St Martin-in-the-Fields Annual Parochial Church Meeting, October 22, 2020

Read by Christopher Braganza, Churchwarden

‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’

John 16:33


In January this year, we had no idea what tribulation we had in store. Our parish and cultural life was flourishing. Our business had just posted record revenue to help fund our ministry and mission. The Christmas Appeal had raised its highest-ever total to work with homeless people in London and beyond.

It felt like overnight, that changed. Public worship was suspended, we sheltered in place, our commercial revenues plummeted.

I want to say two things today. First and foremost, a lot of thankyous.  Second, a word about our plans for 2021 and beyond.

First, the thankyous.

First, to all of you, the beloved folk of St Martin-in-the-Fields, loving, faithful, kooky, challenging, revealing the joy and ever-surprising lifeblood of the Kingdom. You support each other and you support us. Sometimes you know it, other times you don’t. But thank you, from the bottom of my heart, all the same.

Next, to my family, and in particular to Cathy, from whom I have always asked too much, and if I manage to give any time or support to this community, it’s by borrowing from her.

So many others around the place, too many to name here. But I would be remiss without thanking, in particular, those who have navigated our business through these most painful and calamitous times, those who remain and those who have left; to Ally Hargreaves and Chris Franklin, who have carried a burden beyond what any reasonable person could bear. To the clergy and the senior team: to Richard, who always senses where the Spirit might be and heads that way; to Sally, whose spark and energy have not been dimmed by the clouds of despond; to Jonathan, Cath, and Harry; to our verging and admin team, and to all, lay and professional, who have kept so much of our ministry and mission going, in person and online. To those stepping down from PCC, and those putting themselves forward for election – thank you, for taking on this responsibility in the midst of so many and great dangers. Thank you all for your faithfulness in the eye of the storm.

Thank you to the wonderful Catherine Jackson. Catherine is one of the fairest, wisest, and kindest people I know. It’s a privilege to share this ministry with her. I’m not sure it’s a good sign when my email address predictor starts suggesting Catherine Jackson in front of Cathy Braganza. Indeed, one of the reasons I knew I had to marry Cathy Braganza was that she inspires me to be a better man. Well, Catherine inspires me to follow Jesus better, like she does.

Ultimately, of course, we are led, not by any one person, but by the Spirit of God. But I am not sure that any of the august vicars whose portraits hang in the vestry have had to face quite the leadership challenge we have today.  We think we know Sam pretty well by now. Theologian of profundity – sure. Preacher boy extraordinaire – yes, we’ve got that. Sports obsessive – check. But also patient, unafraid, resilient, hopeful, honest and brave, indulgent of my constant mockery, uncomplaining, shielding others from blame or criticism, dutiful and diligent beyond what most see. When Sam was appointed, I thought then that we were lucky to have him. We’re even luckier to have him now. Thank you.

So, second, a word about where we are, and the future for this community. We are, of course, a gathering born of a resurrection long ago in a distant place. But here’s the thing – we’re here because we know, deep down, that same resurrection power, the power that overcame tribulation, calls us together, still. We’ve been through a painful time with a majority of staff leaving, and with many unable to participate as they would like. We have to navigate severe restrictions on our liturgical and cultural life. Our financial future is uncertain to say the least. But be of good cheer! I’m confident we can rebuild a business which not only generates revenue, but does so perhaps in ways we’d dared not imagine up to now. I’m confident that with the lay and professional team at the Trust we can help secure interim and long-term funding. I’m confident that there are living stones here, among you, that will carry on rebuilding our ministry and mission.

Over the coming months, we’ll be discussing our recovery plans in much more detail with the congregations and wider community, and of course, they’ll be occupying a large part of the PCC’s, SMITFL’s and the Trust’s time.

I know on the way there have been, and will be again, times when we have disappointed you. I am sorry for that. I can only say this: we’ll do our best.

The storm is upon us: pandemic, recession, isolation. Sometimes what we have seems little and foolish, and the world’s tribulation very great. But, sisters and brothers, be of good cheer. He who has overcome the world has given us what we need: the light of our faith in a darkening world and an anxious city; the nurturing of the Spirit and the Kingdom in which this community excels, and which is our hope and strength; the love of God, passionate as the grave.

We have what we need.