“Church 21 is the Church of Ireland’s Programme of Parish Development. In a rapidly changing Ireland, churches are facing both opportunities and challenges. In many, there is recognition of need to meet these opportunities and challenges or they will simply fade away an die. Church 21 exists to help parishes pursue an attractive and relevant Parish life. Tullow Parish is fortunate to be part of this Programme.
So, what does this mean for us here in Tullow?
A group consisting of Barbara Cooper, Mandy Swanwick, Graham Weir, Alan Rhodes and the Rector are Tullow’s Church 21 steering committee. We have met together during the year to tease out what opportunities and challenges are facing our Parish. We attended a Church 21 Conference from 16th – 18th September in St. Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, which gave us, as a Team, time and space to reflect on our parish life and development and we got a chance to hear how other parishes in similar circumstances are facing the future. We left the Conference feeling that with God’s help, we as a parish can, must and will grow stronger together.
As an initial step in the journey of C21, we issued a Parish questionnaire. We would like to offer a big ‘THANK YOU’ to all who took the time to answer that Questionnaire. The report on the findings was made available to all parishioners – and is still available at the back of the Church. The Team is very grateful to Elaine Arrowsmith for her assistance in correlating the responses to the questionnaire. The results showed that the majority of those who responded think well of our church in terms of its ‘welcome’ and facilities offered. There is a good support network among the parishioners and many feel it is like a second home to them. However, many felt that more needs to be done in terms of encouraging younger parishioners to attend on a more regular basis and that the Service layout and forms of Service – particularly on special occasions – needed some updating.
Clearly, all work under the heading of Church 21 is work in progress and because it is an ongoing process, people’s input is not only very welcome but invaluable at every stage of that process! Therefore, any suggestions which any member of the parish may wish to put forward at any time into the future are most welcome, as this is very much an initiative to keep our parish up-to-date and moving forward. It also cannot be stressed enough – this is not a project for the steering committee, but needs the input and involvement of every person in the parish.
As part of the Church 21 programme we held a “Church for All” Sunday for March 18th. Appropriately enough this was Mothering Sunday and despite the bank holiday weekend, it allowed the opportunity to celebrate that aspect of Mothering which is “Mother” Church. Parishioners were encouraged to bring friends and neighbours to church on that day and it was a truly worthy celebration. The work put in by Ashlyn Casey in the design of presentation boxes was inspiring and gratefully received by all the ladies in the congregation. Vera Tanner’s input in organizing the children to make the boxes and fill them with treats continues to show the valuable and sometimes invisible input of the Sunday Club leaders. Without them we would be much the poorer and have failed our young people in looking at life through God’s Word and work.
As part of the C21 initiatives, we must say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who has volunteered to prepare the after-service Sunday morning coffee – “Through the Hatch” – which has proved immensely popular among regular attendees and visitors alike. There is an acknowledged workload associated with arranging this on a weekly basis and through Barbara and Mandy’s input, the process is made easier in having the written steps available for all those who agree to volunteer. We have seen both small and large crowds of people coming for a social gathering after church and no matter how many show up, we seem to manage a full clean-up by around 12 noon to 12:15 each Sunday – not such a lot of effort into something that so obviously offers such a positive return at both an individual and parish level.
New service formats with revised modern wording building upon the “Worship Together” Service of the Word format – for Remembrance Sunday, Christmas Day, Palm Sunday, Easter Day – mostly the big festivals, but we look forward to having new ideas and concepts to build on these into the future. We have seen a boost in numbers attending on these days and are encouraged by the response.
The next C21 conference takes place in mid-May and we look forward to hearing what other parishes have done in the time since the last conference in September 2011 and seeing just how far we have managed to grow and develop in God’s Word.
We need to bring C21 more to the fore among all the ministries in the Parish and would hope to have new ideas, initiatives and exercises over the coming months. As an example of our outreach ministry – taking Tullow Parish out into the wider community – we hope to arrange a multi-denominational Songs of Praise-style service later this year in our own church.
Communication is an important aspect of C21 and also within the parish family. New social media facilities such as Facebook, Twitter, mobile text messages and others, along with email, regular postal mail and our team of distribution volunteers all help to spread the news of what’s going on in the Parish. Margaret Bredin kindly assembled a list of parishioners’ names and their email addresses. We need to grow this so we can communicate faster and easier with those who wish to use alternate methods of communication. Please help us to help you by passing on your preferred contact mode to any of the C21 team or direct to Margaret Bredin.
Again, the committee are extremely grateful to all those who by their encouragement and prayers have been so supportive of the important C21 work which has been going on quietly in the background of our Parish life. We look forward, with God’s grace, to the continued development and growth of C21 in our Parish life and an ever increasing involvement of all parishioners wanting to be part of the visible growth and development of our church family.
Just one other thing to recall which you’ll undoubtedly have seen during the year – as you leave the church by the main door, there’s a mirror over the door and you may have well asked why?
Did you ever take the time to look – really look – and reflect on the interior of our beautiful church?
What do you see in the mirror? Do you see the people leaving after you – the smiles, the frowns, the hopeful faces? Do you see the empty pews left after everyone leaves? Do you see the altar, the cross, the pulpit, the prayer desk, the lectern?
The church and those fittings are there for us every day of the year – take a moment to reflect on how often you see them; how often you take the time to drop by and join in reflection through God’s word in songs and praise on what is happening in the world today.
Reflect on what the church might be like if nobody showed up.
Reflect on what it would be like if we turned up week after week and spoke to nobody.
Reflect on what we need to do to grow our church – to develop it – to encourage new parishioners.
Reflect on all those who have been a part of our parish family who have brought us to this point.
Reflect on what we, as a parish family, can do for ourselves and the next generations to maintain our beautiful church and grow further into the community outside.
Look again in the mirror and take some time to reflect on the beauty that God has given us.
And now reflect on what we can do to help the parish to develop God’s word both inside and outside our church building.
The parish is always looking for volunteers to work as part of a larger team to develop Christ’s ministry into the future – please reflect on how you think you might help and let us know.