St Oswald's Church, Sowerby, Thirsk, North Yorkshire

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Annual report 2020

Parochial Church Council of St Oswald's Sowerby
Annual Report for the year ended 31 December 2020

Incumbent: in vacancy

Assistant Priest: Revd Pauline Percy

Independent Examiner: Mr William Pearson ACA, FCCA

Bankers: HSBC

Church Architect: David Beaumont

Independent Financial Advisor: Ellis Bates Group



Administrative information
St Oswald's Church is situated in Sowerby in North Yorkshire. It is part of the Diocese of York within the Church of England. The current correspondence address is: 162 Front Street, Sowerby, YO7 1JN

Members of the Parochial Church Council
Members of the PCC are either ex officio or elected by the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) in accordance with the Church Representation Rules. In 2020 the APCM was on 22 November 2020.

During the year the following served as members of the PCC:

Churchwardens (ex officio):
David Tucker (joint Vice Chair)
Simon Birkbeck (joint Vice Chair)

Assistant Priest (ex officio):
Revd Pauline Percy

David Brooke

Recognised Parish Assistants:
Cecily Rands
Helen Irving
Yvonne Bowling

Deanery Synod (ex officio):
Gayle Hartley
Sue Binns
Jill Drew

Elected Members from 22 November 2020
Retiring 2021
Maureen Carr
John Kennedy
Pauline Alderson (Standing Committee)
Morna Stoakley

Retiring 2022
Yvonne Bowling
Richard Halkyard
Andrew McCormack
Graham Merriam (Treasurer) (Standing Committee)

Retiring 2023
Helen Irving (Standing Committee)
David Brooke
Jane Jackson

Structure, governance and management
The Parochial Church Council (PCC) is a corporate body established by the Church of England. It operates under the Parochial Church Council Powers Measure. The PCC is registered as a separate charity with the Charity Commission.

The method of appointment of PCC members is set out in the Church Representation Rules. All Church attendees are encouraged to register on the Electoral Roll and stand for election to the PCC.

In normal circumstances the full PCC meets six times a year or more as needed. (During the Covid-19 pandemic the PCC has met using Zoom.) The PCC is supported by the Standing Committee, consisting of Church-wardens, Treasurer and Secretary and Children and Youth Worker. In addition, there are a few working groups which report to PCC. Our Deanery Synod Representatives attend meetings during the year and report back to the PCC.

Objective of the PCC
St Oswald's PCC works during the vacancy with the Area Dean the Rev Fiona Mayer-Jones in promoting in the ecclesiastical parish the whole mission of the church, pastoral, evangelistic, social and ecumenical. The PCC is also responsible for the management and maintenance of Sowerby Parochial Hall and Annexe. The Church, the Parochial Hall and the Annexe are normally well-used and valued community assets and a base for our service to members of the congregation and wider outreach to the parish as a whole. Sadly, during the pandemic, we have not been able to use the buildings to their normal extent.

Our Mission
At St Oswald's we try to live out Jesus' call to love God and love our neighbour.

Review of the year: Achievements and Performance
It can fairly be said that 2020 was a year unlike any other in living memory because of two factors: The Coronavirus pandemic and the continuing vacancy.

It was dominated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which emerged at the start of the year. Almost all aspects of church fellowship, such as a greeting each other, sitting together, the peace, taking communion and singing, were potent spreaders of the virus and were, therefore, largely proscribed during the year. The national response to the pandemic imposed massive restrictions on the normal freedoms of movement, association and worship and disrupted normal church life immensely.

St Oswald's is normally open every day during daylight, but from 17 March 2020, following Government guidelines and on the advice of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, it was closed for all regular services, and later in the year only open for private prayer on Mondays and Thursdays. When services resumed, a socially distanced seating plan was implemented, no singing was allowed and all attending had to wear face coverings. Late in the year a small choir was permitted, pursuant to advice from the Diocese.

The St Oswald's weekly news-sheet and the monthly Saints Alive magazine, which had been circulated as paper copies, were very rapidly and effectively converted to email format, giving new opportunities for input. The news sheet was expanded to include reflections, prayers and internet links to hymns and songs in order to facilitate worship at home. Printed copies were delivered to those without internet access.

Several services were pre-recorded and published on YouTube. We then began live, on-line services using the Zoom video-conferencing service. We have held Zoom services at fortnightly intervals since September 2020. 'Morning Praise' on the 1st Sunday and 'Worship for All' on the 3rd Sunday. These are followed by 'virtual' coffee time in breakout rooms. Many people have valued the opportunity to talk to each other which this provides. A special mention must be made of the work of Lay Reader David Brooke in organising this and in providing the leadership at many of these services. Christingle, Carol and Crib services were also held on Zoom in December.

These fortnightly services alternated with services of Holy Communion every other week in church. We are tremendously grateful to both Rev Pauline Percy and Rev Sandra Howells in being able to hold these services along with a mid-week communion service.

Funerals were only able to take place with very limited numbers of people attending, at one stage at the graveside only, in order to reduce the chance of transmission of the virus. Crematoria were similarly extremely restricted in how many people were allowed to attend. Grateful thanks are due to Rev Pauline Percy, Rev Sandra Howells and other visiting clergy for conducting these services and to John Kennedy for his commitment and service in the role of sexton, and to the sidespersons who assist.

Confirmations, baptisms and weddings were entirely deferred.

Youth work and work with children and families has always been a strength of St Oswald's, and this was very much the case during the pandemic. Pauline Alderson and Helen Irving along with their supporting team were responsible for maintaining this work to a very high degree, and even to increase contacts. Making use of Zoom, delivering bags with craft materials, Bible stories and creative prayer resources for each youth & kids club member, and even running the annual Holiday Club by Zoom. We held a Messy Church in a bag at Pentecost, a family Treasure Hunt around Sowerby and a celebration of Saints as our alternative to Halloween in October which ran alongside a Saints & Light Treasure Hunt in Sowerby village.

The Little Wonders toddler group set up meetings on Zoom for parents or carers with pre-school children and a private Facebook group for keeping in touch. Craft & activity bags were delivered to all the families who meet weekly during term time. Some new families have joined.

'Open The Book', taking Bible stories into primary schools in the form of short acted-out dramas, continued in Sowerby, Sessay and Keeble Gateway Schools through January and February. This was then suspended as no visitors were allowed in schools. However, the 'Open The Book' team managed to record a Nativity in December 2020 which was then shown in four primary schools.

Godly Play, which makes use of the new Godly Play room in the Annexe and also by visits to schools, was unable to function in this form. However, the Godly Play leaders from Sowerby Methodist Church have led two of the Kids Club sessions per month via Zoom, using Godly Play stories and Feast sessions.

A number of events which are both a means of contact with the wider parish and a source of income were impossible during 2020. The Daffodil Festival at Easter and the autumn Coffee Cakes and Crafts event both had to be cancelled. There was however an outdoor, socially distanced Summer Fair held on the field near the annexe on 31 August.

Although there was no public service on Remembrance Sunday 8 November a small Act of Remembrance took place at the war memorial and the church was beautifully decorated with flowers and the outside walls with knitted poppies. Many thanks to Barbara Thornton and her team for continuing to provide flower arrangements and to Kath Reynard for tending the outdoor planters.

A Lent course was commenced in Orchid House, but this had to be curtailed as the pandemic intervened. A small study group amongst members from the 5 parishes was held in the autumn using Zoom which proved to be successful and will continue in 2021.

The annual meetings, which should normally take place early in the year, were postponed and eventually took place by Zoom on 22 November.

Mission and Giving
We continued to support Jigsaw Kids Ministries in the Philippines through regular gifts to CMS (to support their mission partner Tim Lee) and to Jigsaw directly. This project was also adversely affected by Covid-19, and the support of churches in the UK was vital to their continuance. We were inspired to hear from Tim Lee at one of our Zoom services about the ways in which Jigsaw had responded and adapted during the pandemic to meet the needs of the community it serves.

We regularly support Thirsk Community Works in their service to the wider community. Our harvest gifts and occasional offerings on special services (e.g., Christmas) have been given to them. We have a box in church available for non-perishable food donations towards their food bank.

A diocesan mission weekend was held between 13th and 15th March with the title, 'Come and See'. We organised or participated in various events in the parish including an event with Bishop John at Orchid House, a Men's Breakfast, a special Messy Church and a 'Ladies Pamper Evening'.

The Parochial Hall is a valued community asset. During the pandemic almost all activities there, both church-related and community bookings, ceased. The 100 Club which raises funds towards the running costs was able to continue.

Pastoral work:
The disruption caused by the pandemic, including the postponement of some hospital operations and radical changes in GP and dental services, together with loneliness caused by being unable to have visitors or get out to socialise, contributed to a high level of anxiety and distress in the community. Our pastoral Recognised Parish Assistants (RPA), Cecily Rands and Yvonne Bowling continued their support of elderly and vulnerable people as far as the Coronavirus restrictions allowed. A telephone support line was set up to keep in regular touch with members of the congregation during the first lockdown.

The 'Singing for Joy' sessions at Orchid House, Sowerby took place in January and February and a 'This is my story, this is my song' event (part of the 'Come and See' weekend in March) was enjoyed and well attended. Sadly, these sessions had to be stopped as a result of pandemic restrictions, but an out of doors half hour of carol singing brought a bit of Christmas cheer to residents in December.

The Mothers' Union remained in touch with members by letter. Meetings were not possible.

The Prayer Circle continued to operate throughout 2020 to support those in particular need of prayer. Many thanks to Jill Drew for coordinating this.

Farming chaplaincy:
Yvonne Bowling continued her work as an assistant chaplain working under Rev Dianne Gamble to provide support to the farming community at the Auction Mart located in the parish.

Ecumenical relations:
St Oswald's values the covenant with the Methodist Church, but the pandemic prevented most ecumenical activities, including the Easter and Harvest parish leaflet distribution. However, a joint Christmas card (with the Salvation Army) was distributed using the delivery team. The children and youth team have continued to work ecumenically and joint online services were produced to celebrate Pentecost and Harvest.

Churches Together: the normal Easter Walk of Witness and Christmas carol service could not take place. There was however a community drive-in carol service held at Thirsk Auction Mart on 20 December. This was very well supported with up to 100 cars attending each of two sessions.

Elizabeth Allen continues as our Safeguarding Officer. All PCC members are DBS checked and must complete a Confidential Declaration Form and complete an on-line safeguarding training course. St Oswald's PCC has complied with the duty under section 5 of the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016 (duty to have regard to House of Bishop's guidance on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults).

Financial review:
2020 has been a challenging year. The PCC recognised early on that Covid-19 was likely to impact heavily on not only the PCC's finances but our ability to meet our Freewill Offering of £61,200 to York Diocese. An appeal to the congregation raised just over £15,000 including Gift Aid. This enabled us to meet all our commitments with the consequence that our normal operating surplus for the year is £322 (2019 - deficit £9,703). Our portfolio, in medium to low-risk investments, suffered a downward re-valuation of £3,250 but we still derived £1,286 dividend income. Our Hall income fell by some £7,000 and Plate Collections and Fees for occasional services also suffered. However, the finances at the end of the year are on an even keel although the Freewill Offering for 2021 has had to be significantly reduced in the light of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. The congregation have, as ever, risen to this challenge most generously. Many thanks to Graham Merriam for the financial leadership he has given as treasurer throughout the year and to Gayle Hartley for all the detailed financial administration.

Reserves Policy
It is the PCC's intention to spend those Reserves that are Restricted on their defined purposes, in due course. Unrestricted Reserves include an amount that is Designated for the Parochial Hall and the PCC aims to safeguard these for an ongoing plan of refurbishment. The remainder of Unrestricted Reserves represent approximately three months income which the PCC feels is the minimum that it should aim to hold for normal levels of activity.

The Vacancy
Advertising and interviewing for an incumbent took place twice during 2020, despite pandemic restrictions, and on each occasions the successful candidate declined the offer of the incumbency. The parish was without an incumbent for the entire year. A review towards the end of the year identified that the pattern of a large "urban" or non-rural church with one set of activities and aspirations linked to a cluster of smaller rural churches with different aims is problematic. The deanery has now proposed a re-shaping of parish ministry within this area as the present arrangement of multiple smaller benefices is no longer working effectively. A decision was taken that a priest in charge (PIC) should be sought, as part of that reshaping process. It is proposed that the new PIC will work with the 5 parishes of this plurality and within the deanery to work towards a new, larger team structure.

The Vicarage remained unlet throughout the year as estate agents failed to find a tenant.

In extremely difficult circumstances the Area Dean, Revd Fiona Mayer-Jones, provided frequent and valued support to the leadership team. We are very grateful also to the Revd Pauline Percy (Assistant Priest) and the Revd Sandra Howells (Retired Priest) for their ministry to us.

Grateful thanks are expressed to all at St Oswald's who have worked so hard, sometimes in different ways from normal, and with so much dedication for the benefit of the church and wider community.

May we continue to love God and our neighbours near and far as we seek to serve Christ in this place.

As the year ended, the prospect of a mass vaccination programme to suppress the spread of the virus and the further advertising of the vacancy offer hope for better in 2021 and our hope is always in Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Approved by the PCC on 16 March 2020 and signed on their behalf.
David Tucker
SImon Birkbeck

Annual report and accounts 2020 (PDF file)

Annual reports since 2004

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Registered charity number 1135485.