Vicar’s report for the APCM

The Benefice of Marsden, Slaithwaite and East Scammonden.
Report of the Interim Vicar
24th April 2022

Dearest Sisters and Brothers in Christ; grace, mercy and peace be with you all.

We are currently two thirds of the way through the first term of Interim ministry together. As we enter the final year of the first term, I am yet to learn whether there will be a second three years… because it is not my decision. The decision belongs to the PCCs of St James (Slaithwaite) and St Bartholomew’s (Marsden) together with the Bishop of Huddersfield and the Diocese of Leeds.

The key word there is ‘together’. We do not exist at the whim of anonymous powers in the Church of England, we exist because God has formed us into a community, to be the church in our place. As I am regularly heard to say to school children when they visit, ‘church means God’s people’, this is my shorthand way of helping children learn that community is important. Our ‘together-ness’ is bigger than it used to be, we are now ‘together’ across the whole of Marsden, Slaithwaite and the surrounding communities. This gives us opportunities to pool resources, to share experience and to help each other where we have gifts to give.

The current Interim role is clear: to help the church grow. There have always been two elements to this:

  1. Numerical growth. The hope that more people will come to church.
  2. Spiritual growth. The hope that we will know God better.

Numerical growth is a complex issue and the motivation for it runs the risk of being self-serving. The key to understanding numerical growth with Christian integrity, is to start with God’s love. God has called us together because God loves us and wants us to live free from fear, liberated by the knowledge of the resurrection. We are those people who live in the knowledge that our lives are eternal, and that our eternal life has already begun. We live in two ‘kingdoms’. We simultaneously live in the kingdom of God; in which justice and righteousness flow like rivers, in which the villages of Marsden and Slaithwaite shine like jewels… and we also live in the current kingdom of this world, in which money and fear seem to have such power. Numerical growth in the church comes when our friends, families, neighbours, and colleagues discover that they also live in two kingdoms. Church growth happens when more people become church: set free by the love of God.

Spiritual growth is not about everyone becoming a Vicar, or praying out loud, or learning the Bible. Spiritual growth is about being closer and closer to the heart of God. During our Lent course, one of the insights we had was that the New Testament isn’t a new set of rules for Christian’s to live by, instead it is an opportunity to see how God (in the person of Jesus) reacts to different situations – and to learn to copy him. None of us are Christ, but all of us are called to become uniquely Christ-like. Spiritual growth is the process of becoming more truly the person you are called to be. One test of this is what we are willing to give and do for God and for others – not just the people we like or who are ‘like us’ but responding to those we meet even if they are not our friends. Just as Jesus did on the cross. Like all of us, I’m not there yet. I have a long way to go to become Christ-like and I have a lot of Spiritual growth still ahead of me. I hope that we can be companions as we growing together.

As I reflect on the ‘middle-third’ of this Interim ministry of growth I am encouraged: people in our villages are engaging in conversation with me. They usually start with, “I’m not religious but…” and then share what they believe. Sometimes they ask me questions, but often they want me to listen to them. I am committed to developing my trustworthiness in our villages and reach the point where people feel comfortable asking me about Christ with genuine curiosity.

I continue to enjoy working with all our schools and businesses, to pray publicly and joyfully, and to be a visible ‘priestly’ presence in our villages. I continue to manage the administrative duties of the Vicar, and to lead worship to the best of my ability each week. There is always more on my task-list each day than I can achieve, and every day I leave a duty undone. As a result, I find myself prioritising activities and naturally focus on those that most closely fit my affirmed Interim calling to ‘grow the church’.

I love seeing people within our church community feel encouraged to explore their faith further. God’s call upon each of our lives individually is not the same as God’s call upon every else’s life. For example, just because some people feel called to pray in public, it doesn’t follow that everyone must pray in public. The love that God has for you is as unique as you are. My hope is that I may be of some use in helping you to discover what God’s special call for you is, to pray for you each individually, and to pray together for the church corporately.

Looking ahead to June and July, we have two Sunday’s dedicated to learning together about Church Growth. In these two packed days I hope you will discover the unique calling which God has for you, and how we might collaborate in the two aspects of growth: working together with God, to grow God’s church in numbers and spiritually.

I love it here in the Colne Valley. I love the combination of generous people and beautiful surroundings. From the moment I arrived I have been delighted by the co-operative spirit shown by all who live here, which was highlighted by the shared challenge of Covid. However, I am not called by God to a simply live somewhere nice with nice people: I am called by God to communicate God’s freedom to all. Cycling in the Colne Valley is a useful metaphor for my experience of ministry: sometimes it is an uphill slog, and sometimes it is joyously freewheeling downhill. During the first two years of this incumbency, the ‘uphills’ have felt long and hard. I’ve been exploring how best to balance our community’s expectations of ‘what Vicars should do’ with the special role of being Interim Vicar for growth, working out how best to spend my time and energy. During the third year I hope to have more of the wonderful ‘freewheeling’ moments, and I’m seeing signs that this will happen. I see it in the conversations about Christian faith, and in how many in our church are exploring their own ministry and calling. If there is to be another Interim post – which I hope there is – it will look different and have a different focus. However, for now and for the next year I will continue to channel the blessings that God liberally pours into my life into our church and villages towards those activities which promote growth.

May you discover the richness of God’s blessings in your life; today, tomorrow, and always. With love in Christ,

The Reverend Graeme Holdsworth
Interim Vicar of Marsden, Slaithwaite and East Scammonden.

The Vicar