My first week in the new parish, May 1988. I had said the usual stuff about watching and listening and not making any major changes in the first six months. Then I heard them. Perhaps the worst music group I have ever heard in church. I chatted to a few of the older, wiser heads afterwards, thinking that this must be a bullet bitten early. 'Leave 'em' said Tom, a scouser who had found a new home in the north-east but whose accent betrayed his roots, 'they're getting better.'
I left 'em. They were young. They improved. Two years later, as Head of the Church Youth Fellowship's Association (CYFA) it was a privilege to invite them to lead worship at the CYFA National Training Weekend where they did well. They're all rich and famous (or ordained) now but that bit of advice, to leave something that was improving, stuck with me.
So I'm delighted to hear, from several people, that last night's annual parochial church meeting was the best it has been for some years. Not that it would be within my gift to fiddle with it anyway. Influence but not power. Let's try some.
The 'fears' expressed in my previous post. I said:
'Tonight will be my first Annual Parochial Church Meeting in Nailsea and I always look forward to them with a cocktail of emotions. Will people ask stupid questions? Will someone get cross about something silly? Will someone who loves the sound of their own voice speak for too long about something few of us are really bothered about? Will it be well chaired? Will there (gasp) need to be an election? Will it end before last orders (now that's a biggie)?'
Then someone commented (sadly anonymously, come out from behind the sofa, please) that, 'I think that most (if not all) of your fears were unfounded.'
1. It was a cocktail of emotions, not just fears. Conflict is good. Resolving it sensibly is a joy. Emotion-free blandness is not success.
2. Did people ask stupid questions? No.
3. Did someone get cross about something silly? No.
4. Did someone speak for too long etc? Yes. Several people did. The cumulative effect of several people over-running is a two and a half hour meeting. Given that there was post-meeting business to be done as a consequence of decisons taken (dates to be fixed, appointments to be made) and it is incumbent upon staff to arrive in good time, it felt like three and a quarter hours to me. More introverted personality types (using the word in the technical sense of Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicators) such as my own (well it's borderline) will find it hard to cope with a meeting of more than two hours. In fact after that we will vote for almost anything that ends the meeting.
5. Was it well chaired? I think so. Spotting a well-chaired meeting is very difficult. Much harder than it seems. If, for instance, the chair has decided that leaving an organisation in temporary turmoil for long term benefits is necessary, then hitting that target would be success on the chair's terms but may feel badly chaired by those in attendance if they end up chucking furniture at each other. Likewise a meeting that was chaired to be non-controversial, or to avoid the heat of previous years' passion, might be well chaired but may feel boring to the punters, especially the new ones. This is not a criticism of the chair, with whom I would have taken things up personally if I had a problem. It is an observation that assessing the chair's skills is complex.
6. Did we need an election. No? Might have been good if too many people wanted to stand for office and the people decided.
7. Did it end before last orders? Yes.
I think my over-riding fear represented by my questions, if I had one, might have been that the meeting be a bit dull and I think it was. But for many that seems to be a successful outcome. We need to talk about our vision for church growth over the next five to ten. Desperately. I hope it generates some passion. As much passion as the modernising of our rooms or the repositioning of a banner.