Thursday, March 11, 2010


Before celebrating the midday Eucharist at St John's, I stood in for Fr Roy at St German's this morning, to enable him to go off and conduct a quiet day. As Clare needed the car to get to school, she dropped me off en route, and I walked back into town, via school. Annoyingly I left my rucksack in the sacristy, and couldn't re-trace my steps and pick it up, as the church was locked after Mass and Fr Roy was away.

The rucksack contained a new phone for the Choir vestry and documents for the Archdeacon's Annual Return. In this, the Parish gives an assortment of statistical data about Pastoral life and activity that is required to accompany the audited Parish Annual Accounts and Report. Audited Accounts are necessary for the regular scrutiny of the diocese by the Charity Commission. The Report from the Vicar and PCC summarises all that's notable and interesting about the past year. Statistics are of attendances at regular worship and occasional offices.

Like a portrait made of dots, they give no more than an impression of the reality. What are they used for? How often are they cited to inform real decisions? We aren't told. It's hard to believe there's any real value in this annual exercise, as its findings aren't properly discussed with the providors. It's got easier over the years, with the help of a prepared spreadsheet, to work out the averages, and this final time, it didn't take me long to complete. I'll be content never to have to do this again. Perversely, it makes me think of the curse upon King David's census (2 Samuel 24).

Ours being one of the few churches in the diocese open seven days a week to the public, it irks me that no account is required of our annual visitor numbers. It's a statistic that helps make sense of our mission, and is of interest. We should really invest in automatic counters attached to each entrance door, to obtain a reasonable estimate. In the meanwhile, church service attendances across the year amount to around 6,000. Half are regular repeat attendances by the core of faithful people. The other half are from those who come for occasional offices, carols and other special services. Another 1,500 a year attend organ concerts. The Tea Room serves in the course of the year around 15,000 customers. In addition is the greater number who just pop in to pray, or visit and take photographs. Numbers signing the visitors book, or taking tourist guides in seven languages are but a small fraction of consumers passing through, leading us to estimate that quite apart from its regulars, St John's welcomes 40-50,000 visitors a year.

I hope my successor will not be absorbed so much by church management as to lose sight of the challenge presented by all these passing people, to give a positive witness to the faith we live by and exist to proclaim.

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