Sunday Sanctuary - update Apr12

Monday, 9 April, 2012

Mark RodelMark Rodel is to leave Portsmouth in September to become Tutor in Pioneer Ministry at St John's College, Nottingham, and Priest-in-Charge at a benefice in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. What is to happen to Sunday Sanctuary?

I have real mixed feelings about moving away; I wasn't looking for a move. Instead I was thinking about how taking things forward needed committed presence and then I noticed the job at St John's… I tried twice to seriously put it aside but it wouldn't go out of my head.

It's a big step for me in growing as a minister and as a contributor to the whole church but I am stepping aside from leading the Sunday Sanctuary here at a sensitive time. I know there is probably never a good time to leave but it does feel quite soon in Sunday Sanctuary's lifespan.

The news has been received with sadness but people are not devastated; they are sad that we won't be part of the future of Sunday Sanctuary but positive that there is a future. I'm not leaving them without leadership and support – thanks to my marvellous colleague, Rev Dr Alex Hughes, Priest in Charge of the parish of St Peter and St Luke. We were licensed together in the same service in 2008 and we have worked and prayed together very closely ever since. He is now bearing full responsibility on his own for both parishes and Sunday Sanctuary.

Sunday Sanctuary - ferryHe already has an inherited expression of church, St Peter's, to sustain and look after and he is considering the shape of his own vocation in this place now that things have changed. We have to take a good look at what Sunday Sanctuary needs now. Does it need another priest and would that priest also take on a bigger role within St Peter's to release Alex a little more? Or do we need to be looking at an evangelist, a schools' or youth worker, or a community person?

Establishing Sunday Sanctuary was part of pushing out into the community. What we definitely don't want to happen is to retrench but we do need to ask, 'How much are we actually doing to make a difference in the life of the poor?'

We get 25 people on average, sometimes 30. There haven't been new people at Sunday Sanctuary for quite a while but, to be fair, we haven't told people we are there for quite a while either. More recently we did make a bit of a splash with the local community again when we brought a mobile farm – including a donkey - into the courtyard of the tower block where we had a short celebration for Palm Sunday.

We put out 2,500 invitations and I spent about eight hours personally delivering most of them. We had an estimated 150 people coming for breakfast and the farm visit, with at least 60 of them staying for the short service at the end. The children loved seeing the animals, we had chickens and sheep and all sorts of things – though the donkey flatly refused to take part in anything! I also gave away 86 tickets to the Easter egg hunt which took place as part of a joint service at St Peter's on Easter Day.

Sunday Sanctuary - harbour sign

We also had a parish weekend away in Bournemouth when about 70 people from both communities, parish church and Sunday Sanctuary, came away together to consider the future. We had a lot of fun together and talked about lots of things there, including 'What is the Church for?' and 'What should it look like?'

As part of this transition period, I know there are people to whom I can hand over more responsibility for the Sunday Sanctuary sessions. In fact, we can see that this has already started to happen.

One of the questions I'm personally asking about the whole thing is, 'Why did God need me out of the way?' Maybe having two separate things on a Sunday morning (in the parish and at Sunday Sanctuary) – a home expression and an away expression - isn't what needs to happen any more. We are apprehensive about Sunday Sanctuary just 'being absorbed by' St Peter's because that would mean that St Luke's, as it was, has simply disappeared – and that feels like a retreat.

We will use this opportunity to look at everything, including the place where we gather. The City Council housing department, which runs Wilmcote House where Sunday Sanctuary meets, is very happy we are there but we will review what we are doing. Is it the still the right place to be? We would have to think very carefully about what it would say to the people in the block itself if we did decide to change. Another thing we'd look at is the focus on all-age; the way I have led certainly reflects my preoccupation and priorities with that – I was committed to adults letting go of their addiction to words but is it the way it should continue?

Sunday Sanctuary - sail

The language of fresh expressions is not one I'd use with the community because it would be meaningless to them; instead it's language that we use with the hierarchy of the church. I'm wary of it sometimes because it can make people shut off to the reality of what's happening on the ground. In terms of a sort of 'shorthand' it has some use but maybe decreasingly so. What it does do is keep on the agenda the question of looking at what the church is doing in any given place and time.

None of us yet know how we take this forward and we won't know by the time I move on but hopefully we will be nearer an answer as to what sort of licensed, ordained or authorised ministry needs to be part of this mix. It's difficult to think about leaving it all behind because there is so much that I'm passionate about and committed to here but there are now increasing times when I have to draw back and let people do it for themselves so that I become a consultant to the process – rather than leading it.

We have been very fortunate to be part of a very supportive cluster of parishes in the city centre; the personal relationships are good and the respect is strong. The Bishop of Portsmouth (Christopher Foster) twice came to Sanctuary as our guest, on a Sunday morning and at our Tuesday evening gathering, and that was wonderful. He also wrote to me to say how hugely appreciative he is of this unique community and what it is doing. We know that no one model of fresh expression should be 'pickled' and preserved as it is and the people at Sunday Sanctuary would expect to see it change – though nobody is going to want it to move backwards. The bishop assured us of his support and that means a great deal to us.

A lot of changes will start to happen after Easter. St John's College wanted to do some preparatory work with me before I officially move in September so, from Monday 16th April, I will be spending three days a week in Nottingham before returning to my family in Portsmouth for the rest of the time; they will move up with me permanently at the end of the school year.

I do think that as we ask all these questions of Sunday Sanctuary, we also need to be asking the same questions of St Peter's. I wouldn't be devastated if the outcome of my leaving was that the bigger, broader Christian church regrouped in order to look at how we reach out in a different way. Things can be for a time, for a season and I think those things can discussed a lot easier when I'm out of the way. But one of the big things for me has been working in a relational mode. The people I'm leaving behind are not my congregation, they are my friends…

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