedral on 1st October.
My thanks go to John Rea for his support and wise counsel as Vice-Chair of the PCC, to Anne Johnson for her work as Chair of the Friends of St Eustachius’, and to Pat Morrison and all those on the Friends of St Eustachius’ Committee who organised another hugely successful Christmas Tree Festival in December. Likewise, I am hugely grateful to Christine Everitt, the Secretary of the PCC, without whose organisational gifts, we would be in a pickle; to our Tower Captain, George Mudge, and our bell ringers; to Peter Rowan, both for his role as Parish Giving Officer and his work with the sound system and livestreaming of services; and to Nick Clark and the Fabric Team, whose diligence and hard work keeps our buildings in good shape; to Martin Pendle for managing our website, producing the parish magazine and leading the Project 700 team; to Rita Bilverstone for her work as Parish Safeguarding Rep; to Nichola Heathman, our Sacristan; to Pam Hunter for organising the altar team; to Rev’d Sue Tucker for leading the bereavement group; to those who serve as foundation governors in our schools; to our stewards, Holy Dusters, brass cleaners, readers, intercessors, servers, chalice assistants, and to each and every one of you. It is worth bearing in mind St Paul’s famous analogy of the church as a body, made up of different parts, all of which are vital for the functioning of the whole. Please forgive me for not being able to mention everyone by name but, to everyone: thank you!
To finish, I would like to draw your attention back to the second task in Bishop Robert’s vision for the Diocese, to make disciples. This is what we must be about as we go forward now into a new year. Everything we do must either directly or indirectly be in support of this aim because, in the words of the German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘the church is only truly the church, when it is so for others’ – so let us be bold to share the Good News!
Your brother in Christ,