St Martin-in-the-Fields Annual Parochial Church Meeting,
28 April 2019
The Vicar’s Address
Revd Dr Sam Wells
A Word of Thanks
A little while ago I was asked to explain what prayer was. This is what I said. We are creatures. We’re not self-made beings but the handiwork of a loving creator. Many of the troubles that come upon us are simply because we are creatures – in other words mortal, fallible, limited and fragile. But much of the joy of believing lies in a more positive understanding of being a creature – being wanted, crafted, loved and cherished. Prayer is perhaps the most human thing we do, because it is the moment above all others when we recognise that we are creatures. What we call prayer is the moment we pass from the negative to the positive experience of being a creature.
My prayer for SMITF is that here, in and through being part of our life for a longer or shorter time, people pass from the negative to the positive experience of being a creature, and thus discover their true humanity – becoming, perhaps for the first time, fully alive. That’s what our worship is about, that’s what our commercial life is about, that’s what our music is about, that’s what our work with homeless people is about, that’s what we’re trying to strengthen and share through the work of the Trust and of HeartEdge: discovering our true humanity – and becoming, perhaps for the first time, fully alive.
Today is a day for saying thank you. I want to start with our two beloved churchwardens. If I were to introduce a stranger to two people who represent the joy, the work, the integrity and the fun of St Martin’s, where better to start than to say: Chris and Catherine. St Thomas à Kempis wrote, ‘Whatsoever is done out of pure love, be it ever so little or contemptible in human sight, is wholly fruitful; for God measures more with how much love you work, than the amount you do.’ You have shown us what St Paul calls ‘a better way.’ Thank you.
I want to thank Richard for a thousand things. Anyone who was present at this year’s Palm Sunday passion drama not only will never forget it, but will have got a glimpse into the miracles Richard does every day. The beginning of the Nazareth Community was the single most significant event of our year. I want likewise to thank Jonathan, who is teaching all of us what it means to lead from the back, not the front, and with Andy and Georgie has put together a remarkable HeartEdge team. I want also to thank our assisting priest Colin, our reader Jeff and our Pastoral Assistant Francesco, especially in the light of our having said goodbye to Alastair, Katherine and Will. Let me here say a deep and sincere word of appreciation for Paul Lau, who will soon be leaving us after 19 years as Associate Vicar for the Chinese. Paul, you have been an example to all of us of faithful Christian service and we admire and respect you greatly.
We have a tremendous PCC and I want to thank each one of them, particularly Duncan McCall and Harold Alby who are stepping down and who’ve been wonderful and wise members. David has continued to be a great blessing to us as treasurer and chair of the Finance and Fabric Committee and Colin has stepped into the role of Planned Giving Officer. Thanks also to the group chairs and co-chairs, Martin, Susannah, Bronwyn, Alex and Fiona and their teams; to Bob who chairs the Friends, to all the members of committees and groups, and to Wilson and all who seek to build up and serve the Chinese Church Council. I want to put in a word for our inspiring and dedicated choir, to Tom for his direction, to James for his organ skills, to our beautiful choral scholars and Voices and to the Occasional Singers and to Emily and the Children’s Voices. I want with you to celebrate the work of Andrew Earis who is an inspirational Music Director, harmonising and developing aspirational, commercial and participatory aspects of our programme and continuing to ensure the sound of St Martin’s remains a cherished part of the nation’s broadcast worship.
I am grateful to Roseanne and all who prepare flowers and Kristine and Helen and the enormous team who steward for services and Huw and those who’ve worked with children and adhered to and honoured our safeguarding policy. Thank you to Harriet who supports the clergy and parish and congregation in many ways, to Jasmine who prepares our orders of service so well, to our minute-taker Emma, and our vergers Danni, Anna, Dan, Inga and Lee. I’m grateful to Sr Vivien and the lay chaplains and to our bell ringers and to Michael and the archive team. I want to thank all who attend services and give generously and participate and support so willingly the many activities of St Martin’s life in worship by being a server or lesson-reader or chalice assistant or intercessor or member of the healing team. We all want to thank those who’ve served in education by planning or hosting or cleaning up, in hospitality by serving coffee or meals or making people at home, in pastoral care by visiting and supporting, in fellowship by joining with or leading the Cloak, the Archers, the Open Circle, Club Wednesday, the Meditation Group, cleaning the church at Easter, talking to a visitor, continuing to pray and think and remember even when not able to attend, or in international links by maintaining close contacts with partners in South Africa, Berlin, Malawi, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
We all know that SMITF wouldn’t be here without our limited company. Every year St Martin-in-the-Fields Limited pays out over £2m in wages and another £2m or more in other overheads, including ways it subsidises other activities on site, like keeping The Connection’s rent well below its real cost. The surplus made by the company offsets the costs the PCC finds itself unable to cover from congregational giving, fees and other donations. This time last year things were very difficult for the company: due to low footfall in London, largely due to terrorist activities in 2017, the company didn’t meet its budget for a whole 12 months. The extraordinary thing is that it performed so well in the last seven months of 2018 that it still managed to meet its budget for the year as a whole. I want to pay tribute to our Executive Director, Ally Hargreaves, for her determination, courage, leadership, patience and flexibility in seeking and finding a way to make things come out right. I also want to celebrate the work of Cathy Reid Jones, chair of the new core executive team, of Chris Burford, company chair, Chris Franklin our finance director and his team, and of our marvellous company board, for their wisdom, insight, and dedication in seeing what needed to be done and doing it. I also want to thank the staff team, Nadine in HR team, Ryan at estates, Sarah in the shop, Daniel and Ladka in the café, Caroline in concerts, Julie in marketing, and all their teams including the events team.
Two years ago the PCC agreed a campaign figure of £25m over ten years, to ensure the future of our magnificent buildings, to build on the growth of our music, to expand our work with homeless people, and to deepen our faith engagement in the public square. The trustees of St Martin’s Trust, under the dynamic leadership of our development director Katy Shaw and our chair Malcolm Butler, have developed plans for raising this bold but not outlandish sum of money and just as importantly ensuring we invest it well and use it wisely to make our kingdom dreams come true. St Martin’s Charity celebrated the 91st Christmas Appeal and raised almost £3.5m, and under Tim’s excellent leadership with an expanding team the support of chair Jonathan and the trustees and countless volunteers, and of course our wonderful partners at the BBC, the Charity is looking towards a bright future with the growing work of the Frontline Network in addition to the Vicar’s Relief Fund.
I want to pay tribute to Pam Orchard for continuing to offer outstanding leadership to The Connection, and to Tim Jones who chairs the trustees. I’m thrilled that we’re continuing to build unprecedented levels of collaboration between The Connection and the rest of the St Martin’s community. Thanks also to the Friends of The Connection and their president Charles Woodd, to Eugene and all who organise and join in the Pilgrimage and the Cycle Ride, and to the trustees of the Vicar’s General Fund. Among others I’m glad for all who promote and play in concerts and in Jazz nights, our American Trustees, Fung Lau, chair Alice Chan, and the Bishop Ho Ming Wah Association and Community Centre trustees. I want to mention Beverley the Head of St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls, together with Bob the chair and all the governors there. And I should add our good wishes to Jim Henderson the head at Archbishop Tenison’s as the school continues to make strides in recovery from a turbulent season.
The Real Risk Register
One thing about being Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields is you get to sit on a lot of boards. I sit on around 12 boards, not counting sub-committees and joint, executive, planning, standing, project, interim or advisory groups. And that means about ten times a year I get to ponder the mysteries of an organisation’s risk register.
Now a risk register is a valuable document. It identifies the important and the urgent, the chronic and the critical, and ensures you take steps to mitigate as well as quantify the risks you’re facing. Whenever I sit in a committee room with a risk register in front of me, I find myself asking the same two questions. The first question is, Should a risk register look different for a church? The second is, has this risk register got a whole category missing?
A conventional risk register has two kinds of things on it. The first is what we might call fiduciary responsibilities. In most organisations that means recognising a duty of care, to staff, volunteers, visitors, the building and the neighbourhood. It means health and safety, insurance, safeguarding, reserves, policies, reputation, emergencies, accounting, auditing, building maintenance and so on. The second is what we could call programme issues. That means making sure the right people are in the right jobs with the right support, rewards and resources to do well with appropriate review and oversight so you’re doing the right things to flourish and you have a healthy communications strategy ensuring a good reputation and a generally high regard deserved and enhanced year on year.
And so to my first question. Should a risk register look different for a church? Well, I think it should. I’m not suggesting any of the fiduciary responsibilities should be downplayed, ignored, still less taken away. But surely a church has other fiduciary responsibilities. There are things a church must do. It must ensure, as the Thirty-Nine Articles put it, that the gospel is faithfully preached and the sacraments duly administered. It must entertain each stranger that comes within its doors as it would entertain an angel unawares. It must put its best energies into the worship of the living God, because it believes our chief end is to glorify and enjoy God forever. It must cherish the gifts of its members and seek the surprising gifts of strangers because it believes God will give it everything it needs. Its members must set their face to the world during the week with the same humility and awe they hold on Sunday, because they expect to see the face of Christ and be moved by the work of the Holy Spirit as much in the world as in the church. These deserve to be called fiduciary responsibilities because if a group of people aren’t being and doing these things they may be an interesting organisation but they’re not a church.
It goes without saying that the programme elements of a risk register are different for a church. A church needs to have a way of helping people find faith and learn and grow towards baptism and confirmation. It must understand ministry in a way that assumes everything has something to give and something to receive, and discovering what is a lifetime’s pursuit. It must understand mission as catching up with the ways the Holy Spirit is already working in the world. It must find ways to help its members engage with the great issues in the world in the light of their faith. It must build relationship with communities that are different from itself in life-giving ways.
But that brings us to my second question. Given that a church might have its own distinctive elements to add to a risk register, has a conventional risk register got a whole category missing? Now it’s often said that risk registers can get way too long and can decrease in applicability the more they go deeper into specificity. But I’m not talking about adding many more examples of broadly the same kinds of challenges. I’m talking about a different kind of challenge.
I’ll tell you what keeps me awake at night about St Martin’s. It’s not terrorism or a health and safety accident. Of course they’re important, but we have a terrific team planning around exactly such threats. It’s not financial shortfall or reputational calamity. Again they’re very important but they’re day-to-day issues under close scrutiny. What worries me most is something that doesn’t appear on a conventional risk register, and doesn’t bother the conventional set of auditors. And that is, that we won’t reach our potential. In my work as a priest for nearly 30 years, and in my travels with HeartEdge this last couple of years, I’ve been up and down the Church of England and well beyond. And what we have here at St Martin’s is rightly the envy of almost everyone. We have a vibrant congregational life. We have a host of motivated, talented, faithful volunteers. We have a dynamic business, charitable work with national reach, glorious creative arts for the career-minded, the skilled volunteer, and the willing. We have stirring worship and enticing educational opportunities. We have a beautiful building with a perfect location and a plan for its continued good order. We have an extraordinary history and a reputation it has taken more than a century to build. We have energising links with institutions near and far.
Here’s what keeps me awake at night: the possibility that we won’t make the most of it. Those who have been blessed must in turn convey blessing on others. To those to whom much has been given, much is expected. We don’t think we’re better than anyone. But we do recognise we’ve been given an abundant harvest. No one wants to abandon our humility. But neither do we want to hide under false humility. The gospel of cross and resurrection doesn’t always have conventional metrics of success. But remember the words of Thomas à Kempis: ‘Whatsoever is done out of pure love, be it ever so little or contemptible in human sight, is wholly fruitful; for God measures more with how much love you work, than the amount you do.’
God risked everything to offer us pure love. Our life depends on that risk. Let us rededicate ourselves to act from the deepest love within us. And in the power of the Holy Spirit, may our work become wholly fruitful.