Christchurch, Abbeydale is a church which is unique in Gloucestershire, a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) with a single congregation made up of members of four denominations: Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed and Baptist. Christchurch is a Church of England conventional district within the Gloucester City Deanery and Gloucester Diocese, a Methodist church within the Gloucestershire Circuit and Bristol District, a United Reformed church within the Gloucestershire Area of the West Midlands Synod and a Baptist church within the West of England Baptist Association. The conventional district is an Anglican area created from parts of the two parishes in which Christchurch is situated. We therefore undertake work across the entire neighbourhood, including a responsibility towards those who are members of no church, as is the normal practice in a Church of England parish.
Abbeydale and Abbeymead are suburban residential areas three miles to the east of the City of Gloucester. Our church is situated on a prominent site opposite a Morrisons’ supermarket at the centre of these two large areas of housing. Other services close to the church include various small shops, two pubs,community centre, a medical centre, a vet, a dentist and optician. There are two primary schools in the area. To the rear of the church is a small diocesan housing complex known as Anne Edwards Mews. Building began in Abbeydale forty years ago with mainly private housing, but neighbouring Abbeymead is more recent. There is a mixture of housing catering for families, couples, singles and purpose-built units of sheltered accommodation. The area is predominantly owner-occupied. When compared with the rest of the City of Gloucester, the proportion of ethnic minorities is relatively low. There is a good age mix. The total population of Abbeydale and Abbeymead is about 12,000. Abbeydale and Abbeymead are pleasant areas in which to live; many people have lived in their homes since they were first built. As well as being an LEP, Christchurch is part of a wider Anglican-Methodist-URC-Baptist Covenanted Partnership, working mostly with three Anglican churches, St. Lawrence at Barnwood, St. Oswald at Coney Hill and St. Leonard at Upton St Leonards. Although the strength of this partnership has declined in recent years, relationships with these parishes are cordial and the ministers have maintained regular meetings. There are also occasional times of active co-operation, for example with Lent study groups and Alpha courses. Within the immediate area there is also a Baptist church, a Roman Catholic church and two Evangelical Free Church plants (with a third about to start in the autumn). The location of Christchurch presents a number of advantages; we occupy a central position and have a large mission field literally on our doorstep. The four-denomination make-up of our church presents a unique opportunity for a minister seeking to broaden his or her ecumenical experience. There will be good support for the minister both from within the membership of Christchurch and from the wider community.
Christchurch is relatively modern. It was built as a single project in 1995 and has been well maintained under the direction of the property stewards. There are no structural problems with the building. Routine maintenance and decoration are undertaken by volunteers from the church membership during an annual work week in August. The flexible multipurpose worship area comfortably seats 185 and is equipped with a sunken baptistry, font, altar-table, computer, three LED audio-visual screens and a sound system with a loop for the hard of hearing. The overall effect is light and airy. Also within the church building are modern toilet facilities (including for the disabled) and a fully equipped kitchen. There is in addition a small room known as ‘Shalom’, which is set aside for quiet prayer, an office and a reasonably-sized meeting room, which can be subdivided by a partition. There is never enough storage, but we make extensive use of two loft spaces. The church car park has space for about 40 vehicles. A modern minister’s house, usually known as the Manse, stands next to the Church. Built in 1992, it is a detached family home with a large lounge, kitchen, dining room, study, four bedrooms, a double garage and a well maintained garden. Schools, doctors and all local amenities are within easy reach. The facilities for living and working at Christchurch are attractive, modern and efficient.
A Visitor’s View of the Christchurch Building!!
On a hot summers day after Probus, I was chatting to my friend Mike Wood about my first visit to a Salvation Army Church and afterwards he said "if you like looking at churches would you like to visit ours."? The invitation was taken up & off we went to find Christchurch and although I have never been a member of that church & not of the same faith I do enjoy visiting other churches..
As we drove into the car park I noticed immediately that the architecture was different from that which I had imagined, no towers, gargoyles or finials and the layout was unusual in its octagonal form with a pitched roof following the shape of the red brick buttressed walls, with a cross of clear glass blocks built into one elevation, of the wall, and with the shape of its Gothic windows it was a unique design and it definitely stood out and caught the eye, even though of modern design.
As I walked through the lobby into the main body of the Church, I was taken by the raised altar with the light shining through the glass Cross from behind, it was a strong symbol and I felt due reverence toward it and as I walked around the room, the Cross could be seen quite clearly from any direction when facing the altar.
The room was devoid of chairs and looked almost minimalist, but it enhanced the presence and size of the room and your eyes are forced to lift up to to the high wooden ceiling with its angles formed by the octagonal shape of the brickwork, giving the feeling of a safe umbrella to all inside What was quite unique was the provision of a small built in underfloor pool, so that the practices and beliefs of some denominations could be observed. Mike explained that the philosophy behind the design of the Church was so that it could accommodate multi denominational worship and to provide for the wider community. It seemed to have a strong community spirit, with all who worship there being encouraged to support it by taking part in its internal and external programs and activities, with provision off the lobby at the rear for refreshments, office space & preacher. There are different preachers that visit weekly from the various denominations It is truly a " Glorious Church ". in its concept, fulfilment & worship & one which I was very pleased to visit.
We aspire to make our services warm and friendly, varied and accessible, but at the same time dignified and meaningful. We are keen on congregational participation and regularly include children, who have an important and valued contribution to make. We are good at offering welcome and hospitality. Theologically, the church aims to be broad and inclusive. Morning services during the interregnum are being led by a variety of ministers and lay preachers from each of our four denominations. The form and style of worship is the choice of the individual preacher. The result is a rich diversity, which the congregation enjoy. Our average morning attendance during the year 2012 was 93. At present, Holy Communion is celebrated once a month on Sundays (and always at major festivals). Non-alcoholic communion wine is offered by both chalice and individual glasses. Members of the Church Council assist with the distribution. As we are a diverse congregation with differing traditions who wish to share worship together as a single church, we have learned to accommodate each other in order to develop a deeper understanding of our common faith. Praise, prayer, Bible study and challenging teaching are important to us.
We have a regular organist, two assistant organists and Jubilate, a music group of around ten members, including instrumentalists and singers. Books available are ‘Hymns and Psalms’ and the combined version of ‘Mission Praise’, but we hold a Church Copyright Licence and a Music Reproduction Licence so that more music is available to us. The words of hymns and the liturgy, including congregational responses, are projected onto AV screens. There is active lay involvement in worship and this includes stewarding, the reading of lessons and often the leading of intercessions.
Sunday evening services are held fortnightly at 6 p.m. and their format has changed during the last three years in order to maintain interest. One, which attracts a small but dedicated group, takes the form of a Bible Study. More popular in terms of numbers is the monthly Café Church, at which refreshments and informal worship are offered. Twice a year a visiting ecumenical choir is invited to sing Choral Evensong in the Anglican tradition. A weekly Holy Communion service is celebrated every Wednesday evening. It regularly attracts between six and eight worshippers. Special services held annually include: the Methodist Covenant Service; Wednesday in Holy Week, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Services; Harvest Festival; and the Christingle and Carol Services. Whilst Christchurch’s minister leads worship at most of the services, clergy and preachers from the other three dominations of the LEP are invited on a regular basis in order to maintain the diversity of our traditions. This gives our minister the opportunity to conduct services in other churches of our partner denominations and occasionally to visit and take part in the Junior Church. Within our own congregation there are five retired ministers (Anglican, Methodist and URC), a lay reader and four lay preachers. Church members appreciate the variety we currently have in our worship, including the balance of traditional and more modern forms. We believe that our style will be attractive to any minister seeking to lead worship in a lively and enthusiastic ecumenical setting. At the same time, we are open to new ideas and fresh expressions, provided they are introduced sensitively.
Christchurch offers weddings, funerals and baptism for adults and infants in much the same way as a parish church does. Those requesting these offices may already be associated with the church in some way, but often they have no prior connection. During the last three years there have been nineteen baptisms, all of them of children, (plus one blessing of a child), the services normally taking place at 12 noon after the main Sunday service. Over the same period there have been eleven funerals, seven marriages and one marriage blessing.
The congregation has its own minister who is appointed from each of the four denominations in turn. Worship is led mainly by that minister, but visiting ministers/preachers from the other three denominations are invited on a regular basis.
Aim and purpose
Abbeydale Church Council (CC) has the responsibility of cooperating with the
incumbent minister, the Reverend Steve Davies, in promoting the whole mission
of the Church, pastoral, evangelistic, social and ecumenical, in our
geographical area (a Conventional District to use the Church of England
term). The CC is also specifically
responsible for the maintenance of the Church building.
nature of the church, a key foundation stone since its inception, is reflected
in the contact with other churches, and as different ministers are welcomed to
our church whilst our minister visits other places of worship to lead services.
Objectives and Activities
The CC is committed
to enabling as many people as possible to worship at Christchurch and so become
part of our faith community. The CC maintains an overview of worship and makes
suggestions on how our services can involve groups connected with our church.
Our services and worship put faith into practice through prayer and scripture,
music and sacrament. When planning our activities for the year, the incumbent
and the CC try to help ordinary people live out their faith as part of our
Church community through:
Worship and prayer; learning about the Gospel, developing their knowledge
and trust in Jesus and supporting each other as part of the family of God.
Welcoming newcomers to the church whether as visitors or as in due
course, as potential members.
Providing pastoral care for people associated with the Church and/or
Developing connections into our local community particularly the local
To facilitate this
work we maintain the fabric of the church building, the associated rooms and
the area outside the church in good condition.
A Quinquennial Review carried out by the Architect appointed by the
United Reformed Church has reported the buildings to have been maintained in a
good condition, with no major works expected to be required in the next five
years, and no major expenditures are forecast.
Following on from
the granting of permission to inter ashes on site, several internments have
taken place. A Book of Remembrance has
been procured and will be located in the church.
Worship and Prayer
– the Church Council is keen to offer a range of services during the week and
over the course of a year to be both beneficial and spiritually fulfilling for
all. For example, the midweek communion service provides a smaller more
intimate, weekly opportunity to share bread and wine; this service offers a
quiet space and is valued by those who regularly attend.
We continue to use
worship material from various sources reflecting our ecumenical ethos, and a
typical service is accessible to, and appreciated by, members of participating
Music is provided
by a dedicated group of organists and piano players, and Jubilate, the church
singing group, regularly provides an input before and during morning worship,
and at evening cafe Church services. In
addition, Jubilate has carried out singing engagements at the local GL4
Community Open day, at other churches, and were invited to sing carols outside
the local supermarket at Christmas. It
should be noted that this was not a fund raising engagement, but a celebration
for the community.
For the first time,
we put on "NOAL" ("Nativity on a Lorry") with Abbey
Community Church. We visited a number of
local streets with a nativity scene on the lorry, carols being played, and
distributed free sweets and booklets to local families. This initiative was very well received by
locals, again with surprise that we were giving away God's love and not trying
to raise funds, and will be repeated in 2017.
At present we have
112 members and 67 adherents. Most people live locally. The membership and
adherents lists are reviewed annually, with some being added and other removed.
The average weekly attendance during 2016 was 87, but this does vary through
the year, particularly at festival times.
As well as our
regular services, we enable our community to celebrate and thank God at various
points in their own lives. There were 13 baptism/thanksgiving for birth services
throughout the year and 4 funerals services were held in the church, with our
minister officiating in further services at the Crematorium.
We ran a monthly
T@3 group attended by about 40 persons from the local community, a regular
Luncheon Fellowship, Community Holidays group, Craft Group and Banner
Group. We deliver "Open The
Book" at the two local schools (Heron and Abbeymead) and open the church
for Experience Easter and Experience Christmas, events much appreciated by
children and staff from the schools. We
have a very successful Boys Brigade and Girls Association (60 members) who are
based in the church. The church is also
used as a very pleasant meeting place by other community groups. The local Scout Group parades at our Annual
Remembrance Day Service and participates in the service.
Church Life, Community and Outreach
Fellowship and prayer are two of the strengths of our church life. We have a regularly updated prayer diary and in most Sunday services pray for specific individuals known to the church. A prayer chain exists to support people in crisis situations and this is open to anyone with a concern, not simply for our own church family. The prayer chain has brought many people to our Heavenly Father with a sure knowledge that he will meet their needs and it has been appreciated. Prayer lunches take place each Wednesday and we also have a system of prayer triplets. Fellowship is encouraged through a variety of special events, such as harvest suppers, barn dances and concerts.
Many regular events encourage fellowship in the church.
- Weekly ‘Coffee and Chat’ is held on a Friday morning, when the church is open for people to meet informally over a cup of coffee and a biscuit. This means the church is open and available to all who wish to call in for any reason and as well as fellowship provides an opportunity to give a Christian welcome to the people of the area.
- ‘T @ 3’ is a monthly venture, which is open to all and has encouraged social contact with a growing number in the local community who would otherwise have little contact with the church. People come to Christchurch on a Saturday afternoon to meet one another, enjoy a cup of tea and listen to a guest speaker. Attendance is usually in excess of forty people.
- Keep fit classes, held on Monday and Tuesday mornings, are another activity drawing on support from the wider community.
- The Craft Circle provides two hours of relaxation and pleasure each Thursday afternoon for those who enjoy handicrafts.
- The Banner Group meets to create beautiful banners for the church.
- A monthly Lunchtime Fellowship Club lays on a three- course meal, followed by a speaker, for twenty or so people, who are a mixture of members and local elderly folk. As a result, those who normally eat alone find fellowship and look forward to this break in their routine.
- Christchurch members attend monthly Mothers’ Union meetings, which take place on Thursdays in the neighbouring parishes of St Oswald’s and St Leonard’s.
- A well supported monthly Walkers and Strollers group organises rambles in the spectacular countryside of the Cotswolds, the Forest of Dean and other parts of Gloucestershire.
- A programme of holidays and excursions is organised by two church members, but open to others in the community; in a typical year, up to ten day trips and four residential stays are arranged through Airedale Tours in a variety of UK locations.
We have a weekly news sheet and publish a monthly magazine, the ‘Christchurch Chronicle’. The Church has its own website: www.christchurchabbeydale.org.uk
Led by the CandLe (Caring and Learning) group, Church Weekends attended by fifty or sixty church members have become a feature of church life. Based at either Windmill Farm Conference Centre in Oxfordshire or at Ammerdown Conference Centre in Somerset, the weekends have been organised around themes following the URC’s ‘Vision for Life’ process. In 2011 we were fortunate to have John Bell from the Iona Community as our guest. For many, it was a transformative experience. Bible study groups meet at the church weekly on Monday afternoons and in various homes on Wednesday evenings, studying topics from both the Old and the New Testament as well as special courses for Advent and Lent. Other house groups are organised during Lent and are usually well attended. ‘Spectrum’, a monthly Bible study group for the ordained and lay people, has become based at Christchurch. Christchurch hosts the Gloucestershire branch of the Progressive Christianity Network, which meets monthly. Pastoral care is exercised through pastoral visitors in partnership with the Minister. The limited number of pastoral visitors has sometimes led to a concern that people are likely to fall through the safety net. During our current vacancy, pastoral lists have been consolidated and our interim minister has organised a training day for pastoral visitors. A group of talented volunteers produce colourful and ambitious arrangements of flowers for the church each week. These are distributed to the sick and elderly after Sunday worship. We believe that there is scope to build on our present strengths of welcome, fellowship and prayer. Reliable pastoral care should also become an additional strength. There is enthusiasm for house groups of many kinds, but a lack of potential leaders and ever increasing demands on time restrict us. Many of the church activities described above attract people from the local community, who otherwise would have no connection with Christchurch. In addition, over many years Alpha Courses have brought new people into the church and have spiritually enriched the lives of many members of the congregation. Jubilate, the worship group, which is open to all, visits other churches and leads worship in other community locations, such as Gloucester Royal Hospital.
Special events that reach out to the local community include our biennial fund-raising fairs at Christmas and in the spring. These are always well attended by a wide range of people. In the last three years there have been two spectacular flower festivals which have brought crowds of people into the church.
Other community-based events include fashion shows and barn dances led by church folk groups known as the ‘Haywainers’ and the ‘Mid-Morning Stompers’. The annual Salvation Army Christmas Concert is always very popular.
Several community organisations hire the church building on a regular basis, including a tai chi group. Abbeydale Pre-School visits the church for its harvest and Christmas events.
Christchurch has many strengths, which should make an extension of our outreach possible in the future. We are situated at the heart of a large residential area ripe for evangelism. Our location makes us a very visible church to passers-by and we have an enthusiastic membership.
All are welcome to worship at Christchurch and to join in any of the activities which take place. Membership is open to Christians who either have moved from another church where they were members or to those accepted into membership by the church. We are always glad to welcome new people into membership.
The church membership consists of a good number of middle aged people working in various occupations, some families and a significant proportion of retired people, most of whom lead very active lives. As of February 2013, church membership stands at 112 with a further 30 or so regular worshippers. There are an additional 66 adherents and 18 children on our pastoral lists. Denominationally, there are 46 Anglicans, 35 Methodists, 16 United Reformed Church and 9 Baptists. In addition, there are 6 ecumenical members, those who were jointly confirmed into more than one of our participating denominations in a service at Christchurch without having had any previous denominational membership. Most of the congregation comes from the local area, but Christchurch also attracts people from other parts of Gloucester for various reasons. The love and care expressed within the fellowship creates an atmosphere of warm welcome that is often remarked on by those who come for the first time. In the church’s early days tensions existed over expectations of worship and forms of church government. Some members favoured liturgical services, whilst others enjoyed freedom from such constraints; some advocated congregational decision-making and others looked for top-down leadership. Most of these issues have now been worked through and in the last five years a settled and confident atmosphere has prevailed with decisions being taken at Church Meetings in a well organised and inclusive manner. An example was the decision from 2008 to admit children under certain circumstances to partake in Communion. We are looking forward to welcoming our new minister and we trust that he or she will be received by members of each of our participating denominations with generosity and openness in the name of Our Lord.
Children and young people
Each Sunday morning, except when ‘all age’ worship is held, Junior Church takes place for children between the ages of four and eleven as part of the main 10 a.m. service. We have small group of children who attend regularly and a number of occasional visitors. There is a separate group called ‘The Core’ for those of secondary school age. This group uses the ‘Urban Saints’ material and has been very active in the past with a wide range of activities, but numbers at present are low. A crèche is also available on Sunday mornings for children under four.
In recent years a much stronger relationship has been developed between Christchurch and our two local primary schools. An enthusiastic team now lead ‘Open the Book’ assemblies on a regular basis in both Heron School and Abbeymead School. Children from the two schools also visit Christchurch for ‘Experience Christmas’ and ‘Experience Easter’; for many of these this is their only chance to enter a Church building. These links have continued during the pastoral vacancy and are treasured; many children have come to recognise Christchurch members as Christians in their community.
The headmaster of Heron School has recently expressed his appreciation of the links with Christchurch and has requested that they be enhanced, if possible, by regular assemblies conducted by our future minister (at least once a month). The Year 1 teacher at Abbeymead School said that her class are always very happy and enthusiastic when they know that the Open the Book team are visiting; they love the dressing up and being involved in some of the stories.
Probably the most exciting development in our recent work with young people has been the foundation of a Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Association. It meets at Christchurch on Monday evenings and three age groups are catered for in succession. There are currently nine Anchors (5-8 year olds), seven Juniors (8-11 year olds) and eight members of the Company Section (11-18 year olds). The numbers who attend are growing steadily. The Boys’ Brigade is a national organisation based on Christian values. The children regularly take part in district and battalion events and competitions; the two older sections have opportunities to take part in camps. The ‘BB’ sets out to deliver fun activities through play, craft, badge work, games and sport and to encourage good life skills from a Christian perspective. Most of the officers and helpers in each section, who work on a voluntary basis, worship at Christchurch.
The minister of the church is the chaplain of the Boys’ Brigade. The children take part in several services throughout the year and ideally these should take the form of ‘all age’ Sunday morning worship.
During the single month of December 2012 through all these activities Christchurch reached around 750 children eager to learn about the true meaning of the Christmas message. The church also has increasing links with the 45th Abbeydale Scout Group, which this year joined us for our Sunday morning Remembrance Service. It is hoped that these links will grow in the future. Work with children has a lot of potential at Christchurch, especially with our growing links with local schools. There are some real areas of success mid-week, notably with the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Association. We are keen to focus on encouraging more children, young people and young parents to join in activities, but we struggle to retain teenagers’ interest and lack opportunities for them. Some of the groups, such as Junior Church, would benefit from larger numbers of children, less cramped facilities and more leaders. We look for our next minister to lead the church in exploring the future of our work among the youth and young families of our area in exciting and innovative ways.
The wider church
Christchurch is linked to the universal church through the representatives we send to meetings of our participating denominations. These include: the Gloucester City Deanery; the Gloucestershire Methodist Circuit; the URC Gloucestershire Area and the West Midlands Synod.
Over the last five years Christchurch has raised £21,000 for the rebuilding of two primary schools run by the Church of South India in Gooty, Andhra Pradesh. This ‘Agape’ project came to fruition through the fundraising efforts of church members, but it also involved our local schools and some other community-based organisations. In terms of regular charitable giving, each year Christchurch supports twelve charities as voted on at the April Church Meeting. We have a retiring collection at each Sunday Communion service to provide the minister with funds for work with families and individuals at risk in the community. We arrange occasional additional retiring collections to support disaster relief and humanitarian concerns. These are well supported. In co-operation with other churches, we also carry out an annual house-to-house Christian Aid collection. We actively support the Gloucester Food Bank with weekly donations and there are other regular schemes, some of which involve recycling, to support the Helen Keller Home, Vision Aid Oveseas and Water Aid. The church’s prayer diary reflects national and international concerns. In recent years the Christchurch membership has become more outward-looking and there is scope to build on this further.
Running the Church
The minister is expected to share leadership with the Church Council. The minister is normally expected to chair the Church Council and Church Meetings, to take an interest in and to have an input into all church groups and activities. Church Meetings take place every quarter with an average of forty to fifty members present. The Church Meeting is the main decision-making body that elects the Church Council, approves the annual budget and discusses the future direction of the church. Decisions are arrived at by prayerful consensus; all members feel that they have a voice and key decisions affecting the life of the church are unlikely to be imposed from above. The Church Council, which meets monthly, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the church and is in turn accountable to the Church Meeting. The Council consists of fourteen members, including the minister. Within that number there is a Church Secretary, Treasurer and Vice-Chair, who are elected at the Church Meeting. Council members and Church Officers serve for a term of up to six years. Council meets ten times a year, but sometimes holds additional meetings or ‘Away Days’ when there is pressing business to consider. During the last five years Christchurch has organised itself into a series of advocacies, each of which is headed either by the minister or a Council member. The advocacies cover: worship; evangelism and outreach; pastoral; children and young people; education; fellowship; wider church relations; world church and mission; property; finance; communication and administration. A substantial part of each Church Meeting considers the reports given by each advocate.
The advocacy system generally runs well, as each area of church life has a champion to speak for it. It is sometimes difficult to find sufficient people willing to fill Council places, but those that do so serve with dedication and professionalism. We are fortunate to have people with diverse talents at Christchurch. One of our first tasks may be to work on a revised constitution to ensure compatibility with the Churches Together in England new model constitution for single congregation LEPs (2011).
Whilst an initial glance of the church accounts might suggest that we have allowed our giving to stagnate over the last few years, a more healthy picture emerges once it is realised that an additional £21,000 has been raised (in conjunction with other local partners) specifically for the Agape project in India. Nonetheless, in order to increase the strength of our financial position, the Church Council has embarked on a Stewardship campaign and we feel confident that we shall meet our targets to support future ministry fully.
Christchurch is reviewed formally on a five to seven year basis by our Sponsoring Body, Gloucestershire Churches Together.
Our last review in 2011 had a number of laudatory comments to make about Christchurch. A significant number of new initiatives had taken place since the previous report, not least the vibrant and well attended Sunday worship, the strong links forged with local primary schools and the outward-looking fundraising focused on rebuilding two schools in India. It was felt that Christchurch had become much more stable and united.
The reviewing team left us with four main recommendations:
- Unless the constitution is revised, the pattern of appointment means that the next minister will be Anglican and the appointment open-ended. This will necessitate a rigorous financial review so that support of the ministry is a priority of the church.
In a series of Church Meetings at the beginning of our pastoral vacancy, some attended by local denominational leaders, church members reviewed our pattern of ministry and renewed our commitment to the denominational cycle. To support the financial situation, during the vacancy
the Church Council has instituted an annual Gift Day and launched a stewardship campaign following a visit from the Diocesan Giving Officer.
- The review team notes that those who provide pastoral care also need care themselves and asked the Church Council to ensure that the pastoral care of the minister is included in any ministry plan.
During the later months of Les Mather’s ministry, a group of four church members met to provide the necessary pastoral care. A similar arrangement will be offered for the next minister.
- Christchurch should be seen as an excellent resource for those preparing for the ministry and we invite the church to explore engagement with ordinands.
We almost moved forward on this when plans were aired for St. Oswald’s church at Coney Hill to become a centre for the West of England Ministerial Training Course, but this vision has so far not come to fruition. Our other potential source for students, Redcliffe College, is considered too far from Christchurch.
- The governance of Christchurch should be considered so as to place as much responsibility as possible for the life of the church within the church. In particular, the role of the Abbeydale Joint Council should be reviewed. It would be a sign of Christchurch’s maturity to make changes to some of the agreements that exist.
Priorities for the immediate future Christchurch seeks to represent the Body of Christ in Abbeydale and Abbeymead by its caring and love shown for those within the Church family and for the whole community. Our mission statement is ‘To know Christ and to make him known’. At a Church Vision Day in November 2012 about forty church members took part in a ‘Growing Healthy Churches’ audit led by a visiting speaker, Martin Cavender from ‘Resource’. The seven marks of a healthy church were considered and the total average scores on a scale of 1–6 given to Christchurch by those present were:
- Being energised by faith (3.5)
- Having an outward-looking focus (3.7)
- Seeking to find out what God wants (3.4)
- Facing the cost of change and growth (3.2)
- Building community (4.0)
- Making room for others (4.5)
- Doing a few things and doing them well (4.3)
The higher the score the more positive the view. A highlight of the day was the contribution made by our children who engaged us all in praise with their song ‘Our God is a Great Big God’. Arising from the final plenary discussion a list of priorities emerged on which we should concentrate in order to realise our vision for the future:
- Improving communication in all its forms across the Church
- Developing the range of small groups within the Church
- Sharing more about Church members’ faith stories
- Balancing our age profile by seeking to attract more children and young adults.
The Church Council supports the creation of more house groups, but believes that we are already a busy church and would not wish to cause stress if the timings of different activities began to clash. Council would like to see the ‘Time with the Church Family’ slot in morning worship used more imaginatively to improve communication within the Church and suggests that the evening café church might provide an ideal forum for a greater sharing of individuals’ faith stories. We look to our new minister to work with us in balancing our age profile and to lead us as we set out to become more confident in ‘seeking to find out what God wants’ and ‘facing the costs of change and growth’.
Although our present church was opened in 1995, a worshipping congregation had begun in 1973 almost as soon as the first houses were built in Abbeydale. In 1973, a pair of houses was bought and temporarily adapted as an ecumenical church and vicarage led by an Anglican priest-in-charge. When this property was sold, the proceeds were put into the building of a Community Centre in 1985, with two rooms for church use and priority use of the hall for Sunday worship. Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and later the URC participated in this from the very beginning. In 1989, Shared Churches (Gloucester) Ltd. was set up as a holding company and plans were made for the building of a new church on a plot purchased by the Diocese. This building was completed in April 1995, with a Sharing Agreement between four denominations.
Christchurch therefore has deep roots in the community which pre-date the building of our church. We may proudly say that we built a church of people followed by a building to put them in.
The total cost of the building was raised by a dedicated fund-raising team from the supportive congregation, which held monthly events and canvassed a range of charities for grants. We praise God for the fact that we were able to pay for the building in its entirety when it was built.
Deaconess Sharon Swain, a curate at Upton St. Leonards, took on the role of first co-ordinator of the ministerial team from 1985. A service to mark the official inauguration of Christchurch as a local ecumenical project was held in 1987; at this service members made promises to work together, accepting ministry and ministers of each of the denominations. More recently, we have had our own ministers from each of the participating denominations: the Revd. Peter Brightman (Anglican 1990-3), Revd. Ian Duffy (Methodist 1994-9), Revd. Ernie Hall (Baptist 1999-2006) and most recently the Revd. Les Mather (URC 2007-2012). We are now seeking to continue with this denominational cycle with a new Anglican appointment.
At the start of our current pastoral vacancy the following prayer was written for us by the Ven. Christopher Wagstaff, a former Archdeacon of Gloucester who had been associated with the planning of Christchurch from its earliest days. This prayer encompasses many of the hopes and aspirations which have gone into the writing of this church profile. God Our Father, We pray that you will give to us for the leadership of the church in this place A person of faith and prayer, filled with your Spirit, A person of vision, wisdom and sound judgement, A person with a pastoral heart and a true love of people. Be with all those who have the responsibility for finding our new pastor, And bless us as we journey through this vacancy To continue our united work and worship. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Abbeydale Joint Council
So, what is this ‘Joint Council’ and what does it do?
Back in 1987, when the members of Christchurch decided they
wanted to have their own building and began to have assets (i.e. a building),
there was a technical difficulty - who owned these assets? We were four
denominations working together, sharing resources and it was unclear who
would own what. The solution was to create a new ‘Private Limited Company
without share capital’ - a non-trading company - which could be seen legally
as the holder of the assets and responsible for overseeing their use and
allocation. ‘Shared Churches (Gloucester) Limited’ was born and the legal
document produced to cover Christchurch, known as the ‘Sharing Agreement’,
was signed by the leaders of the four denominations. What a relief when this
had been worked through and agreed! It almost held up the building of
Christchurch but was signed just in time!
The Sharing Agreement stipulated the composition of a group who
should meet a number of times a year to review how the assets at
Christchurch were being used and looked after. Each of the four
denominations were required to appoint four of their members to sit on the
Joint Council, who would then report back to their parent denomination. It
has not been an easy task to get full representation at meetings and a
number of changes have been made and agreed by the sponsoring
denominations. The frequency of the meetings has been reduced to one every
three years - and this year was a meeting year
The 2007 meeting tried to be more specific about its role and
responsibilities as the joint Council . The following following were highlighted
1) It was necessary to comply with the Sharing of Churches Act 1969
and the terms of the Sharing Agreement which reflected this into
the Christchurch situation
2) To discuss aspects of the operation at Christchurch and what
changes might be required to follow denominational thinking
3) To transmit back the situation at Christchurch to the sponsoring
4) To maintain links with the denominations
5) To confirm that the building was being maintained to an acceptable