Parish of Godalming
with particular reference to Ockford Ridge and Aaron’s Hill
Report by Richard Hay (Assistant Archdeacon) for the Archdeacon of Surrey - January 2014
Involvement with and service to the community are deeply engrained in both St Peter and St Paul and St Mark. The parish church has been at the very centre of Godalming for many centuries to serve the people of the town. Much of its activity is geared to maintaining and developing this service. It is very natural that when the Ockford Ridge estate was built in the 1930s the parish should appreciate the need for a church to be at the centre and at the service of that smaller community. Hence the parish has lived out its Gospel mission by seeking to always be at the centre and to serve the well-being of its community (Lk. 22.27). In many different ways, each congregation, and those who have led them, have responded to, and now continue to be guided by, this mission.
However, this is an uncomfortable mission, because even more than others it requires the ways in which it is implemented to be constantly reinvented as the needs of the community develop around the parish and the church congregations. There has been significant change in every part of the parish. The pattern of residential and commercial accommodation has altered. Employment patterns have developed, as sectors have changed and part-time work increased. Social divisions are tending to grow, and in recent years economic difficulties have put pressure on many people. Supermarkets have partially replaced local shops (there are none left on Ockford Ridge). Communities have been weakened by the car, and the ease (for most) of independent travel. Patterns of community life have changed. These trends are of course not specific to Godalming, but affect the whole country. So do changes in the recognition of faith within our society. More immediately, there are also the difficult economic conditions which started some years back and are far from over.
These developments bear directly on the parish and bring out the need for constant reinvention. For the church, these pressures are increased by the need of the parish to be fully financially viable; in today’s church there are no significant central reserves of funds available. The parish of Godalming faces this pressure, compounded by the need to maintain a fine and historic building and the activity around it in the town centre, and to ensure the ongoing activity of the St Mark’s Centre. Critically, the division of the parish into two, whilst understandable at the time, has not led to the outcome then wished. Maybe the population allocated to the district of Ockford Ridge was simply too small for it to be able, in present times, to sustain a viable separate congregation. It has more clearly been unfortunate that this allocation also corresponded with social divisions as broadly measured by quality of housing and average incomes, and more certainly matched a widespread though unfounded perception of difference in crime. In these ways, the division has proved to be a limit for the parish on the inclusive nature of the Gospel.
There is now a sense across the parish that a new vision is needed, a vision which will not come from the hills but from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
In the face of these huge changes and challenges, the original vocation of the parish remains as valid as ever – to serve the community in which its churches are placed, to see God at work primarily outside the church buildings, and to be ready to ready to join in his acts of presence. Following the Lambeth Conference of 2008, a statement about mission was made of which this is an extract:
This report’s proposal is that the parish can find new purpose in this holistic understanding of mission by recognising its present reality (historic St Peter and St Paul’s church, and St Mark’s Community Centre) through recovering its unity. It resonates with the history of the parish, and with much of its current activity. But the change, though apparently small in itself and in one sense changing nothing, could be the catalyst for a new framework, ambition and confidence to the parish and its members.
B. The review’s findings
Over the past five years or so, there has been uncertainty about the principal purpose of St Mark’s, and the responsibility of the parish for it. The review has shown that:
2) public support was also obtained when substantial funding from public sources (notably the Millennium Fund) was obtained in 2000
3) it is right that the servant hood expressed in the offer of the centre to the community should be reflected also in community participation in its running through user group representation on the St Mark’s Centre Management Committee
4) however, the parish has and retains complete legal and financial responsibility for St Mark’s
5) there is now no present hope of Ockford Ridge and Aaron’s Hill becoming a separate parish (this possibility partly motivated the creation of a team ministry, but the reality of the possibility may even then have been less than imagined)
In exploring these matters, however, the review has observed at St Mark’s:
2) tensions between the building’s use as a community centre, and its identity as a church
3) the excellent links between the parish (particularly St Mark’s) and Green Oak Voluntary-aided Church of England Primary School) on Ockford Ridge (the only church school in Godalming), in assemblies and other classroom work, in ‘God’s Gang’ meeting weekly during term time in the school, and in governance
4) the faithful core of committed, largely elderly, worshippers at St Mark’s, their heart to serve their community, and efforts to increase the range and attraction of services
5) the (usual) reticence of congregations to move willingly to attend worship in another church at both St Mark’s and St Peter’s and St Paul’s
6) the existence of other churches in the wider area which draw people from Ockford Ridge and Aaron’s Hill
7) the engagement of the wider community in activities to support the area, notably through the St Mark’s Active Residents’ Team (SMART) group
8) the use of the centre by some groups of whose members at least a good number come from beyond Ockford Ridge and Aaron’s Hill; on one hand in this way the centre is part of the whole parish’s support to the wider community, while these groups contribute to the centre’s financial viability; on the other hand, they may curtail use by the local community
9) plans to develop the housing on Ockford Ridge in the coming years
The review has also identified some specific issues related to St Mark’s:
2) though individual giving of the worshipping community at St Mark’s is high, collectively the income is far below the sums needed to support a full-time (or even part-time) minister; however the clergy living at Ockford Ridge have also served the wider parish which has the responsibility of paying the whole Parish Share
3) the Food Bank which has been run at St Mark’s for the past three years with some support from Waverley Borough Council is now being developed further to serve the whole town, and support is being sought from Churches Together in Godalming and from the Deanery
4) while the use of St Mark’s for services on Sundays is assured, there have been difficulties over its use as a community centre and as a church during the week for funerals, school visits and services and some other events
5) it is difficult to provide a ‘sacred space’ in the Centre for individuals who wish to be with God.
In relation to St Peter and St Paul, the review has brought out:
2) affection for maintaining traditional standards and styles of worship, and the building
3) a general but not complete acceptance of the importance of Ockford Ridge to the whole parish
4) concern at the financial burden on the parish of the cost of a second stipendiary priest
The review has also looked briefly at leadership and management:
2) the uncertainties about the role of St Mark’s and its relationship to the parish as a whole has created pressures on the clerical leadership of St Mark’s, and some tensions in the clerical team
3) balance is difficult to achieve between the parish’s complete legal and therefore financial and ultimately managerial responsibility for the community centre’s activities, and the very right wish to give the community and users a prime place in local management
4) the uncertainties about St Mark’s have also been seen by some as creating some lack of clarity about and affirmation of community outreach on Ockford Ridge and Aaron’s Hill
C. Possible ways ahead
The mission of a church at the service of its community needs to be refreshed both for St Peter’s and St Paul’s and for St Mark’s. The understanding of God’s mission summarised in the first section should be the guide. Thus one basic step would be the reaffirmation that despite their different histories both are parts of a single, mutually supporting whole, as a clear sign Christ’s inclusive Gospel. In other words, there is need to reaffirm the principle of a single parish of Godalming.
In one sense, as noted above this is simply to express a present financial reality. We need to acknowledge that there is no external continuing funding (e.g. from the Diocese) that can reduce this charge, as some have suggested. But potential lies in recognising afresh this reality, to rework the purposes of the whole parish. Moving towards this aim will best be undertaken in two phases.
The first step would of course for the leadership including the PCC and DCCs to consider the broad approach offered, and to decide whether it offers a suitable framework for further action.
Next (perhaps in part anticipated) there needs to be practical adjustment of the church’s management to sustain working as a single parish:
2) at this stage, it seems best not to change the legal structure of the team (a time-consuming process); instead, the parish should develop flexible ways of working across it to reflect the desired unity of the whole parish
3) in this way, to make sure that planning and responsibility is seen by all concerned as being parish-wide, the pattern of PCC, DCC, Standing Committee and wardens’ meetings should be reviewed
4) in particular, while formally the DCCs still need to meet, in practice their meetings could be combined with those of the PCC
5) the clergy should review their responsibilities for different areas of ministry treating the parish as one, building on the structure of Canon Mervyn Roberts as Rector, Revd Beverley as Team Vicar/Associate Rector, and Revd Robbie Harvie as a very valued OLM
6) it would also be necessary to achieve parish-wide coordination of the main activities i.e. for children and youth, for worship and for fabric
7) the possibility should be explored of drawing some worshippers with servant hearts to St Mark’s from neighbouring churches as a long-term mission commitment
In parallel, to fulfil now the parish’s commitment to sharing in God’s mission across Godalming, St Mark’s should be reaffirmed as a centre to serve the local and wider community, and methods of work should be reviewed to help this specific activity to be achieved
2) resolve uncertainties about the use of centre for church activities (main holy days, regular events, occasional funerals)
3) seek to create a ‘sacred space’ within the centre, and explore ways the local community may be able to drop in for coffee and a chat or for lunch, so integrating the centre more into local life
4) discuss also with external partners (Waverley Borough Council) about perceived needs
5) seek to build up the activity of the centre both to ensure financial viability and to better meet the needs of the local within the wider community
6) continue the development of the food bank, and seek publicity for it as a success story linked to all the churches of Godalming
More generally, the vision should be presented to the whole church to enable all members to grow in seeing themselves as one in
2) fulfilling the mission call to serve a diverse and inclusive population in ways such as service, education, support, relief, advocacy and environment, building further on the many good things that happen already with local schools, commercial and government centres
3) sharing in a process of explanation and participation across the parish’s different congregations to develop further this wider understanding of God’s mission
4) considering scope for working with other churches in the parish in confronting the wider issues of mission (the involvement of Godalming Churches Together with the Food Bank is an example)
5) seeking immediate small-scale but outward-looking actions (of the kind, litter picking across Ockford Ridge and Aaron’s Hill) and so to become active in the mission of a Gospel of service.
To move forward on these steps, as needed, external help and facilitation should be available to the extent that the parish requires.
Lastly in phase one, there should be agreement on the shape and leadership of a parish-wide process to review and refresh the ways the parish develops further into the view of mission set out above. This process should offer to all church members a chance to take part, as well as seek views more widely across the community.
Second Phase -
To conduct this review of mission refreshment process across the parish as a whole, then implement its conclusions, and hope to guide forward a people renewed in their understanding of God’s ways of working.