Strengthening foundations – Monday 10 October 2011
Rector Charlie Cleverly writes...
It was encouraging that so many were able to attend our autumn vision night last Wednesday. I felt that it would be good to write to you all with the latest news from St Aldates, so please find a cup of tea and take a few minutes to read this through.
Out of the general theme of strengthening the foundations, I outlined what I feel are some priorities for this year. I have in front of my mind an image of a storm: of water pouring over sandy foundations that are washed away to reveal rock-like, strong and solid foundations of many pillars, on which the building is secure.
In the stormy financial times we are living in, I gave a call last week to check our foundations and for many of you to be load bearers at St Aldates in this season. I addressed the idea of foundations under five main themes as follows.
1. Faith foundations
Our church for many years now has lived out a walk of faith. Paul says that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone. This has to do with doctrine that is faithful to Christ’s teaching. The passage goes on to say that: “In him the whole building is bonded together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21).
I outlined how God can supernaturally make things grow despite apparent contradiction. “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12) is a verse that is important to us still. But just as He turned water into wine; just as He multiplied two fishes and five loaves to feed 5,000; just as He breathed on and transformed fearful disciples, so He can do and is doing the same with us. We saw how God was, in a time of staffing reductions, bringing significant commitment to volunteering. Whether this is in hospitality, student work, the work of ACT! among the poor or in other areas, it is all the Lord’s doing and is wonderful in our eyes. If you would like to volunteer your time and skills, please get in touch.
2. Family foundations
St Aldates is a local family and city church. Our Pastorates system remains our key strategy for combating disconnection. We are always looking for ways to cause these extended families of faith to flourish. Hence, we have a Pastorates Sunday on 16 October when a big effort will be made to recruit newcomers into these brilliant groups; you can also email us for more details about joining these small community groups. For Pastorate Leaders, we have a training day on Saturday 22 October on the theme of welcoming the power of the Holy Spirit in small groups. One firm plan we have to strengthen community is to hold a monthly Sunday lunch for the Aldates family. I am pleased to say that Tim Wraith (one of our Churchwardens) has volunteered to mastermind this. If you can help with this specifically, please email Tim or speak to him on a Sunday morning.
3. Foundations for fishing
St Aldates is a great church to ‘fish’ from. Part of our DNA is to be a trawler among the people of Oxford with all hands on deck going deep-sea fishing. This may be through postgraduate community, the poor and disadvantaged, among students, young people, families or internationals. At other times, we need to be rod fishing for ones and twos. Jesus said to Peter after his visionary revelation of faith: “Don’t be afraid: from now on you will catch men!” (Luke 5:10). Incidentally, if you have a friend with questions about Christianity, it's not too late to invite them to join the Alpha course tomorrow night!
4. Foundations for the future
The fact is that St Aldates is a local church which is also a missionary society. It is such a privilege to be part of the great worship, great preaching, great children’s work, great prayer life, focus on justice, focus on missions, Europe, Muslims – the list goes on – of our amazing church. But to be this missionary society at the same time as a local church can be hard work; for a start, it can be challenging even to get to church with all the parking restrictions in place! It is really costly. It can be demanding. But it is worth it.
When we hear the stories of what is happening in these different groups, we increasingly feel that all of this is worthwhile. In the meantime, I do commend you for your commitment to this amazing vision to be a house of prayer for all the nations at the heart of Oxford.
5. Financial foundations
I now want to address this very important issue. It is a worldwide challenge and we are not exempt. At Wednesday’s meeting, I outlined the fact that our church has expanded in terms of attendance, ministries and vision, but we have not quite kept track in terms of funding. Although our gift-aided monthly income has increased this year (which is a miracle), our Gift Day income has fallen behind this year and last, leaving us with a £200,000 projected debt this year.
I announced some good news at the meeting, namely that we had received a promise of a single gift of £50,000. But I also announced our conviction that we should take the following steps:
- Ask God for help;
- Try to find other income streams (this is a lengthy process, but is in hand);
- Make some staffing reductions: we have sadly told five people that their jobs are at risk of redundancy. Please stand with us and pray as we face this as a whole church with pastoral love and sensitivity;
- Seek God for what sum we might contribute to the forthcoming Gift Days (on Sundays 30 October & 6 November), which have a target of £100,000.
In addition to this, we asked you to seek God as to whether there is any way you might be able under God to increase your giving. Specifically we asked:
- Can you register for Gift Aid (if not already done)?
- Can you set up a monthly Standing Order (if not already done)?
- Can you increase your existing giving by 10%?
- Can you bring forward or pledge your Gift Day giving?
In conclusion on the matter of our finances, I think that we need to see the financial position of St Aldates in perspective. The challenges are not unique: many churches face the same issues. If the Gift Days raise £100,000, the 2011 debt will be around £50,000. If so, this is one-twentieth of the debt (£1m+) I inherited ten years ago during the refurbishing of St Aldates – and this despite the recession and several very entrepreneurial years of expanded ministry. The church’s position is therefore far from dire, particularly since the new Catacombs building has also opened, giving us a very valuable asset on the other side of the balance sheet that we didn’t have 10 years ago. There is much to thank God for and we should not be discouraged.
However, that does not mean that it is not appropriate to make some savings. We are indeed doing this with essential staffing reductions mentioned above. It is essential too that we rebuild adequate reserves in order to operate properly and safely. I echo the words of Tim Keller of Redeemer Church, New York, faced by this recession and a shortfall in their funds: “In the midst of a very difficult economic environment – when many are out of work and cannot give – I hope that those with the means in our congregation will be even more generous. I also pray that we can approach this transition time with unity of spirit and hope in God’s leading and God’s grace.”
So, please stay strong in the Lord and in His mighty power – and, in the face of everything, stand firm. Dear friends, don’t underestimate the pearl that St Aldates is in God’s kingdom and please don’t let anything steal the joy of being part of that pearl. The work of the Lord Jesus at St Aldates and the cause of the gospel in the heart of Oxford really is something worth giving everything you have for.
With love in Christ,