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Out of the question: Interregnums good?

by
21 January 2009

Your answers

During the last year of our pre­vious incumbent, presumably as a result of his looking for greener pastures, average attendance at the main Sunday service declined by four per cent. During the eight-month interregnum, despite the active work of an NSM and church­wardens, it declined by a further ten per cent. With the appointment of a new and enthusiastic incum­bent, it rose rapidly by nine per cent, still five per cent lower than the starting point, to which it has never since recovered. How can it be right to say, as bishops often do when instituting a new vicar, that an interregnum is good for a parish?

When assembling some statistics for the diocese recently, I went back, out of interest, over an entire decade. During this period, there have been two incumbents here apart from me. On every measure, attendance fell over the ten years. Christmas communicants were the worst: -36 per cent, although, on a randomly chosen “average” Sunday, attendance had fallen by only 11.65 per cent. Christmas attendance went down by only 7.9 per cent, and is nearly back to the level of 2000.

Few of the graphs fell in a straight line, and sometimes an intermediate year had the highest numbers. Always, however, the best years are those when an incumbent was in post, and the worst are during interregnums. A new priest also seems to boost attendance, but often this does not last.

So, yes, having a priest was, it appears, good for this parish. But there are other forces at work, not so easily measurable: for example, falling membership, ageing congre­gations, and, if the generally smaller falls for attendance over communi­cants are right, a shift away from committed membership towards a more shifting congregation.

The trick for both incumbents and parishioners will be to hold on to those new people who, despite the gloom, do exist and do want to experience God’s love in their lives.
(The Revd) Richard Buckley
Wentworth, Rotherham

The trick for both incumbents and parishioners will be to hold on to those new people who, despite the gloom, do exist and do want to experience God’s love in their lives.
(The Revd) Richard Buckley
Wentworth, Rotherham

The questioner focuses too narrowly on short-term “bums on seats” in considering the benefit of an inter­regnum. Our interregnum, after the retirement of a much-loved vicar after 32 years, was very beneficial.

The self-examination required in preparing the parish profile (and indeed the Church Times advertise­ment) forced us to confront what was important to us in our mission.

We had to consider explicitly Resolutions A and B (which we rejected). Our visiting celebrants enabled us to experience a wide range of different preaching and presiding styles. And, of necessity, lay involvement in leadership stepped up a gear.

All of this put us in a much better place to take our mission forward when our new vicar arrived.
Andy Rooney (Reader)
London W4

When the “professionals” are re­moved from the scene and the whole congregation engages in the ministry and mission of the Church, numbers grow. Where a congrega­­­tion says, “It’s not my job,” and leaves mission and ministry to the hard-pressed “volunteers” (NSMs and churchwardens), it is not surprising that numbers decline. People are attracted to vibrant, living, enthusiastic, and active organisations, and vice versa.
John Clark (Diocesan Secretary)
Hereford

Your questio­­­ns

Last year, for the first time, I was called for jury service. At times, what we heard was most distressing. As foreman, I returned unanimous “Guilty” verdicts. Should I forgive, and pray for, those who were given very long sentences? After all, our faith is all about forgiveness, isn’t it? J. B.

questions@churchtimes.co.uk

questions@churchtimes.co.uk

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