St. Alban the Martyr

Vicar's Letter July

2 Jul 2018 • General news

Dear All,

I have recently been to a meeting to reflect on a report[1]by The Centre for Theology and Community based on the experiences of seven growing Anglo-Catholic churches in London. These churches are not just growing in the number of people attending, but also spiritually and in service to their communities. Like St Alban’s, the seven churches were all in areas of deprivation. Of course, London is different to Birmingham in many ways but much of what was discovered about why these churches grow is relevant to us.

The Study identified seven Characteristics across the seven churches.

  • 1.“Growth-minded priests - Priests who want to see their churches grow and are prepared to lead in this direction. For them, growth is part of their mindset. Their leadership often sees much continuity with previous practices, but they are also prepared to make changes where necessary.”[1]
  • 2.Maximising resources. This was mainly about generating income from letting out the church, church hall and other assets. This might be much more difficult for us than a London church with high rents and high demand. The seven churches also encouraged giving through stewardship campaigns.
  • 3.Building up leadership among lay people. Many people do help lead our church but we might think of how to encourage more and especially younger people to be more involved.
  • 4.Focus on a warm welcome. Of course, we have a particular sort of Sunday morning service, but we can make sure that any new person is made to feel welcome and helped to understand and follow our service by, for example, someone sitting beside them and helping them find the right book and page. We now run a less formal Mass on Saturday evening and a Celtic Evening Prayer, both of which are easier to follow than the Sunday Morning Service. Greeting children and families and helping them to have a great time is important to growth and of course, as we already do, having refreshments at the end of the service. So we are already doing a lot towards this but we need to be thinking about hospitality all the time.
  • 5.Welcoming children. This is important enough to be a separate category to the general need for hospitality. It includes activities like our Sunday school that makes children feel much more part of our church and the Multimedia family mass. I also hope that we can run messy church occasionally.
  • 6.Working with local partners. This is again something we are active in, our links with Ark St Alban’s Academy. Stanhope Hall, and with many local groups through the food bank. I hope that the Highgate Interfaith Forum will soon restart, linking us with other faith communities in our community. (I should just mention here that the first meeting will be on Wednesday 4thJuly at 11am in the Central Mosque).
  • 7.Midweek encounters. Through our links with the school and Stanhope hall we have many encounters with the local community. When possible, I go to the lunches at Stanhope hall, but as the lunches are on Monday (when I work in the school) and Thursday (When we have a 12:30pm mass) these encounters are limited. There are other ways I try to be in, and part of, the community: going to a local boxing gym and wearing my collar as I walk around the parish. I also hope that events like the drumming workshop will help us to do more work with our community.

Once we have the building work on the church done we need to think about how to use our enhanced building to make our presence more visible in the community. One thing I have in mind is to have an arts festival at St Alban’s next summer with many types of art and music in the church, and this might include a drumming and/or singing workshop.

I am sure everyone worries about our church declining over the years. I pray that worrying will not paralyse us but spur us on to think about some of these things. Anglo Catholic churches can grow, but it won’t happen if we don’t pray about growth and then act on what God is telling us to do.

[1]Ibid page xvi

[1]A Time to Sow, Anglo Catholic Church Growth in London, Tim Thorlby, Oct 2017, The Centre for Theology and Community. Available on