Holding a good remote PCC meeting

Running a PCC meeting through the internet can add extra challenges.  These are five ideas to help remote meetings go smoothly:

1)

Decide which system you’ll use and make sure it works for everyone, before the meeting.  Meetings are much better if everyone can see everyone else, but you don’t want to spend half an hour of everyone’s time helping one person join in.  Send out joining instructions well in advance (but don’t make them public!).

2)

Take time to connect with each other and to pray.  If you’re looking at a screen with several faces staring back at you, there’s a natural temptation to get on with the meeting.  Taking some time to worship, pray and talk to one another is hugely valuable.

3)

Remember only one person can speak at once.  While this is always true, it’s essential when video calling as two people speaking at the same time is simply noise.

4)

Avoid distractions.  While other people are talking about the finance report, there could be a temptation to mute yourself and get on with something else; resist it, because the meeting will be better if everyone remains focused.

5)

Have patience if things don’t go quite to plan.  Not everyone has an ideal (child-free) space in their house to be undisturbed or is totally comfortable talking to a tablet.  

If you’re going to hold a remote meeting, please also read the advice on the correct legal procedures to follow from the Diocesan Registrar.

 I hope those are helpful!  Is there anything you’d add?  Please share!

Image by Werner Sidler from Pixabay

Settling in a foreign land

The last few weeks have been difficult.  Most of us have never experienced anything like this depth of change at this speed, and responding has meant solving complicated problems at short notice, under significant stress.  It’s not been fun exactly, has it?

As Richard Cooke has said though, we’re moving from a sprint to a marathon.  The pace of change has slowed down; this week will probably be a lot like last week (maybe too much so).  When things have calmed down a bit it might be helpful to take a step back, take stock, and see whether everything has landed where you want it to.   

I’m going to suggest some questions to do that with, but first I have a caveat.  One initial response to the lockdown, particularly online, has been an explosion of creative ideas about how we can be productive while locked inside (or for those with kids, how to home-school like a pro).  Setting ambitious goals can be great, but there’s also wisdom in not making dealing with a global crisis harder by also taking up oil painting or parkour.  It’s a good time to go easy on yourself for a while.  Prioritise making sure you and those around you are secure and provided for.  If that’s not the case yet, some of the things on this list can wait.

So, how to take stock?  These are some ideas.  

For everyone:

– Do you have supportive relationships, and have they adapted to social isolation?  Whatever your family or household looks like, this is necessary.  If you need to, I’d encourage you to persist with new technology – while frustrating at first, being able to see people’s faces makes an enormous difference.  

– Are there people around you who need help?  Two obvious groups who need support are people who are vulnerable, and key workers in active caring professions during the crisis. If you’re not sure, take risks and reach out to people.  I was a bit shocked when I gave a neighbour a call recently and discovered she hadn’t spoken to anyone for a week.

For those in leadership positions in churches (PCC members, churchwardens, clergy, etc.), these are some more organisational questions and links to resources where possible:

– Does anything crucial rely too much on any one person?  While this is bad practice it’s often very difficult to avoid, but now is a good time to find ways to spread the load.  Sharing responsibilities could also help in another way by creating regular contact between people.  

– How are your PCC’s finances, and how will they be in six months’ time?  The Parish Resources website has a variety of useful advice and resources, or you can contact the Diocesan Finance team if you need specific support.

– Is your church building secure?  There is a very helpful guide on the Church of England website to caring for a church building at present.

– Are your systems for safeguarding still working?  The Diocesan Safeguarding Team has put advice on safeguarding during the lockdown online here.

Accept it and find ways to live well

I’ll finish this by being a bit more reflective.

I’m reading through Jeremiah at the moment (since before coronavirus really had an impact in fact; feels like a lifetime ago, but it’s a long book).  One of the messages Jeremiah gave was to the exiles in Babylon: “Build houses, plant, marry, work for the good of the city you are in.  You will be there for 70 years.”  That would have been hard to hear.  The Jews in Babylon wanted to go home!  Forcibly taken from their homeland by a conquering army, I can imagine that trying to build new lives in Babylon would have felt like giving in, almost like betrayal.  Yet God’s command to them was to accept their situation and do their best to thrive.

Our situation is less drastic, but there’s still a huge amount to wrap your head around.  An article I found helpful was “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief”, which talks about the different emotions this kind of situation brings out and how to deal with them.  This situation is going to last for longer than we want it to.  Accepting that, and finding ways of living as well as possible within it, will be important.

God’s purposes for the exile would have seemed almost impossible to understand at the time, but even then, he was at work.  I find that encouraging because the example of then helps me believe the same can be true now.  While there will be costs to this there will also be blessings.  He is faithful and we can trust that in the end, all will be well.

Images by Marc Thele from Pixabay.

The world’s most exciting flowerpots

Why did the churchwarden cross the road?

It seems like a good idea to start this with a joke. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to think of a good punchline for that1, so I’m going say something which often seems to come across as slightly ridiculous, and hope that’ll do.

I’m genuinely excited about effective structures.  Please don’t stop reading.  Let me explain.

Being excited about effective structures does not mean I love formal meetings. I do not wake up with a spring in my step when I have PCC, and Synods do not fill me with joyful anticipation. There is a different reason, and the best way I’ve found so far to explain this is to say that structures are a bit like flowerpots.

No one I know has ever confessed to being a flowerpot enthusiast

No one I know has ever confessed to being a flowerpot enthusiast. Flowerpots, normally, are not bought because people like flowerpots, but because they like plants. The pot gives the plant somewhere to live, but it’s the plant that’s important.

Church structures are like flowerpots because they exist to hold the life of the church, to allow the church to breathe and grow.  Putting a plant in a flowerpot which is too small cramps its growth, and the same is true of structures – if a church has bad structures, its life will be held back.  On the other hand, structures which work well allow a church to flourish. 

We’re called, commanded even, to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbours as ourselves.  That’s worth getting excited about!  I care about effective structures because of the potential to free people up from administration and release them to love God, to serve their communities, to do what they’re called to do2

Two days ago I was at Shottery, with the rest of the Serving Christ mentors, to introduce ourselves at an Archdeacon’s Visitation.  I said something about being excited about finding ways to lighten the burden of administration and got a definite response – a wordless rumble of enthusiasm, mixed with a dash of cynicism.  “Crumbs”, I thought, “we really do need to do this”.

The administration churches need to do isn’t going to simply go away.  Data protection, safeguarding, faculties, APCMs, all phrases to send shivers down the spine of many a PCC, will not disappear.  The challenge is doing them as well as they need to be done – often they are important, even vital – without holding back the mission and ministry of clergy and everyone else.

As a certain Archdeacon has said more than once, there are no quick fixes.  But there are ways this can be done.  Some others are emerging.  And I’m sure there are more to discover.

Do your church structures help you grow what you care about?

I’m going to finish with some questions.  Are your church’s structures doing their job well?  Do they help you grow in what you care about? Do they need tweaking?  Or are they a misfit which is holding you back?

Answering those questions is easier if you, and particularly if your PCC, are clear about your church’s purpose, or vision.  What is God calling your church to do or to be?   Jesus commanded us to love God and to love your neighbour – how are you seeking to do that? 

With that in mind, you can think about the flowerpot, without losing sight of the life.

Matt Jermyn

Learning Mentor – Effective Structures