Vicar’s report 2022-2023
On 7th March Carole and I set off on a journey to Trinidad and Tobago, originally scheduled for Easter 2020. It has been an amazing experience for us, but perhaps there are those at St. Helen’s who could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t the most convenient or sensible time for this trip.
For the previous day, on 6th March, two years after the initial site meeting, Northern Powergrid finally arrived to replace the power supply to the Church.
I left for the Caribbean with the Church path being dug up and 10 days’ work in prospect. In fact it took two weeks and meant the Church was out of action for two Sundays, including Mothering Sunday.
What impressed me was the way in which the Church, and in particular Jenny Stirling and Chris Simmons, dealt with the disruption, relocating services to the Parish Hall without any drama.
People have told me how enjoyable those services were, and that Chris has been like a breath of fresh air.
In the same way, I planned a Lent study course, using an excellent little book published by the Church of England, but was only present at the first meeting.
I returned to find that the meetings, at Barbara’s house, have thrived and been much enjoyed by those taking part.
Moreover Chris worked with Karen North at the school in my absence to organize a service for the children in celebration of mothers.
It has always been my hope and my aim to ensure that Whitley Chapel will always have a living and active Christian presence and witness, with or without a resident parish priest, and this recent experience has been very encouraging.
Nevertheless I am very aware that challenges face us:
After the retirement of Barbara last year Jenny has been carrying on as sole churchwarden. This is quite a load to carry, particularly since she is also our Parish Safeguarding Officer.
I am aware that at this year’s Annual Meeting a number of PCC members will be unable to attend because of health issues.
We need as a matter of urgency to recruit new members to the PCC.
Barbara has set us an excellent example by setting up a year-round flower rota; it should be possible to find people willing to serve on the PCC.
Shirley Nixon has continued faithfully to provide us with music on Sunday mornings, often supported by Rachael Nixon. We are really fortunate to enjoy real music in church and cannot take this for granted.
I want to express my thanks to Tom Cowing for the pleasure he has given to many by the unique way he has accompanied services on the accordion over the years. The last occasion was a very beautiful service we held in celebration of the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last Summer. It is a great sadness that Tom’s health now makes this impossible.
I am grateful to David and Claire for continuing to look after the Church’s finances, in spite of many other pressures, and aware we need to improve the Church’s regular income.
Once again Ruth has put together a Sunday rota for the year, an enormous help to me, and I am grateful to all who volunteer to lead prayers, to read, and to act as sidesmen.
Many thanks to those who provide our baby and toddler group, and to Carole and those who work with her organising events for children and families at Christmas, on Palm Sunday and for Good Friday and Easter. This means we continue to include children and families in the life of the Church.
I am also aware how fortunate I am that Chris and Dorothy Simmons have become part of our community at St. Helen’s. To have the support of a priest with his experience and talents is a huge gift.
Looking ahead, there are seven couples planning their weddings at Whitley Chapel, and it is clear that our Church is much-loved.
Since last year, when we were invited by the Parish Hall to join their project to fit solar panels, we have been looking at this possibility. We are no longer eligible to be part of the Parish Hall’s project, but other opportunities are being explored.
Besides this I am still trying to work out what will work best for us as regards livestreaming services, and have sought advice from younger members of my family!
Vicar’s report 2021-2022
This time last year we were operating under restrictions imposed in response to the COVID pandemic: social distancing, limited seating in Church, no congregational singing.
A year on and I am currently feeling the effects of being infected with COVID myself, the school was forced to close down early last week due to an outbreak of this infection, and the wards of the hospital in Hexham are as full as at any time during the winter.
For all that, we are not where we were last year and I am hearing from people who would like us to return to something more like our practices before COVID, though there is no great enthusiasm for sharing the chalice as yet.
Without wanting to repeat what has been reported by the Churchwardens I want to say what a joy it was to celebrate weddings in Church in 2021, even though they can no longer be registered at the altar as we have always done, and a joy to celebrate baptisms too.
Although we are returning to in-person meetings, I think we will continue to use zoom and other electronic media. It certainly opens up the Lent study group to those who could not attend in person, including a young woman who will be returning to England this summer to be baptized at St. Helen’s.
One of the joys of our weekly worship is real music, and I am delighted at the quality of the music provided for us, week by week, by Shirley and Rachael Nixon, and truly grateful.
We have been offered funding to set up a livestreaming facility at Church. The information I receive is conflicting and I wish I was more knowledgeable about this.
We have gained new members of the Sunday congregation, but as time goes by it is becoming clear that some of our congregation may never return to Church. This is a matter of considerable sadness. The reasons will be various, but I think it means we must have a clear vision of what the future might look like at Whitley Chapel.
I will be 66 years old this year but one of the signs of encouragement I see is the young clergy who are coming into active ministry, bringing energy and fresh ideas. We have enjoyed having Rev. Henry Hope from Hexham Abbey leading worship at St. Helen’s : the future lies with people like him, not with me.
There are young families in Hexhamshire who are interested in the Church, and support the events and special services we organize. The future of our parish Church depends on their involvement and I am grateful to Carole my wife for keeping this part of the life of the Church flourishing.
I am also grateful to have two gifted Christian ministers amongst my neighbours. Carol and Robin Charlton are each living out their vocation and are part of God’s plan for this community of Hexhamshire.
The past year has been exceptionally busy for me. The additional duties of Area Dean of Hexham were not something I asked for, particularly at a time when not only Haltwhistle and Greenhead and the Allen Valleys but also Haydon Bridge, Beltingham and Henshaw were all in vacancy.
I have learned a great deal, not least where NInebanks Church is situated, but also how impressive is the lay leadership of those vacant parishes, and how much energy they have put, not only in maintaining but in renewing the life of the Churches they serve.
It has been my joy to be part of the process of appointing a new rector for Allendale and, after nearly four years, a new vicar for Haltwhistle
I believe I may also have found a new Deanery Treasurer , and was relieved, on January 23rd, to hand over the duties of Area Dean to the Revd. Dr. Martin Naylor.
I am thankful that we have an energetic Hon.Treasurer in David Wilson, and a professional and conscientious Accountant in Claire Bradley, who has also made the time to support Haltwhistle’s PCC during their long interregnum.
Thanks to Claire and David we end the year in a financially stable position, but have no room to be complacent as we look ahead.
I am grateful to our Churchwarden Jenny Stirling, who has spent many hours cleaning the Church before Sunday worship and has been tireless in keeping up with the Church’s requirements in the area of safeguarding and in ensuring that the PCC understand what is expected.
After more than 20 years in office, I know I must accept Barbara Parker’s decision to retire. She is the most wonderful Churchwarden, loved by all, and a true example of Christian faithfulness. There are hardly words to express my gratitude to her. Barbara is not walking away from anything, however; she has just produced a rota for flower arranging in church and persuaded a good number of ladies to take part.
Access to the Church is now through a beautiful pair of new gates, and for this we have to thank the Burial Ground Trust under the leadership of Tony Macklon for its generous support.
We have been waiting since October for Northern Powergrid to tell us when they will be replacing the power supply to the Church but this winter their focus has had to be elsewhere.
I am personally grateful to Ruth Marlee for encouraging people to go on the Church’s rota, and for putting the whole thing together.
The Baby and Toddler group continues to welcome and support young families, thanks to its faithful volunteers: again, I think this is an essential part of the ministry of this Church.
We are going through a time of great change and uncertainty.
Let us remember all that God has been doing with gratitude, and look ahead in hope and with faith.