Annual Report 2021-22
Giving thanks together
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27)
At some point amidst the last two years, we have all stopped trying to predict or plan too far ahead as to what the future might look like. We began the year still in lockdown, with our worship online; now we are back together, without face coverings, but deeply conscious of a world masked in the shadow of war and conflict. These times have continued to challenge us both in our responsibilities and our resources, leading us to need to lean more deeply into God, praying for wisdom in our decisions and care for one another. We have been shown once again that this is a journey that needs to be made together, and that it is lonely without one another.
Often the call along the way of this year has been to simply keep going, to hold steady, to wait on the goodness and guidance of God and to be attentive to recognising Him in our communities in all the many different ways He has been present. Whilst we have not always been able to do all the things we had planned or hoped for, much new ground has been tilled and prepared, and there has been much planting of new seeds – full of potential! We have had to think differently, try new ideas, trust and listen to each other a little more, and step beyond our comfort zones. Through it all, we have seen that God is faithful and good, and takes all that we offer – breaking and blessing it in unexpected ways. As we continue to discern into our ministry and explore our governance as a whole Benefice, so we set our eyes and hearts on Christ, the One in Whom all things hold together.
This year has consolidated not just a closer working together in our church life, but in our community lives too. The Bluebell Benefice is now joined not just as a Benefice, but as a whole Bluebell Community – with all the villages working together in new ways in service of ‘the common good’ and to help enable all our venues and projects to thrive. Many months have gone into the planning of a shared Platinum Jubilee festival, and it is a great joy to be beginning this next year with community celebrations, in recognition and thanksgiving for the faithful service of others.
In short, there have been so many shifts and turnings, and so much happening through this past year, that it is hard to capture it well – but here are some snapshots...
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46)
The Midweek service in Little Gransden continues to be a still and peaceful point amidst a chaotic world, as is ‘Breathing Space’ at Abbotsley on a Friday. It has felt additionally important to hold these quiet and reflective spaces, not just for those attending them, for on behalf of us all. Anchoring our Benefice’s worship in a listening for God. The new sound system in Little Gransden has transformed how we are able to use music in these services as part of our worship.
With just the one Sunday morning communion service rotating around the Benefice, the opportunity remains to worship together as one congregation – also meaning that each church has a fuller congregation at a time when many still have not returned, or have not returned weekly.
It was wonderful to welcome back evening services of Evensong, healing and reflective worship though both Advent and Lent this year.
Some seasonal highlights this year were:
The Stations of the Cross online services in Holy Week, with readings recorded around the four parishes with the Revellers, and music recorded by the Choir.
An outdoor Pentecost Party service in The Old Churchyard, Waresley – with over 20 children and 40 adults attending: much fun was had! With thanks to the Revd Chris Campbell, who joined us on placement for May.
A Harvest Evensong in Abbotsley Church and Advent Carol Service in Great Gransden. With thanks to Sheila and the Choir.
Special and poignant services for All Saints (all age in Abbotsley) and All Souls (in Waresley)
A shared Benefice Service of Remembrance with the RBL and Parade organisations in attendance. With thanks to Tony Bevens for his hard work in the arrangements for this.
Barnabas Oley School Harvest and Christingle services: sadly it was not possible for these to be public due to the Covid precautions at the time, but the children led and led stories, prayers and songs joyfully and wonderfully. Thank you to the children and all the staff!
The outdoor Community Christmas Carol service (led jointly with the Lighthouse Cafe, and in support of The Need Project) and the outdoor Crib Service in the paddock at Little Gransden Village Hall. Both had a magical atmosphere and were wonderfully attended: thank you to everyone involved in making these possible and so special.
Anne Constantine and Jane Connell have led three gentle Reflective Services on Sunday evenings, using poetry, music and Bible reading. In October 2021 at Great Gransden we celebrated Earth’s beauty, wonder and gifts and reflected on our stewardship of the planet. Our December 2021 service at Waresley and March 2022 service at Little Gransden offered an opportunity to reflect more deeply Advent and Lent and Springtime respectively. The services have been well received by those who attended them. Thank you so much to Jane and Anne for all the care they've put into these services.
It has been a very busy year of funerals, interments, weddings and baptisms – with some of the delays due to Covid bringing a backlog of occasions. We mourn those no longer with us, and rejoice with those who have begun new and special chapters in their lives.
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted,
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40: 28 -31)
The Benefice and Barnabas Oley School
Covid has made regular visits trickier this year, but was back into the full swing of assemblies again by the summer term, which was a joy! The children led our online Mothering Sunday service in 2021, and a wonderful Founder’s Day online celebration, as well as coming to have their Harvest and Christingle services in the church.
David Prest, Deputy Tower Captain:
“Dear bells! how sweet the sound of village bells When on the undulating air they swim!” Thomas Hood
2021 was another very disrupted year due to Covid, but the ringers continued to ring throughout, both on line and in the tower whenever possible, contributing to worship at St Bartholomew’s
A total of 124 Zoom ringing sessions were held during Covid restrictions, the 100th being celebrated on March 4th with cake, thanks Sheila G!
The mobile bell at the Societies Fair
Education about bell ringing and attracting new ringers is essential to ensure that we continue to have an enthusiastic band of ringers and attract new learners. A range of approaches are being used, including broad use of social media. The revamped website was launched, with many video clips of our ringing. Phillip made a Zoom presentation on “Life in the Tower” to an international audience on 8 April. This proved very popular, overrunning its expected time, and with many questions. A promotional video was launched on May 21st, and a QR code on posters allows access to a clip of ringing in the tower. We borrowed the Association mobile bell for the Gransdens Societies Fair on 24th July, allowing many people of all ages to try ringing a bell for the first time.
The ringers continued with their individual development under the guidance of Phillip and Sheila. As well as regular practices there were 23 SIM training sessions using a tied (silent) bell.
Ringing restarted on June 3rd as restrictions eased. Everyone was very enthusiastic to be back in the tower, though bell handling skills were a little rusty after a long lay-off. 120 call changes were rung on 27/7 to help build stamina. The bells were half muffled for ringing for Remembrance Sunday, a lovely effect and very fitting for this special service. Unfortunately a covid upsurge meant that Christmas ringing had to be cancelled, much to everyone’s regret.
There were several opportunities for celebration ringing during the year. The local band rang for weddings in September and December. Martin and Michael Prest (who were taught to ring by Phillip and Sheila) joined Sheila, David, Phillip and Sheila on two occasions to ring 120 call changes to celebrate their weddings to Katie Hastings and Adrienne Brayman respectively. 120 changes were also rung to celebrate the birth of Dylan to Michael and Adrienne. We rang for the church fete on 28 August which was held in the adjacent Old Vicarage. The tradition of “firing” the bells (striking all six simultaneously) was honoured on our practice nearest to Nov 5th, producing a splendid noise and great fun for the ringers. There was only one quarter peal rung during the year, on 9 August.
On a sombre note, the tenor was tolled on April 10th, following the death of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
We were fortunate to enjoy two social events while restrictions were eased. An evening of pizza and beer in The Chequers on 29 April, and the Ringers and Singers safari supper on 3 July. Social activities are an important part of being a ringer, it was great to be able to meet again.
Unfortunately the striking mechanism for the clock became damaged in September. While the clock continued to work there were no hourly striking or chimes for the rest of the year. Please see next year’s report for the outcome!
Ringing at St Bartholomew’s could not continue and flourish without the fantastic support and commitment from Sheila and Phillip. All of the ringers are very grateful – thank you!
As usual, updates about the bells and tower activities are on the website, and Facebook and we can also be found on Twitter and Instagram. If you are interested in learning to ring please get in touch – all are welcome!
Lego Church has gone from strength to strength or...from brick to brick! Meeting online consistently through lockdown, we are now housed in the wonderful premises of the Lighthouse Café – more room for bricks and cake! We have explored so many stories and adventures of faith, it is hard to remember them all! – discipleship, kingship, love, ascension, courage, resurrection - we have wrestled with their colours, shapes, textures and meanings and, and above all, we have had fun! New master builders have joined us – and more are ALWAYS welcome! We now also have a newly refurbished Children’s Corner in Great Gransden Church, and looking to roll this out in the others too along with some plans for a new Sunday School. Thank you, Elaine Arthur!!
Coffee, Chat and Compline
We meet online most Sunday evenings at 5pm for about an hour. We have a short presentation and then a discussion followed by a simple service of Compline (Night Prayer), which is usually in the Celtic style of the Northumbria Community.
This year our discussions have included prophecy and fulfilment of promises in the Bible and baggage and treasures in the context of our churches and our personal spiritual life.
Our conversations continue to be gentle, unhurried and inclusive. Everyone contributes but only as they want to. We spend the time listening to others to see where it takes us and this usually sparks other thoughts, but we also have moments of quiet. We are all feeling our way as the session progresses, exploring personally, spiritually and humanly in the peace and warmth of our sharing and togetherness.
Sheila George (Authorized Lay Minister for Music/Choir Director), writes:
After the joy of being able to sing together at Christmas 2020, albeit only 6 of us, Lockdown again enforced a return to meeting up weekly on Zoom for lots of laughs and sharing of news. With training from my daughter Rebecca we were able to record and splice ourselves together for various musical items which were included in the on-line services, especially over Holy Week and Easter.
May saw the return of services in our church buildings and we were able to supply a cantor and organist. 3 choristers ably took on this daunting task, before we were able to return to full choir but still socially distanced and this time Lateral Flow Tests were taken by all before attending practices and services.
Unfortunately 5 singers have decided to ‘retire’ but in August we welcomed 1 new singer. Lower numbers, some have not escaped catching Covid, means that often we have less singers at services and this also affects what music we are able to sing. Before the congregation were allowed to sing with masks, we provided a Psalm, Anthem and Blessing at our services and also took the opportunity to sing 6 different settings of the Communion Service. With the introduction of some hymns, at the end of 2021 we were nearly back to ‘normality’.
Another important thread through this year has been thinking alongside our Deanery churches about a strategic way forwards through the resource and capacity pressures on the national church, and how we might plan to focus resources and ideas going forwards. This has connected into the ongoing thinking and work begun in the Bluebell Connect project group, and flowing from the community consultation survey over the summer. The Benefice PCCs had an Away Day in Little Paxton, facilitated by Phil Marsh and Mark Rodel, in January – to build on this and helping us to discern more deeply into where and what God might be calling us as a Benefice. It was a good day of being glad to be and think together, with a unanimous sense that the future lies in creating more space for listening prayer, and in our four parishes supporting each other more closely.
Thank you so much to everyone for all the love and service you have shared with one another this year. May God in His grace and mercy, take, bless and multiply for His kingdom all that has been...
Our Benefice is part of the Deanery of St Neots, which joins up our different churches across our local region, so that we can stay in touch with one another, encourage one another and explore together our plans, resources and worship as the Body of Christ. Deanery Synod reps in the Benefice are Anne Constantine and Rachel Fogg.
Rachel Fogg, Deanery Synod rep:
4 meetings since last report - July 2021, October 2021, November 2021, March 2022
Discussions taking place on the Deanery Plan, two visits from the bishops - Bishop Dagmar in November and Bishop Stephen came to the Deanery in April
Encouraging reports of outreach across the Deanery - Family Fun Days, Toddler Groups, Saturday Socials in St Neots and our own Lego Church
Please do ask us if you would like any more information.
We also had a busy summer with: a joint Gransdens’ summer fete – with special thanks to everyone involved, and to John Davison and his fantastic jazz band!; the Waresley cream tea celebration; the Little Gransden Air Show and return of the Gransden Show, Abbotsley Feast Week and, a full set of patronals.
In Waresley, at the start of Advent, we enjoyed a special evening talk in the freshly renovated Village Hall, (hosted by the Friends of St James – thank you!), on Pilgrimage and the Way of St James, given by art historian, Hilary Guise.
Caring for People: Safeguarding
Phillip George, Benefice Safeguarding Officer:
There have been no known safeguarding incidents during the reporting period. I have continually reviewed the safeguarding system to help ensure that the benefice complies with any relevant updates issued by the National Church and the Ely Diocese.
Ongoing work has included the complete annual review and PCC approval of keysafeguarding policies and procedures. Periodic reports have been made to each PCC although there has sometimes been a delay in everyone receiving them due to different frequencies of meetings.
A significant change in national church guidelines has been in the introduction of new training modules for PCC members and church officers. In most cases two further modules will need to be completed online.
Every PCC has a duty to have “due regard” to guidance under section 5 of the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016. Training is a key part of this measure and is work in progress for our parishes, which I hope the renewed PCCs will fully implement.
On my part I have completed modules on Raising Awareness of Domestic Abuse, and Safer Recruitment and People Management. In March 2022 I attended an online revision course for processing DBS certificate applications. In September 2021 I met online with other safeguarding officers as part of the networking and training schedule set up by the diocese.
Rev Rachel and I met several times to discuss ongoing development of the safeguarding system in our parishes, and I was very pleased to speak briefly on safeguarding at our benefice away day in January.
Caring for Charities
This year we have continued to support the work of Chifundo, The Need Project, EACH and MIND, with donations and collections being made at different points throughout the year. We continue to need to raise money for the new Sound System in Great Gransden Church, which has transformed accessibility and sustainability for the future, in how we are able to provide music – especially at weddings and funerals, and in both school and reflective services. Thank you to everyone who has inspired, raised and supported our giving to others. We do need to continue to be creative and generous in how we raise money and encourage more hands and hearts to help going forwards, as Covid has made a big dent both in financial and volunteering terms.
Caring for Buildings: Fabric
Abbotsley: Lynn Norris
We have continued to use the nave of the church for services in 2021-22, due to Covid requirements, by kind permission from the CCT. We have been delighted to welcome the choir and organist to many of our services.
There were four members of the PCC for 2021-22, with no church warden. Roles have been moved around the members. The PCC met four times in the year, generally via Zoom. There were 27 members on the electoral role.
The church fabric and churchyard remain in good order. The organ was repaired in time for the Christmas Eve service.
Great Gransden: Rob Chignell
Nothing dramatic during the year. Our main event was 'Herringbone Contractors' stripping the crumbling plaster off the east wall behind the Altar, and replastering. This was booked to be done in May 2021, it was finally done in March 2022. They also repaired some bad spots in the choir vestry and others.
The lead running to the sockets in the kitchen had perished, the wall being almost constantly damp. This lead was bypassed, and a new lead now runs directly from the mains box to these sockets.
The sound system was installed and is proving to be very effective. This enables much flexibility; ie, playing music from an iPhone etc, and the sound quality is much improved.
Our architect Stephanie Lawrence did our Quinquennial inspection on 8th Oct 2021.
A stone on one of the roof parapets was loose, and needed immediate attention; this was seen to. No major works were discovered, but a list of minor works amount to about £6000, due to be done by 2026.
Thanks to all who clean the Church and brass, and grass cutters etc. Our Church and Churchyard look great.
Little Gransden: Nick Wareham
After several years of intense renovation and restoration activity, 2021 was a quiet year for Little Gransden church in which we focused on the important task of keeping the church open and safe through the continuing pandemic.
We are grateful to all those who provided flowers, cleaned the church and maintained the church grounds. We are also particularly grateful to Sheila George for unlocking and locking the church so that it is open and accessible to those from the village and beyond who take the opportunity to visit our beautiful building and enjoy its peaceful ambience.
Waresley: Louise Wigan
It has been a great joy at Waresley to come together for services again in our beautiful church. We very much enjoy having the choir and the organist with us, and the bellringers too: they and the singing contribute to the feeling of communal happiness and delight in the glories of God that the services bring. Special services include the Patronal Festival celebrating St James, the Mothering Sunday service, led by children from Barnabas Oley School, and the Harvest Festival. At these services collections were given to Ukraine, and the Women’s Refuge Centre, as that from the carol singing outside the Duncombe Arms at Christmas went to the East Anglian Children’s Hospice. We have not only been thinking inwardly within our community, but outwardly as well.
Very special services have also been held in the Old Churchyard: the Ascension Day service and an Easter Service last year. In all these services we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual guidance and inspiration of our Rector Rachel. We are also grateful to those who have made it possible for us to continue to hold the services traditionally held at Waresley: to Jane Connell, for leading the Watch by the Cross service, to Colin Croot for leading the Remembrance Day Service, and to Reverend Rachel Blanchflower for leading the Christmas morning family service. This year the Waresley congregation attended the Benefice service on Easter morning; we are very grateful to all those who organized and participated in the preparation of the Easter Garden, the decoration of the church for Easter, and the Easter egg hunt in the churchyard on the Saturday before Easter Day.
The church building, to the visitor, and to those from Waresley or outside who come for weddings, baptisms or funerals, feels cared for and loved. This is owing to the hard work and talents of many people. Christine Badcock is sacristan, and over the last year has performed some of the functions of a churchwarden in punctilious caring for the smooth running of services and the provision of hospitality afterwards, as well as caring for liturgical and other necessary objects. Sheila Thompson has organized the rota of cleaners. Rubylette Croot has organized the flower arrangers. Sue Burgess has managed the upkeep of the churchyard. Graham Thompson and Julian Badcock have insured the smooth running of the sound system, and John Archer has managed the heating. To all these people the PCC owes an enormous debt of gratitude.
We are also grateful for the support of the village. The ‘coffee morning’ or fete at the end of lockdown last year was a tremendous success, in the atmosphere and enjoyment shared by all who came, but also in raising funds. The village was generous in its response to our Gift Day appeal. And without the Friends of St James who not only raise funds as a society to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of the church but also offer their assistance at church fund raising events, we would not be able to pay our way.
For two years we have managed without a Churchwarden. Fortunately the PCC has a very competent Treasurer, David Taine, and secretary, Neville Chapman, and we owe them our heartfelt thanks. In one aspect we have to acknowledge difficulties, that I hope will be temporary, but I feel should be mentioned. Two years ago the Quinquennial Report, while stating that the church was in good condition, recommended repairs costing the prohibitive sum of £15,000. The first element of this has been completed with a safety inspection of the stone crosses on the roof, and gutter/downpipe maintenance. Outstanding is further roof maintenance highlighted by some tiles being dislodged in the recent storm. Quotes are being obtained for this work, and once this is completed we will then move on to the other highlighted work. We agreed that we would postpone raising funds to add to a bequest for a lighting project, and concentrate on the vital maintenance work. Meanwhile the ambitious lighting project has been modified, and instead we are planning to use the bequest to improve the existing lighting, and an electrician has agreed to undertake the work. He has installed the bulbs he recommends for the nave, which anyone who wishes may go and look at.
St James Waresley has benefited from its association with the other congregations of the Bluebell Benefice. We particularly enjoy the coming of the choir, and thank Sheila George and David John. We are also grateful for the work of Rachel Fogg as representative on the Deanery Synod and of Philip George as Safeguarding Officer, and we are glad to belong to this wider church community.
Financial reports are available separately in each parish.
We are extremely grateful to our treasurers for their invaluable work: Julie Crabbe (Abbotsley), Laura Hill (Great Gransden), Joe Ward (Little Gransden), David Taine (Waresley)
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete
it until the day of Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 1: 6)