Vicar's Report for the Year 2020
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ – using one of the Apostle Paul’s familiar greetings at the beginning of many of his letters!
If there has ever been a year that we have needed the Grace and Peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ it has been this last one.
Of course, because of the Pandemic it was only last October, that we had our 2020 APCM and I reported back on 2019 – only 7 months ago. Since then we have had two more lockdowns with the church closed for lockdown 2 but with live streaming being allowed from church, and lockdown 3 where places of worship have been allowed to stay open but worshippers encouraged to engage on-line rather than attend in person.
I said on Easter Day that, for some, this last year has felt like a very long Lent, Holy Week and Holy Saturday. A year of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, loss, sickness – a year of waiting, waiting hopefully for a vaccination, and for the end of endless lockdowns.
It’s been a year when many have lost their jobs, others furloughed, and where the divide between rich and poor has never been greater. It’s been a year of weariness and burn out for some, and for others a year where they have had more time to rest, to relish in God’s creation whether that be taking up gardening or finding new walks to enjoy; and for others more time to be, and rest in God’s presence.
For some there will have been times that you called out to God, echoing the words of the Psalmist, ‘How long Oh Lord’. I have shouted out these words many times over this last year; but for others you may have been ‘entering God’s gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with Praise’.
In my Vicar’s report I usually reflect on the past year, remembering certain specific and memorable events, and giving thanks to God, and to the many people who so selflessly serve, and minister in this church. And though we have not been able to fulfil many of the things we would have loved to have done – I have been amazed at how much the Family of St. Mark’s have continued to serve and bless the Body of Christ, the local community, and further afield. Thank you!
The Phileo team (now overseen by Jan Speirs and Rose Johnson), and in which I include our prayer chain (overseen by Roy and Marilyn Brockhurst), has been amazing, offering pastoral support and prayer in so many different and creative ways. Refusing to allow the restrictions and regulations we have had to endure, to limit the care and compassion they have been able to offer and give to those they have reached out to. Thank you!
The need for debt advice and counsel, overseen by Nigel Speirs, has exploded during the Pandemic, and it has been wonderful that local GPs, and others, are referring people to St. Mark’s for help and advice. Some of these people have nowhere else to go and are desperate, and through this outreach the love and care of Jesus Christ is shown. Many have other deep emotional needs, and Nigel has been able to signpost them onto much needed counselling. Thank you!
Some of our Life Groups have continued to meet via zoom, phone, WhatsApp, or other means, but many have not. As we come out of lockdown I have asked Anina to take on the responsibility of looking at all our Life Groups with fresh eyes, and to encourage those who are not in one to join one, or start one. I believe Life Groups are vital for our growth in discipleship, however long we have been a follower of Jesus – vital for new believers, and for those who are in any sort of leadership within St. Mark’s. It is in Life Groups that our cords will be lengthened, and our stakes strengthened (Isaiah 54).
Another exciting thing that has happened in the past six months or so is the praying, preparing and planning for our new place of worship in the Wrexham Road housing development which is being pioneered by Hana. Hopefully by the time you have read this you will have also, heard, and read about this new initiative in ReMark’s?
During this Pandemic Hana has brought a team together who have prayed and listened to God. This new place of worship is to be called ‘The Living Room’, with an exciting vision and mission statement. Please do pray for Hana and the new team.
This year Nikki and Margaret Grice have continued to have children and families on their hearts, and have been incredibly creative with delivering presents and resources to families at home, or learning packs in church. When schools have been open, assemblies have been conducted by zoom, and goody bags offered at the school gate. Thank you!
Youth work has been a challenge but Hana and Anina plus a small team, have been able to engage with them on zoom, and this particular ministry will now come under the umbrella of the ‘Living Room’, until we are in a healthy financial position to employ a youth minister for both church and outreach work. Thank you!
During the last year we have had the hall and church office re-furbished which was a great achievement, and thanks to all who helped in achieving this. We continue to pray for the rest of the building project to be accomplished over the next few years. I passionately believe that this is part of our enlarging the place of our tent (Isaiah 54). I believe there is a new urgency to move forward this coming year with this building project so we can provide amenities and ministries that the Lord Jesus would be urging us to embrace, enabling us to show His love, compassion, and offer of new life, life in all its fullness.
Another great event that we were able to offer to the local community and family of St. Mark’s was the Winter Garden during the month of December. This idea was inspired by Hana who involved local schools, the Light Project, and other local individuals. It was opened by the Bishop of Birkenhead, and was a stunning and powerful ensemble of lights, prayers, angels, scripture, art & craft depicting the carol ‘O Holy Night’. Thank you!
I want to thank our amazing IT team who, without them, we would not have been able to provide the on-line worship that we have. I know that not everyone has been able to access this, but it has enabled a large majority of the congregation to be part of Sunday worship throughout this last year. We have also been able to offer worship via Eventbrite for the bigger festive services such as our Carol Services, Christmas and Easter Day. Thank you to all who have been involved in contributing to these different services, and our weekly Sunday worship, including Discover on Sunday evenings via zoom overseen by Kathryn Elsmore.
Last year we welcomed Hana on to the staff team as an ordained deacon, responsible for the oversight of the ‘Living Room’ in the new Wrexham Road housing development; Helen as the Vicar’s PA; Christine as Parish and Building Project Secretary; and Anina was ordained as priest.
I want to thank Nigel and Kofi for all that they have done as Church Wardens in this past year, which has been extremely challenging, but I have valued their wisdom, steadfastness in their faith, support and friendship. Thanks to the PCC & Leadership team who also have faced a difficult year meeting on zoom, and trying to discern what the Spirit is saying, let alone navigating through the endless government and Church of England guidelines! Thanks to the staff team who have persevered through this pandemic, bringing their different gifts, supporting one another, and church members. It has not been easy, but I have much appreciated how we have stood together in prayer and held on to the hope of the resurrection. Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed!
Finally, thanks to each one of you faithful servants who make up the Body of Christ here at St. Mark’s. I know how this last year has been for some, but not for all of you. It has been very hard as I said at the beginning of this report but Psalm 96 has been on my heart recently – do read it. It is about singing to the Lord a new song – singing about his greatness, his splendour, his majesty; acknowledging that it is only God who reigns, he is the judge of heaven and earth. It has been a dark year but the Light of Jesus is shining through, and we are called to sing a new song of joy, hope and love. So let us go out into our parish, frontlines, city; to our families and friends singing a new song of hope as we enlarge the site of our tent. Not holding back, but with excitement and full of the love of God reaching out to the left and the right as we partner with God in His mission bringing more of His kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven.
Revd. Hennie Johnston