Ruth Leach-Stephens explains how at Holy Trinity the laity are taking their destiny into their own hands
Approach and People
During an interregnum, when there is no priest, the laity have to step up to the plate and assume the leadership roles and believe that the future of their church is in their hands.
To this end we, at Holy Trinity Church, Ramsgate, divided the project into Approach and People. We were at every step, punctilious, prepared and positive.
We did not wait for the interregnum to begin. As soon as we knew that our priest was leaving, we started our planning. In fact, we re-affirmed the Resolution as our first step. We drew up a map of the steps that we needed to take and followed it methodically. By so doing, we hoped we would be prepared to anticipate what needed to be done and second guess, to an extent, the actions of others. We recorded everything that we discussed or decided and implemented. We were proactive and assertive and did not wait passively for others for others to put things into place in our church. We did not isolate ourselves, and were always prepared to ask for help. We constantly re-affirmed our catholicity, and we have held fast to our integrity.
The churchwardens have the helm during the interregnum and have the authority to steer the church on the correct path. We strongly recommend that the current practices are maintained, leaving any changes to the new incumbent. You are not alone in your endeavours, as there is help and support available from a variety of catholic bodies and individuals: the Society Bishop, Forward in Faith (the national office and the local branch), the Additional Curates’ Society, the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC), retired and practising Anglo-Catholic priests. Tap into these sources and use their knowledge.
It is essential that your PCC is fully involved and informed throughout the process. It is also vital that the PCC has a shared sense of purpose and works as a united unit. Avoid allowing factions to develop in the absence of a priest, as this can lead to a destructive and potentially toxic environment and makes the church vulnerable. Use the Forward in Faith guidelines to inform your decision making about how to manage people that are potentially involved in the process.
Your congregation is a vital asset during an interregnum. Do not underestimate the strength that can be derived from them and how needy they might be in the absence of a priest. Take time to talk to every one of them and buoy them up, as by so doing you will be given strength in your role.
What did we do?
When petitioning for a new priest, we asked our children to write to the Diocese telling them what they liked about our church and why they wanted their own priest. We also enlisted the support of the MP for Thanet South, Craig Mackinlay, and the Town Mayor of Ramsgate, Trevor Shonk, both of whom wrote personal letters to the Diocese. Also, every member of the congregation signed a petition requesting the Diocese to grant us our own priest.
An interregnum is a good time to think about Stewardship, as it affords an opportunity to boost giving with the ‘carrot’ of a new priest. At Holy Trinity we used the Diocesan Stewardship Officer to give a presentation to the congregation and made it into a social occasion. We have a young member of our congregation who runs his own business and he is intending to give a follow-up talk to encourage others in their giving. As a result of the campaign, we have increased giving in the plate, giving in the envelope scheme and most importantly giving by Standing Order. The last is the best method, as it ensures a regular monthly income. Overall, the monthly income has increased by £250 on Standing Orders and 10% on all other giving.
We have established a finance group, whose remit is to increase revenue and maximize the earning potential of our building. Holy Trinity church was cut in half in the early 1980s to provide a church hall under the same roof. The church hall is seen as a community resource, and we are maximizing its use as a revenue stream, with lettings on a daily basis.
Because we are a very poor church in a socially deprived area, we were able to submit an application to the Additional Curates’ Society. They have agreed to work with Canterbury Diocese to underpin the stipend of our new priest. We were in a united benefice, but under pastoral reorganization the united benefice will be dissolved. Because of the regeneration of Holy Trinity that has taken place over the last eleven years and the case that we made to the Diocese, they have agreed that Holy Trinity will have its own full-time priest.
We have approached local businesses to become Friends and Supporters of Holy Trinity Ramsgate. In return for their financial sponsorship, we advertise their business on our website, as a gesture of reciprocity.
Holy Trinity has worked closely with the Thanet Deanery and has taken a full part in the rationalization of pastoral ministry. Holy Trinity Ramsgate has also had central involvement with the Archdeacon of Canterbury and the Diocesan Secretary, who have supported us since the beginning of the interregnum.
Some Final Reflections
In the Canterbury Diocese we have re-established our Forward in Faith local branch. Each Society church has representation on the Committee and this group has been invaluable in offering support and guidance and encouraging mutual flourishing.
Holy Trinity does not have any assistant priests who can help and guide. However, and we strongly commend this to you, we have over the last ten years built up a network of retired Anglo-Catholic priests who have maintained the sacramental ministry during the interregnum. We are so grateful for their input.
Your Parish Profile is one of your biggest selling points and will require a great deal of consideration, blood, sweat and tears. Again, start early. Similarly, with your advertisement.
Throughout all these machinations keep your Society Bishop apprised of your every move!
Other parishes may wish to consider the following lessons, which we learned. We did not allow ourselves to be intimidated or persuaded to do anything that runs counter to our position as a Society church. We learned that our distinctive tradition and style of worship, formally acknowledged in the Resolution, has underpinned our success and growth and has encouraged us to stand firm in the face of adversity. We have learned that we are all but transitory and ephemeral guardians of the Faith and the Church and that it is our duty to secure the future for the faithful who delight in sacramental ministry.
Holy Trinity Church, Ramsgate is committed to the highest degree of communion with all other Anglican churches, both within the Canterbury Diocese and the Thanet Deanery, whilst continuing with the flourishing of the theological tradition already established.
Ruth Leach-Stephens is a Churchwarden of Holy Trinity, Ramsgate. She gave this address at the 2018 National Assembly.