It is very difficult to write a letter for this magazine, knowing that it will be my last. What to say? I do not want to give a long list of 'thank yous' for the same reason that I never do this at church annual meetings, the fear (not misplaced!) that I will omit someone who may therefore feel offended. I don't want to depart having caused upset.
So let me content myself with a few remarks about the strengths and weaknesses of our parish. It is easy to forget, except for the few who worship there, that there are two churches in Wentworth parish, Holy Trinity of course, but also Harley Mission church. A priest who I have invited to take a service there hit it on the head when he said, “they always look after the children there”. This is Harley's great strength, the fact that they nearly always manage to keep a Sunday School going and have the link with their community formed by the two toddler groups. That is one plus, others might include the formation of the Mothers' Union branch and the fact that from their number has come our first candidate as a Lay Reader for two decades (Simon Brown, following Redz). The church's weakness is, obviously enough, the small number of worshippers. OK, a few names are going to have to be mentioned. Nearly all of this is down to the hard work of Sheila Wood, and it would be hard to imagine Harley without her.
People often say to me, 'Wentworth church is growing'. I'm never quite sure if this is really so, or whether it is simply a perception. However, I researched a few figures for the AGM and, yes, the congregation (at Holy Trinity, that is) definitely is growing. Taking a long view, between 1983 and 2012, Sunday attendance rose by 19%. Concealed within this is the virtual collapse of Evensong for which, in those far off days, there was a regular congregation of 35. This means that Sunday morning worshippers have risen by a staggering 88%. On a shorter timescale, in the period 2008-12 (whilst Sylvia and I have been back) the total number of communicants has gone up by 19%. This includes sick communions, services at Wentworth Hall and occasional weekday celebrations, like on Maundy Thursday. This is partly because I have tended to increase the number of communions in place of, for example, regular family services. Over the same period Christmas attendances have ballooned by no less than 70%, largely but not exclusively because of the candlelit events on Christmas Eve.
It is not easily possible to extract meaningful national statistics and it probably wouldn't interest you if I could. Suffice it to say that, for example, between 2005 and 2006 national weekly attendance fell by 1% but Christmas attendance rose by 7%. This sort of pattern has been repeated in each year since. So our increased number of Christmas worshippers mirrors the national trend. But the rise in normal Sunday attendance runs counter to the Church of England as a whole.
So Holy Trinity has grown. You can probably think of your own reasons why, but these are some; and they equate to the church's strengths.
*People come from a wide area;
*They are attracted by the reverent and fairly formal worship, with music to match;
*Our summer attendance especially is boosted by wedding couples;
*We have a regular Sunday School again;
*You, the congregation, are friendly and welcoming;
*There have been a lot of adult confirmations in the past five years;
*There is a good group of hard workers;
*And we do have a lovely church building.
*A bit of heresy here! I'm not convinced that formal worship necessarily equates to Prayer Book worship; the modern language services too can be used in a traditional way.
Holy Trinity's weaknesses are the mirror image of some of these. The average age is high, partly because the services are old-fashioned; to attract and keep more younger people a modern style might be desirable, at least sometimes. The Sunday School struggles because the vestry is a far from ideal venue and there is no larger room they could use. Confirmations don't always translate into regular attendance afterwards, and I am very conscious that encouraging this is something I haven't been as good at as I should have been.
Overall, though, I think that if the church was to have an OFSTED inspection, like a school, the grading would be good. The excuse for much puffing out of chests and polishing of medals! However, there is really only one reason why a church gets anywhere near where it should be. And that is God's blessing. And this, in turn, depends upon something else, upon prayer. Each individual who serves the church does so because of their faith; their work is successful, as much as anything, because it is grounded in prayer. And that is the last important thing I would want to say about you, the church members of our parish. You have a living and deep faith. It isn't worn on the sleeve, as some people's is, but it is there. Continue to have faith, to believe in God and to follow Christ, and God will continue to bless you. I pray that He will.
One more thing though. Thank you for letting Sylvia and me back to enjoy a further five years in the parish. It has been a wonderful privilege, and we shall remember our total of eleven years here for the rest of our lives.
With best wishes,