- GOSPORT CONFERENCE: September 27, 7pm-9pm: St Faith's Church, Lee-on-Solent
- ISLE OF WIGHT CONFERENCE, September 28, 7pm-9pm: Newport Minster, Newport
- PETERSFIELD CONFERENCE, September 29, 7pm-9pm: St Peter's Church, Petersfield
- PORTSMOUTH CONFERENCE, October 5, 7pm-9pm: St Mary's Church, Fratton, Portsmouth
- HAVANT CONFERENCE, October 6, 7pm-9pm: St Alban's Church, West Leigh
- BISHOP'S WALTHAM CONFERENCE, October 19, 7pm-9pm: Holy Cross Church, Durley
- FAREHAM CONFERENCE, October 20, 7pm-9pm: St Mary's Church, Warsash
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Clergy and laity consider vision at conferences
CLERGY and lay leaders from across our diocese gathered for conferences to consider our diocesan vision and strategy.
Our clergy all met together for the first time in more than 18 months for a day led by our commissary bishop, Bishop Rob Wickham, at St Mary's Church, Fratton. It was based around the Eucharist, and included presentations, stories, discussion and prayer.
Lay ministers and PCC officers from the mainland gathered the same evening at St Mary's for a similar conference led by the Dean, while lay leaders from the Isle of Wight met at Newport Minster for their conference led by Bishop Rob.
One question asked throughout the three conferences was how people were feeling - about the current reality, about plans for the future, and about specific ideas that we may embrace. They responded by talking in small groups, uploading responses to form a Wordcloud, writing on Post-It notes and holding up emojis. They were also given the chance to discuss specific plans in deanery discussion groups.
Bishop Rob told the clergy conference: "Because of Covid, we have changed, our communities have changed, so it's important we meet together to collectively discern God's will. The flourishing of the Church won't come because we look internally, but if we meet the needs of our community. And where we start is in discipleship, helping people to develop relationships with the one who loves us."
The Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, the Ven Peter Leonard, and Diocesan Secretary Victoria James presented some missional and financial realities to clergy to shape the context of discussion. Among the statistics was the fact that the population of our diocese has increased by 14 per cent between 1989 and 2019, but the numbers attending church have decreased by 45 per cent. The age profile of our churchgoers is also higher than the national average. You can see the full presentation here.
"Cutting clergy over the years has not made us sustainable," said Peter. "And a diminishing number of attendees are now funding our historic ministry structures."
Our finances were hit by the Covid pandemic, which meant diocesan lay staff were furloughed and then a restructuring led to some redundancies. Our parishes did well to collect 89 per cent of parish share in 2020, but the prediction for 2021 is that around 84 per cent will be collected.
Peter then re-stated our diocesan vision for a thriving Church, which includes deepening discipleship, having a greater impact on our communities and increasing the number of those with a Christian faith. He said this would be done by embracing four key elements: visionary leaders, teams working together on mission, creating kingdom-building disciples, and providing structures to enable growth. Fareham area dean the Rev Ian Meredith encouraged us to think of the places within our diocese where positive things are happening, which we can celebrate.
And the Rev Richard England, vicar of Stubbington and team rector of RBE North Gosport, introduced some colleagues who had stories to tell of positive collaboration. The Revs Sandy Matheson and Mike Moritz talked about the strategic partnership between St Paul's, Sarisbury Green, and the St John's, Locks Heath, which had seen a joint project to re-start a Sunday afternoon worshipping community for families. And the Rev Jude Greenfield told us about the launch of a new congregation for families based at St Mary's, Rowner, alongside more traditional services.
Clergy got together in deanery groupings to talk about how they might work together on the next steps to make the vision a reality. Our clergy and lay leaders have, of course, been talking in deanery groups about these issues since last October, and will also have a chance to talk in more detail about specific areas of collaboration at the following meetings to be held in each deanery over the next few weeks:
Bishop Rob ended the day by saying: "We know that change is necessary, and our task is radical, brave and bold discernment. Our calling is not to domesticate the wildness of the Spirit, but to join in with what God is doing."
The final diocesan-wide plan for the future will be debated by our Bishop's Council and then presented at the Diocesan Synod meeting on November 6.
Meanwhile, on the Isle of Wight, one of our pioneer ministers is preparing for a three-day prayer walk around the parishes in north-east Wight that are considering working more closely together. The Rev Heath Monaghan will walk around parishes in Ryde, Binstead, Havenstreet, Seaview, St Helens and Bembridge from September 28-30.
Your church could offer him refreshments along the route, or ask him to pray for specific things, or members of your church could join him. Contact him on email@example.com for details.