2021 at St James’s started with fears, anxieties and serious disruption to “normal” life due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and then the announcement on Epiphany Sunday that our Vicar, Fr Jim Rosenthal had accepted a new post and would definitely be leaving us. By the end of the year the pandemic was still with us, not as severe but still disrupting Christmas services, but we were settled and happy with a new Vicar, Fr Mark Budden. The year in between had its many ups and downs but we continued throughout as “A Church with an Open Door”, “The Church at the heart of the Community, with the Community at our heart”, and a place of witness in our place on Martin Way, by the bus stop.
As ever, we had much to be grateful for, including the blessings of people – clergy and lay – able and willing to take the lead and run with projects and events. We continued to take our Mission Action Plan seriously (and it continued to change to adapt to situations as they did), based on the Anglican Communion framework of 5 Marks of Mission, and we still know that however good an idea is, if there isn’t enough money or there aren’t enough people with the good health, skills, time, strength and ability to take it forward, it can’t happen at this time – but there may be a way to do something similar instead. And, if it was obvious and/or easy we would already have done it.
The Parochial Church Council is the elected body making decisions on behalf of the church on issues about the church. Meetings at the beginning of the year were by zoom, and included a meeting with the lay members of thePCC, and the Archdeacon. From June onwards, meetings were held in church with all appropriate social distancing, and there was 82% attendance overall. Ad hoc groups and working parties considered ongoing issues; the Standing Committee met broadly monthly.
Worship and study continued in church, online and in other ways. This year, neither the Archbishopsnor the Diocese mandated that churches should close completely but care was taken and some services were cancelled or moved on-line early and, again, late in the year. The chapel could remain open for private prayer, and on those Thursdays when there could be no Mass, the church was opened for an hour for silent and private prayer, and later for “stationary” Stations of the Cross. When possible (mostly) our main services every week were the celebration of the Eucharist (in one kind only, through the whole of the year) in church on Sundays and Thursdays at 10am. Evening Prayer was shared on Zoom every evening, and Compline every Friday evening. Singing was greatly missed; when services opened again, and laws/guidance allowed, firstly the choir sang, then the final hymn was sung by the congregation outside the front of church, finally there was an emotional service when the whole congregation could raise their voices together in prayer and song again, from behind their masks. There was no “live” Ash Wednesday service nor Mothering Sunday but Palm Sunday, Holy Week and the Triduum were able to be celebrated in church; for the first time in congregational memory the Garden of Repose and Maundy Thursday vigil were in church rather than in the chapel. Good Friday saw the Silent Vigil outside, and in church we walked the Stations of the Cross, while in the Liturgy in the afternoon we reverenced the crucifix without touching or kissing the feet. Easter morning Eucharist was the joyful St James Family celebration that “He is Risen. Alleluia!”
In April we held a requiem mass for Prince Philip; Fr Jim was able to celebrate his final service at St James at the end of April and it was a mix of celebration of his time with us, good wishes for his future at his new parish, and sadness at his going. We were very blessed with the presence of Fr Mark who “kept us going” during our interregnum which was mercifully brief as it was announced he would be able to become our Vicar; there was a joyful (and very well attended) service of installation in October.
The annual Walsingham pilgrimage was again cancelled, but the Walsingham prayer cell continued to meet in church once a month to celebrate the mysteries of the Rosary.
As infection levels reduced in the community, many restrictions in church remained in place easing when we felt possible; even if numbers were small, we believed that “where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I am with them”, so our effort was to keep church open, safe, and available as often and for as many as possible whatever their level of anxiety or vulnerability. We tried to ensure that, for any person leaving home to go anywhere, then church was as safe as the safest place to be. Early in the year, all Sunday services and major feasts were recorded and uploaded to YouTube and our website, but as the year continued and more people returned to church, it was too onerous to continue and we moved to recording only the feast days. We continued throughout to celebrate in one kind only, to wear masks, to share the peace by waving, and to keep alternate rows closed to contribute to social distancing. As the year progressed, we started to do a little more, with return of the thurifer at first, and then acolytes but as winter drew on infection levels, and thus concerns, raised again and constant risk assessments and decision making preceded services. Some alterations in the liturgy continued throughout the year (eg only the celebrant receiving the wine on behalf of the whole congregation, the sacrament being on the altar throughout, rather than processing forwards during the service, celebrant handwashing being in sanitizer rather than holy water) and there were elaborate rituals of mask and glove donning and doffing at different stages of the service; these, and all other COVID based restrictions are discussed regularly by the Standing Committee but remain the decision of our Vicar. The chapel continued to be open every day during daylight hours and we know this is loved, well used, visited and respected but, as a small space, we have not yet returned to holding services there. Candles were lit and prayers were left on the board once reinstated. Simon Emdin and Mary-Jane Jeanes restarted the mission outreach of delivering leaflets to one street at a time, informing that the street would be prayed for in services, and inviting prayer requests and there was some take up of these. Elaine McCormack continued to make seasonal displays and prayers in the erstwhile Nativity crib outside and we could see people from within and without our congregation stopping to look in and learn and enjoy, pray and, in some cases, say the rosary in front of it.
In the run up to Christmas, we delighted to welcome back children from Joseph Hood School for their Christingle service (older children only, sadly) and it was a totally joyous service enjoyed by the children, staff and a few of “us” running the service. Parents had been intended to attend too, but at the last moment, the school was only allowed to proceed without the parents attending, but the volume of the singing and the interaction and involvement of the children, within their class “bubbles” was wonderful. The Advent Music and Words service was atmospheric and spiritual while the Outside Carols two weeks later was rainy but joyous, with musicians from Wimbledon Community Orchestra accompanying our singing. Passers-by were few in the rain, but some did stop and join us and it was a real witness.
The sad decision to cancel “our” Nativity and Christingle service was made a few days before Christmas Eve in the light of the massive increase in infection rates and the new “Omicron” variant of the COVID virus; Midnight Mass (which was also recorded) and Christmas morning, being more structured services, were felt safe to go ahead with and were true celebrations of the message of Christmas but sadly poorly attended.
There was one wedding, two baptisms and 3 funerals in church.
In 2021, we gave great thanks for our clergy and we were very sorry to see Fr Jim Rosenthal forced to leave us due to his age, and there was some anger as this was in spite of many letters from congregation members (which were not responded to) and the PCC to Bishop Christopher in 2020 requesting that he be allowed to stay on with us, given the extraordinary circumstances of the time. Fr Jim’s last service at St James was a celebration and thanksgiving for his time with us, and a chance to wish him well in his new (very fortunate) parish. Services continued during the vacancy, generally celebrated by Fr Mark Budden and we were then delighted that he was installed as our new, albeit unpaid and unhoused, Vicar in October. Fr Graham Derriman and other members of the congregation led and facilitated services and worship on line as daily evening prayer and weekly compline on Zoom had become part of life at St James.
Members of the Wimbledon Korean Baptist Church (WKBC) continued to worship from home and did not return to church until much later in the year and we were delighted when they started to return.
Our mission with children and families continued to be difficult. The physical links with the children of Joseph Hood School virtually stopped, except for the Christingle as mentioned before, and although children remained welcome at all our services, the children’s seating and play area remained closed and with little singing and movement around in church, there was not much to attract them.
Revision of the electoral roll was also difficult again; 2 names were removed from the electoral roll making a total of 53. We were saddened during the year to say farewell to Hilary Godwin, one of our longest serving members, and Fred Turner both of whom moved away from the area.
Counting “church attendance” remained challenging. As people began to return to our, and their own, churches viewing figures for many of our services on YouTube reduced and the decision was made after Easter to only film the “special” services.
We do not attempt to count the people who come into the chapel on a daily basis although we know they do as sometimes we meet them, sometimes they light candles, leave flowers, or prayers. And we had regular additional services such as Thursday Mass, daily evensong and weekly compline via zoom etc. Average attendance for Sundays in October was 32 precisely. Our great sadness is that, however we count them, we are for the moment an aging congregation with children and young people that can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
People returned gradually to fulfil previous roles or volunteer to new ones as confidence grew, laws and guidance changed and levels of vaccination in the congregation increased. Most people returned to at least some services at some stage through the year but a few did not return in person, although still kept links with us and join in distanced activities. The serving team and choir started robing again, and the altar party increased to 2 each Sunday and back to a full team for the “special” services – many people found the first return of each stage of “normality” amazingly emotional.
Welcomers continued to offer help around masks and sanitizing, and managed seating and movement around church. As after-service coffee restarted, new kitchen teams offered waiting at tables already laid up so again movement around, andsharing/handling of items was minimized. At first, strict limits of “only 6 to a table” were adhered to, but gradually eased; people really enjoyed being part of a community again and having that in person chance to chat and laugh together.
Simon Emdin and Elaine Lambie (churchwardens) took on responsibility for the church during the interregnum and Simon, with Mike McCormack, opened and locked the church every day, including sanitizing all the touchable surfaces in the lobby and chapel on locking up. And we don’t minimize or forget the day to day stuff – the locking up after services, the managing of the rubbish collections, the buying of candles and loo rolls, the writing of rotas, the setting of the heating system, the opening and shutting of windows – all the things that must be done, and are done willingly and lovingly by people, and not by magic.
Early in the year we were told by the Diocese that, when Fr Jim went, we would not be able to have another “House for Duty” priest, and we would be losing the Vicarage; virtually as soon as Fr Jim moved out, a Curate for a church in Wimbledon was placed there. Although the Vicarage was never “ours” we did offer significant financial and practical support, and had been allowed to use it as a focus for events, fundraisers and meetings. The Parish phone and address were both based at the vicarage, and the “IOU meal cards” were offered from there. We understand we cannot change the address of the church – it remains the same as the vicarage – but we have set up a Parish mobile phone held by Fr Mark, and we have an excellent relationship with the Curate Simon Asquith and a system around bins, and whatever post that still gets sent there which seems to work for the moment; we have adjusted most post and routine deliveries to different homes.
For the church and hall itself, although some routine maintenance was carried out, and the buildings were kept secure, clean and safe, income was badly hit and much proposed work such as the problem with the organ requiring substantial repair and that the front doors of the church are increasingly worn and fragile and will need major repair or replacement remained on hold. Carol Hounslow was our cleaner, and Carol and Gary kept the gardens under control. There was intention to re-wild the rear patch of lawnbut it seems that this is more complicated than thought and is still a work in progress.
The hall opened and closed according to guidance, and some users returned, some didn’t, and some new users started up. The under sink water heater was able to be repaired and then serviced, rather than needing replacement, at considerable saving (thanks to Pete Smith and Graham Aslett) and Ray King managed the regular smallish jobs that needed doing.
Health and Safety continued as an ongoing commitment. Risk assessments before many events eg services with candles ensured we made every effort to secure the safety and well-being of our regular and occasional congregation and visitors. This year there were still changing risk assessments to be completed before each stage of re-opening, and changing guidance for the chapel, churchand hall. If a H&S incident did arise there was a review of what happened and, where appropriate, action taken to reduce the risk in future. There was gradual reintroduction of some items as it appeared the risk of COVID transmission by touch was smaller than first thought, so the pricket stands were reintroduced (and the kneelers after a lot of repair work stitching by a small group). The kitchen was able to re-open for post service coffee and chat, and to cater for celebration after Fr Mark’s installation. Ventilation, mask wearing and sanitizing continued in all areas to some extent.
Use of hall. Richard Thomas continued his very long-held role as Hall Lettings Secretary – but made it crystal clear that he would retire from this role at the end of 2022. The task of finding someone to take this on started, and currently continues.
The hall opened, closed, re-opened for use by us and by regular users, with varying levelsof guidance, requiring risk assessments from all users and copious signage. Each hall hirer had to do their own COVID risk assessment, in line with ours and their professional or sporting body guidelines and they were given 30minutes free time to set up, sanitise, ventilate etc to their own requirements. Elaine McCormack ensured that hall users were aware of the COVID issues and their responsibilities as hirers, and assisted them in formation of their own Risk Assessments before they were able to start up again.
Sheila Coverdale fielded a few enquiries, but we did not return to one-off party hires at least partly due to difficulties being able to forecast in advance what restrictions would be in place at the time of the event, and the difficulty in getting individual users to abide by any guidelines or to risk assess without a professional or sporting body behind them.
Hospitality and charitable giving have always been an important part of life at St James’s and continued to be hit very badly this year. Post service coffee and chat restarted, and the zoom chats faded away, but the zoom quiz night, organized and run by Eleanor Sturge and Shirley Cave, continued to be enjoyed and raise money throughout the year. Finances were extremely difficult in the first two thirds of the year and our monetary giving suffered. We decided we couldn’t attempt to run our 2 main annual fund raisers - a Summer or a Christmas Fair (50% of these takings always go to charity) because of the practical difficulties of setting up (summer) and the potential crush of people (Christmas); we did stage a “Pop-Up Sale” in the gardens during the summer which was very successful. In October we built on this and held the usual book sale well-spaced in the hall, with a pop-up sale at the same time in the grounds and this was again popular, and profitable, with more people coming into the book sale than in recent years, as well as spending on other stalls.
The Winter Night shelter continued into spring 2021 with homeless guests being accommodated in a flat above the Methodist church in Wimbledon; a small group from St James cooked and delivered food every Monday evening from January to Easter. Sadly, the night shelter was unable to go ahead in winter 21/22 as they were unsuccessful in grant applications and although we and many other churches offered what help we could, it was not possible to get anything organized. Plans, probably for guests to use one venue every night, are being made for next winter and we are committed to helping where we can, but do not feel we could support a regular evening on our own as before.
There was ongoing generosity in terms of food and monetary donations for the Wimbledon Foodbank and a carbootload was taken every fortnight throughout the year, with a massive extra load after Harvest Festival. Our purple ticket meal scheme faltered – the tickets were given to Curate Simon, at the Vicarage, to give out but there was little take up and both food venues closed for some of the time anyway.
Fund raising for the organ repair was on hold (further required work has arisen, so the amount needed is now quite unclear, and is being looked into). Fr Jim’s farewell and our patronal festival hospitality were both quite low key but, with all due precautions, a “proper do” was held in the hall for Fr Mark’s installation and it was lovely to welcome old friends and new to St James’s. In December; toys from our Toy Blessing were donated to White Lodge for their older young people and donations at the Outdoor Carols went to Embrace the Middle East.
There was also activity related to our charitable giving. Aside from unrecorded (by us) donations, eg toys, clothing, and Foodbank, the main recipients of our charitable giving were the Bishop’s Lent Fund (£410); Hearing Dogs (£310); Merton Night Shelter (£300); Bishop’s Ordination Fund (£187); Children’s Society (£156); Royal British Legion (£140); and Embrace the Middle East (£100).
In 2021, as much as possible, the PCC continued to implement the requirements of the Health and Safety Policy, Fire Policy, and A Safer Church Policy, with the lead from our Safeguarding Officers, Anne Fleming and Linda Laffar, but we still have not fully implemented the changes brought about by the Data Protection law (GDPR). We have completed an audit of data held and changed practice but have not been able to appoint a GDPR officer to sustain and progress this and keep under review – if there is someone who would be able to take on this, not onerous but ongoing task, that could be managed around your own timetable and at home, please speak to any member of our Standing Committee.
We continued to work on and extend our Mission Action Plan (MAP) with its long-term goal of increasing average attendance by 50% over 5 years (from 2015) but clearly we were either wildly optimistic or our faith wasn’t strong enough to move mountains! Numbers attending did pick up this year (although dropped again as new variants of the virus spread quickly) but a few people did not return to services during the year. We continued working, planning our next steps in mission under the Anglican Communion’s 5 Marks of Mission, plus one of our own. See here the MAP headings that informed our planning in July 2021
A very big part of our local mission in this year was to continue to show to the local and wider community that “We Are Not Closed!” and are a welcoming and joyous community, secure in our faith in the Lord.
We know and understand that the church is the people not the building, but the open building with its welcome sign is tangible evidence that something is going on, and the people going in and out of church can be known to others as the body of Christ in a way we may not be when we are at the shops, at the gym, or on the couch. During this year, we worked to make our faith more visible outside the open door, to invite people in as well as welcome them once here. As well as the crib display outside, our Christmas tree was in the lobby – so people could see the lights and follow the star into the building, and our Easter garden stood in the porch so seen by anyone approaching the building on the footway. Fr Mark and the altar party processed (weather permitting) round the outside of the church to get to the main door and then enter at the start of the service, we held events and services outside, and we distributed leaflets inviting people to discover that support and joy that we feel.
2021 was a much better year for the church financially, and a deficit of £12,447 in 2020 was turned into an excess of income over expenditure of £3,595 in 2021. Our income increased by just over £4,500 mainly as a result ofour Stewardship Campaign and the increasing use of the church hall. At the same time, we were able to reduce expenditure by some £11,500, the main factor here being the decision made by the PCC to reduce our Parish Share paid to the Diocese by £6,500. Savings were also achieved on running costs in the hall, clergy expenses, work on the gardens and grounds, and administration. Even given this, our finances remain uncertain, and we can expect a large increase in our fuel bills and running costs in 2022. Further careful scrutinyof both income and expenditure throughout 2022 will still be required.
Early in the year, the Diocese offered help and financial support to the church in setting up contactless and digital giving, but we were unable to take this up with the other pressures at that time. Later in the year the offer was renewed, Graham Aslett did all the discovery work and informed the PCC and by the end of the year we had entered the 21st century giving-wise, with a contactless terminal. Graham continued to work on us all and by early in 2022 we were better at working it, and also had our own QR code on notice board and website, and people becoming confident in those ways of donating.
In 2021, the world, we as a parish and as individuals continued to be hit by the rigours of a pandemic that changed our society and world. In spite of this, the diocese insisted that Fr Jim must leave the parish and we started the year wondering and praying what to do and how to cope. The Holy Spirit showed the way and we continued to walk, work and pray together on a pathway to serve God, our local community and the wider world. We grew in faith, if not in number, and knew sorrow and fear. We found consolation, courage, laughter and joy in our community, our faith and our Lord. We started 2022, and will continue to be, the face of the Lord Jesus Christ in Martin Way, in Morden and in the world and the church with the open door, at the heart of the community and with the community in our heart.
Signed, on behalf of the PCC:
Fr A Mark Budden Date: 23rdMarch 2022
Chair of PCC