From the Rectory
On the 11th October Christ Church Freemantle hosted, at short notice, Southampton Deanery Synod. It is a tradition that the host Church gives a short presentation profiling the parish. This opportunity fell to me and it gave me the chance to think and reflect on the changes that have taken place here in Freemantle since my arrival. Many years before coming here as Minister, during the 70ís in fact, I worked for a local business, Lonsdale Technical in Shirley Road. Those premises are now flats and fronted by the World Food Shop. The changes have been far reaching and profound. Following is the address as given to Synod members.
PARISH PROFILE -
When I first came to Freemantle at the beginning of 2006, the Parish Profile I was given informed me that there was estimated to be about 8,500 people here. Now we have the latest census statistics and it would seem that that figure has possibly increased by some five or six thousand.
The housing stock has changed considerably. Victorian villas are now blocks of flats, pubs are now supermarkets and one car saleroom under reconstruction will soon be enormous multi-occupancy housing units; which, in itself, is an interesting turn of phrase. My predecessor had the assistance of two non-stipendiary priests. Now there is just me, although I do have the help, two Sundayís a month, of an excellent Lay reader.
A trip down Shirley Road is like a journey through the cultures of Europe and wider. Restaurants and food outlets offer every conceivable culinary experience.
Anti-social behaviour, excessive late night drinking and violence on the streets has reached the point whereby the Police have approached the Southampton Street Pastors to see if patrolís could be introduced into this part of the city. There are within this Parish and close by, literally dozens and dozens of places where cheap booze can be purchased at almost any hour of the day. This once quiet, gentle place on the edge of the city, is now a fast growing mish-mash of multi- cultural and ethnic diversity. It can be raw, in your face and challenging, and it sits alongside, and in tension with, some truly beautiful, inspiring and wonderful people. It is a community that is rich and diverse.
Freemantle Church of England School next door is now Freemantle Church of England Community Academy. From 200 children in 2006 to 400 in 2012, and in twelve monthís time pushing 600, with possible plans to extend into Secondary education. My, my, times they are a-changing.
The make-up of the Church has also undergone considerable change. One time stalwarts have moved into residential care or have died. Others have moved away or simply stopped coming. There are new faces and families, expectations and challenges. It is no different from any of the parishes in Southampton I know that.
The Church is involved in change just as any other institution at this period of time. We now have women priests; soon we will have women bishops, which for me at least proves that there is a God. Same sex marriages are on the agenda. I sometimes stop and think to myself, whatever next? But whatever is next the Church will remain here, a valuable and very visible witness to it all. The world may spin and change and the Church will change with it. It has to, in many respects, just to remain relevant in a world which so often isnít.
What will not change, and what has never changed through the centuries, is its belief in a God who constantly re-creates and inspires the Holy people of God to follow Him. We have to keep raising our game, we know that. We look the world square in the eye and say, ĎBring it oní we are ready. We are not dismayed by the world and its ever changing ways.
The Church has been here for a hundred years longer than Iíve been alive. It has been here in fact longer than anyone living on the planet. Iím the latest in a line of rectors stretching back to the mid-nineteenth century. In my last post I was the 46th priest in a line that reached back to 1242. Which sort of puts me in my place historically doesnít it.
In its current form, which is not the form of fifty years ago, and in fifty yearsí time will be different again, the Church here in Freemantle is alive and kicking. It may appear to be un-changing to some, but itís not. Itís a Church fit for purpose and fit for the twenty-first century. Its foundations were formed three millennia ago. Like so many other Churches it is a survivor. It survives because God is at its core: The Three in One. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I commend it to you.
Yours for Christ's sake.