My wife Wendy and I plus dog, Floki, arrived just over a year ago to take on the House for Duty post of Associate Priest. There followed lockdown after lockdown that meant life was filled with masks, COVID tests, SMS permissions to go out and of course the 21st Century church of Zoom.
‘This is life Jim but not as we know it!’ New skills to learn, delving into books old and new, searching the internet to make our new services interesting and memorable. Frozen pictures on the screen, the message ‘your internet is unstable’, the dog choosing just the right moment to try to get on your lap (not much fun when she is a large dog). O the joys of modern church.
I was blessed that there was a gap in the lockdowns where I could be licensed and that by the kind permission of the Bishopric of Paphos we were allowed to hold the service in the Orthodox Cathedral in Paphos. Archbishop Michael led the service and the Metropolitan Georgios (Bishop of Paphos) attended. We couldn’t hold the service in our own church due to the number attending and safe distancing rules.
My main job in our parish on this beautiful island is the wedding ministry (usually 100+ weddings during the season) which has been drastically curtailed due to all the restrictions but the Parish needed to keep me busy so I was appointed to the chair of a Working Group for the way forward for the Anglican Church of Paphos.
A small group of five met on Zoom and face to face when restrictions allowed. The first thing we did was to send out a survey to all congregation members on the Electoral Roll, and those not on the roll, and to those who have left the church for whatever reason. We asked people to be brutally honest with their answers. There was a very good response and some ‘brutally honest’ answers.
The responses were collated and put into a database where we could crunch the numbers. The Working Group then started looking at what could be done to address the comments and suggestions that had come out of the survey. We also discussed the wider picture of how we could ensure that the church survived and continued to serve the people of Paphos.
Like almost every other parish, we suffered financially because of the COVID restrictions and it was obvious that in the past we had relied on the income from the wedding ministry to fund our churches. We set about looking at how we ensure that moving forward our churches are viable without relying on the wedding ministry income. A number of initiatives were put to council both from the Working Group and Finance team. We looked at our costs and where we could cut them. Buildings, personnel, wedding ministry, everything came under the microscope.
Decisions, such as moving the church office, looking at a more accessible building for one of the churches and coming down to one priest were made. We put out a Pandemic Appeal (similar to a UK parish in the ‘save our roof’ type appeals), which was very successful and we exceeded our target.
We looked at our services and have introduced a revised format for the Morning Worship and service of the word (including Worship Songs) at two of our churches with the third church remaining a traditional Anglican service, which will, from September be a sung Eucharist. This will allow a wide variation of services offered every Sunday, which will hopefully attract new people to join us.
We are re-introducing Home Groups. Not only will this help increase knowledge and encourage learning but it is also a good platform to encourage those people who are hesitant in stepping through the threshold of a church door for the first time.
Other initiatives involving outreach to the community are being investigated including working with charities such as the Friends Hospice and Cans for Kids; and starting up a ‘soup kitchen’.
The above has kept me busy. Weddings are starting to pick up; but I still can’t do my job, as my Registrar Licence has yet to come through from the Ministry of the Interior, nine months and waiting (not patiently).
Our incumbent, Rev Andrew Burtt, retires at the end of October and I have the privilege of taking over as the Interim Priest in Charge for the next two years. I’d like to say that it will be plain sailing BUT we thought ‘COVID would be over by Christmas’, so who knows what will happen.