This article is Charlie’s summary of the Deanery Review carried out over the last few months. The full Review Proposals are on the Parish File Share at 2016 Deanery Review. Which should open in a new window or tab, depending on your browser settings.
You will almost certainly be aware that the Deanery of Hastings (Hastings and St. Leonard’s) has been under Review. It costs the Diocese around £70,000 a year to sustain each parish church with ministry, housing and insurance and the Diocese hopes that Parishes can repay this from their giving, fees and any other income. This year we are paying just over £20,000 and the Deanery as whole is being subsidised by £500,000. At the same time there is a looming shortage of clergy nationally, because about 40% of full time clergy are due to retire in the next few years. The Church in the Wood; St. Clements and All Saints in the Old Town and St. Leonard’s and St. Ethelburga’s in St. Leonards are currently without Vicars.
The alternatives were either to close some churches or to adopt new patterns of ministry which would spread the remaining clergy more thinly. Longer term priorities are to increase congregations, increase giving, discover new energy in the mission and ministry of the Church and look at what God is telling us about ourselves and about the gospel through this time of crisis.
A lot of the practical assessment of the situation has been achieved by Peter Wheatley, recently retired Area Bishop of Edmonton in London, who has come to live in our Deanery. Bishop Peter has spent time with all the existing clergy of the Deanery, touring our parishes with us and later meeting with each Parochial Church Council. At the same time Bishop Richard, responsible for East Sussex churches, asked each Hastings PCC to answer an interesting questionnaire. The information provided by each church about its plans and hopes and fears was matched with census data (digested by the national Church Urban Fund) and by the centrally held data on each church from returns by Churchwardens over the years.
The Proposal by the Bishops was placed first before the clergy and then before PCC members in the last ten days. They recognise that 11 of the 12 parishes in the Deanery, including Blacklands, are in the 10% most deprived parishes nationally.
The detailed proposals for the next three years are to sustain ministry in the Old Town under the supervision of Fr. Luke of Christ Church, St, Leonard’s on Sea and sustain the newly combined congregation at St. Ethelburga and St. Leonard’s under the supervision of David Hill from St. John’s Pevensey Rd. The proposal for the Church in the Wood is for some preliminary work to be completed and then an appointment made. But every Church has issues and is given proposals for tackling them. In the case of Blacklands Church our issue is that though we have made great strides forward we still need to sustain continued growth to become fully sustainable. We are set a stretching target of achieving 50% payback, but then be given three years when we can consolidate our ministry and mission before any further improvement in paying our Diocesan share can be achieved. In common with all the Churches we are also tasked with making our plans for Mission concrete and achievable so our future is assured and our work fully effective.
Churches are also given praise: in our case the growth of our congregation over the last two years has been noted and my role in liturgy, preaching and pastoral care and Muriel’s in developing the music of the Church are approved. We are also praised for running the “Everybody Welcome” course which is now recommended to all the Deanery Churches. Our Mission strategy of relating to discrete areas of our parish is also recommended to other parishes. Bishop Peter heard the rumour that a previous review said Blacklands Church should close but having read the documentation, refutes this.
The Proposals will shortly be available on line and in the Church, questions can be asked of Bishop Richard, and a final vote for them will be asked from the Deanery Synod with PCC members on 14th November 2016
We can now go ahead, in confidence that we are supported by the wider church to implement plans to open up our church building, increase our interaction with the communities of our Parish and the users of our Hall , look for new opportunities for worship, prayer and action and continue the important works to keep our buildings dry and usable. Above all we need to test out God’s power through faith and prayer to engender the Kingdom of Heaven amongst us.
A Big Thank You from me to our PCC members who spent many hours debating and drafting our answers to Bishop Richard in writing and to Bishop Peter in person.