Peace, plans and peaches

On Saturday, I spent most of the day in Highgate, at the Mennonite Centre on Shepherds Hill. The Mennonites are an Anabaptist sect, largely based in north America, with an admirable tradition of peace-making. So an inspired choice of venue for St Mary’s PCC awayday...

You might expect that the church’s council would be looking at theological issues, or perhaps worrying about mending the roof, or the style of music (and yes, we did debate whether we should change our hymnbook).

In the morning, we discussed the future funding and governance arrangements for our Youth Club. Despite council funding, the church still subsidises the youth club quite heavily and we’re looking at regularising the position by setting up a separate trust to run the church’s community activities; as well as the Youth Club, these include the St Mary’s Pre-school, and, we hope, a future range of services running from our redeveloped crypt (debt counselling, for example, would certainly meet a major need).

There’s a real dilemma here for voluntary organisations; you start by running small scale projects with a couple of keen volunteers. If they are successful, they grow: you need to take on staff, operate more hours, get external funding; but to do that, you suddenly have to enter the bureaucratic world of CRB checks, Ofsted inspections, local government funding rounds, and charity law. The more challenging it becomes, the more we have to ask where our church’s core business lies: is it in Sunday services or the services we provide to the community during the week. The answer, we agreed, is both; but no-one’s making it easy....

After lunch, we discussed our Mission Action Plan, a sort of corporate plan for the next four years, setting out targets on everything from recruiting new leaders to making our church carbon-neutral. We were inspired by the London Challenge which sets out the priorities for the whole of our diocese. Despite the name, it’s London north of the river only (the south side is Southwark); even so, we were pleasantly surprised to see 2 Islington projects starring in the video – the new St Mary Magdalene academy and the inspiring work done with homeless people by St John’s Upper Holloway.

Work with the homeless is a shared priority for Christians in Islington, but not always a popular one. A few years ago I was furious when an Islington Lib Dem councillor decided to attack local churches for ‘encouraging’ homeless people by running soup kitchens and drop-in centres. Even worse, a local church minister then condemned the Lib Dems in general as a result. The councillor in question ended up joining new Labour.....

And the peaches? Well, there was a revelation at lunchtime: flat peaches. I’d never heard of them, let alone eaten them before; they are absolutely delicious. And not from some obscure foodie supplier, but from Chapel Market: highly-recommended.

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