The Parish of St Mary, Astbury
Open Meeting, 29th January 2007
Summary of Discussion
Twenty-one members of the congregation attended, with apologies received from six. The Rector opened the meeting with a reading from Psalm 90, and Mr Kemp reminded those attending of the background to last year’s decision by the PCC to vary the existing pattern of Services. There had been a growth in Church membership and attendance over the past five years, with progress in various areas - Junior Church, the Ladies’ Fellowship, Trailblazers, Holiday Club, Alpha Courses and Confirmation classes, ‘Gossip the Gospel’ coffee mornings, Songs and Praise after Evensong, and the Fellowship Group discussions recently announced. Despite the progress, there was a connection lacking between young people and the general services; and those attending services were older than suggested by the parish profile.
Attendances at services between January 1997 and Easter 2006 showed an increase at 8.00 am Holy Communion and at 6.30 pm Evensong; a decline at 11.00 am Matins; numbers steady at 11.00 am Holy Communion; and a great increase at 11.00 am Family Communion.
To meet the triple challenge of increasing the attendance of parishioners, of continuing the use of the 1662 Prayer Book and of introducing the ‘School network’ to worship at Astbury, changes had been made at Easter 2006. As a result, attendances at 8.00 am continued to rise; the 11.00 am Family Communion and Holy Communion and the 6.30 Evensong remained the same; but at 11.00 am Morning Worship there had been a decline.
At 8.00 am Holy Communion, a return had been made to a more-nearly 1662 format. The use of Readings from the Common Lectionary had been abandoned and a return made to the BCP and King James Bible. These changes appeared welcome.
The moving of Junior Church from 9.45 to 11.00 am and to the Village Hall was welcomed: there were now 15-20 children and up to 10 adults involved, with fewer pre-school children but more in the 7-11 age range, who moved on to the Trailblazers youth group. Parents could go over to church for Communion, and Junior Church was more structured now.
The 11.00 am services, being the most widely attended, provoked the greatest comment. There were very many strongly-expressed objections to the changes of wording in the Creeds and the Lord’s Prayer: the 1662 words had been carefully chosen and could not easily be changed, and the changes which had been made formed a barrier. Similar objections were expressed to having the new services on sheets of paper rather than in book form; a minority welcomed the change, finding 1662 confusing. The point was made that Morning Prayer and Evensong were strong on the pre- and post-Christian experience, using the Psalms and Old Testament readings and treating them with the same importance and relevance as the New Testament: in the new pattern this experience was now lost. There was agreement that if Matins were to be done, it had to be done well, and to do that a choir was a prerequisite. Many people admitted to feeling excluded because of the new services, and some had stopped attending altogether: it was agreed that people must not be excluded.
The 6.30 pm services now included a Sung Eucharist on the second Sunday, because on that day there was no 11.00 am Communion: this new addition was welcomed, especially by the Ladies’ Fellowship, as 8.00 am was too early and 11.00 am too modern. The choir particularly enjoyed this service and the first Sunday Choral Evensong as something to work towards.
In general, in response to specific questions, the new services had been drawn up by the Rector and Curate; the Family Communion was based on Common Worship 1, and the other services on Common Worship 2; there were different Creeds as there were in the 1662 services; the PCC decides on the hymn books and Prayer Books which may be used in a church; the ‘Ordinary of the Place’ [the Rector] decides on the services.
Finally, there were two issues to address: the average age of the congregation was older than that of the parish; and no part of the parish should be alienated from the church.