Our new team Rector, Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, was inducted into the parish four months ago today. This is her reflection on her first 'term' with us:
I've now been Team Rector here for just under four months, which feels like a ‘term’ to me - and I'd like to capture some of my first impressions and reflections, while they are still fresh.
There's a danger, doing this kind of thing, that it could end up being like one of those sickening Christmas letters all about little Tarquin’s merit in music and Jemima’s terrific SATs results. So I'm exercising a self-denying ordinance and will ban the words ‘privilege’ and ‘humbling’. I'm going to try and be as honest and warts-and-all as possible - #nofilter! It will be really interesting to compare what I write today with how things seem in the months and years to come.
So, as they say on Strictly, here, in no particular order, are some of the things that have struck me about St Bride's in these first few months:
- The people at St Bride's are BRILLIANT! On my second week here, we had a visit from the lay chair of the Diocesan Synod, who wrote afterwards to the bishop that ‘other people talk about it, St Bride's are doing it’ - and that is so, so true. The amount of time and energy and care that members of this congregation put into following the way that Jesus shows us is astonishing. People really do walk the walk.
- I am having a very rapid further education in identity politics!
- Having spent years moaning about the fact that more lay people don't get involved in running church services, I've suddenly found myself somewhere where I can be struggling to see what the point of me being there as vicar is, on any given Sunday, as so many people are involved! This is a fantastic problem to have, but it's something that has taken a bit of getting used to. It's made me really reflect on my own identity and role. I've noticed that I can succumb to the temptation to want to be busy so I feel useful…and I am learning afresh what a gift it is to be able to ‘be’ not have to ‘do’ all the time.
- One of the weirdest things for me, having felt pretty ‘on the edge’ of the established church over the years, was arriving here and finding myself perhaps one of the most boringly conventional people here! I've had to really think hard about my relationship to the rules and regulations of the Church, especially liturgically. Initially I was taken aback by how many of the liturgical ‘rules’ we break, and I had to give myself a stern talking to about internalised patriarchy. It's unbelievably liberating to get corrected for not using a wide enough variety of pronouns for God, instead of worrying about whether I can get away with saying ‘she’ occasionally without upsetting too many people. I'm still processing and reflecting on where the lines should be drawn - or whether the very idea of a line, or the use of the word ‘should’, is wrong! It feels good to be challenged to really think about what we're doing and why.
- I've been really struck by the self-understanding that the St Bride's congregation have of themselves as a community - not in a generic way, but quite specifically in a quasi-monastic way. The other image that is often used, of companions on the journey, walking on pilgrimage together. I've never been in a church before that is so reflective about what it is to be church, and so committed to ‘showing its working’ as this is thought through and developed.
- I have been repeatedly astonished and energised by the huge amount of goodwill that there is towards this church in the wider community. Building stronger links with the city institutions in our parish was one of the key elements of my job description, so I've been making a start on meeting and talking with some of the people. Every conversation I've had with someone in the City - town planners, restauranteurs, business leaders, entrepreneurs - has been filled not just with vague goodwill towards St Bride's, but genuine and sacrificial offers of help, of time, money, expertise. I have gone away from every one of these conversations buzzing with possibilities and really excited about what we can do together.
- Concerns about money and the parish finances have been a bit of theme. I knew when I came that expenditure had exceeded income for many years, but I thought that there were still sufficient reserves to give us time to turn that around. Actually, the reserves are pretty much depleted now, and we need to aim to balance the books by the end of next year - but things are organised in such a complex way that it's quite hard to untangle! One thing that's clear is that giving from the congregations in our parishes is relatively low, the result, I think, of the fact that for the past few years there have been these reserves to draw on. Nobody likes talking about money, and even less do people like the vicar asking them to give more of it, so I have something of a heavy heart about the fact that we are going to have to address this over the coming months.
- I LOVE living in Liverpool! What a great city. I’m rather amused that friends from Durham think I've been terribly holy in going to ‘the Inner City’, when this is such a beautiful, vibrant, diverse and lively place to be. Mind you, when I was beginning to think about a new job, ‘a northern city’ was one of my key criteria. This is exactly why I wanted that!
- I hadn't anticipated just how stressful not having a permanent place to live yet would be. Hopefully this will be sorted soon, as we should be moving into our permanent house either just before or just after Christmas (great timing there?!)
- I started with the people, and I'll end with the people... I am loving working with the team here, my lay and ordained colleagues. I've heard brilliant sermons, cried on shoulders, been handed bits of paper that I'd lost at exactly the time I needed them, laughed, argued (and what a joy it is to be somewhere where arguing is enjoyed and welcomed as a creative thing!), and listened and been listened to. And the team isn't a static thing - I love the fact that groups such as the worship planning group are open to whoever wants to come, and that everyone is an equal participant and co-creator of what we do here.