Annual Report 2020
The Church of St. Thomas is situated in St. Thomas’ Circle, Werneth, Oldham OL8 1SF. The correspondence address is St. Paul’s Vicarage, 55 Belgrave Road, Oldham OL8 1LU.
The parish is in the Deanery of Oldham West, in the Diocese of Manchester.
The parish forms part of the United Benefice of Oldham and Werneth, and a Mission Partnership with the parish of St. Paul, Oldham. It is part of a Mission Unit with Holy Trinity, Coldhurst, St Stephen & All Martyrs, Oldham, and St. Mary with St. Peter, Oldham.
The Parochial Church Council (PCC) is a charity excepted from registration with the Charity Commission.
The Parish Bank Account is with NatWest. The Insurers of the Parish are EIG.
The parish contains a variety of property which includes owner occupier, rented, council houses, apartments and sheltered housing. There are terraced houses, a legacy of the cotton industry, and a mix of semi and detached houses.
New homes have been built in the parish.
With regards to the Index of Multiple Deprivation, the parish straddles 4 LSOAs. A "Lower Super Output Area" is the smallest geographical unit for which demographic data is produced. Oldham 035D is ranked 528, and Oldham O35G is ranked 1,154 out of 32,844 LSOAs across the country. In the 1.6% and 3.5% most deprived, respectively. Both of these LSOAs are within 50 metres walk of the church.
There is a disproportionate mix of religious and ethnic communities in the parish: British, Asian, and Eastern European. The parish is rated as having the highest ethnic diversity (i.e. highest proportion who are not White British) within the Diocese of Manchester at 89%. Many of these are South Asian. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that many people of African and Eastern European origin are moving into the parish.
There are a number of schools in the Parish: St. Thomas, Werneth (CE) Primary School, St. Patrick's (RC) Primary School, Werneth Primary School, as well as Hulme Kindergarten.
What a very strange and very difficult year - with all that we have faced as individuals and also as a church community.
Since we went into lockdown back in March, we have worked to provide online services each week. A decision was made to use a "web-page" style, rather than a live-stream of the whole service. Hopefully this allowed those who used it to find their own way through the material, and hear each others' voices even when we could not be together. I know some listened to everything, and others dipped in and out. The format allowed us to offer a range of musical styles, being both more traditional and more modern at the same time, hopefully satisfying (and stretching) all tastes. I (and we) are very grateful to all those who learnt new skills: recording themselves reading, or praying, and then emailing the result to me, so that I could include it. We continued to offer an online service, even when we were back in church, for those who could not attend in person, and intend still to do so . .
One of the most challenging aspects of Parish life over the last year has been the relentless changes to what we were or were not allowed to do at various points: how many could attend a funeral; whether we could host baptisms; whether anyone was allowed to work on the church grounds; whether clergy were allowed in to churches; how Parochial Church Councils, and Annual Parochial Church Meetings were to be conducted, etc. And these changes were often communicated at the last minute, and with possible penalties for non-compliance. I (and we) have been very grateful to members of our risk assessment committee who have supported in getting to grips with making sure that St. Thomas' church was as safe as possible. . .
In church, our services were very different. We are not allowed to sing in church, or host Sunday School, so our services have become more multi-media - again, attempting, as before Covid-19, to offer the best of a range of musical styles. And of course, our services alternated between St. Thomas' and St. Paul's on a Sunday morning. They were increasingly well-attended and so the decision was made, just as the January lockdown came upon us, to switch to a service in each church every week - a safer, more consistent, and more easily communicated arrangement - and I think we all breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we wouldn't have to think where and when the service was going to be the coming Sunday.
We were not able to celebrate Easter in Church, but we were able to celebrate Christmas.
Highlights of the year
It may not seem quite right to talk about highlights of 2020, but there have indeed been a number.
- Zoom Sunday School usually attended by 16-25 children (with parents lurking in the background) from across the two churches. Increasingly the children became more and more comfortable with this way of learning, and it actually became a richer and richer experience as time went on: not only having the privilege of running Sunday School in each child's home, but also, doing so with their parents, and with music and video. No one had to worry about making too much noise!
- Stronger relationships between St. Thomas' and St. Paul's: the two parishes have continued to pull together to support each other during this time of Covid-19: in Zoom Sunday School; in the Risk Assessment Subcommittee; and in Sunday Services.
- The considerable generosity shown my many congregation members in their giving, and one-off donations made to the church. Your generosity has been much needed, and greatly valued at this time.
- The many different ways in which congregation members, new and old, have maintained their engagement in parish life - despite the changes that it has seen.
- Perhaps we've simply had to learn new ways of being church. Learning new technology-skills. Offering all-age services every week. Trying to engage with the broad spectrum of people that our increasingly diverse church community now brings together.
- In November, it was a great surprise and pleasure to be able to welcome Rev. Cath Hewison for the next couple of years as Curate. She brings considerable gifts with her, and I have no doubt that she will be a great blessing to both our Church Communities over the next couple of years. I know that it has been a considerable challenge for her to start a new post, and move house in the current climate.
- Sadly, we have not been able to open the church building to the local community as we had hoped. Planning ahead has been very difficult in the midst of all the changes, and I suspect people will still be reluctant to meet together, even when this is permitted.
- Work on the building is still required. The final completion of the reorder of the church draws closer, although there are still a number of outstanding issues that we were not able to resolve. And the work on the pointing is becoming more and more important.
- Perhaps one of the challenges of the last year, for me, was the sense of powerlessness. That we wanted to be able to respond, as a church, to the obvious needs exposed by the pandemic. And yet we were hampered by the risks, the rules and the regulations. We will need to discern new ways forward.
- To some extent, parish life has had to be reinvented: time (and patience) will be needed as we allow things to settle down into new rhythms and patterns.
- Just as parish life will not be the same, so we know that the Diocese has been hit hard financially by the pandemic. We know that at the end of May, the Deanery of Oldham West will cease to exist, and that soon afterwards we will find ourselves working more closely with other parishes in a larger Mission Community. We will need to invest time and energy in developing good working patterns and relationships within which we can thrive and be a blessing to each other.
- Last, but by no means least, I know that there will be some spaces among the chairs when we return. These spaces are not empty. They are not "gaps" or "voids", but rather they are filled with memories of loved ones, who have given so much to us and to the church community over the years. We wait, as ever, to see what the future holds, and what our church life will look like as we, hopefully begin to emerge, step by step, from the pandemic. I have no doubt that considerable adjustment will be required, as we go. Please pray that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit, as we hope, finally, to move forward again, and put the worst parts of 2020 well behind us.
Once again, I would like to thank you all for your continued support, your commitment and your courage over the last 12 months. I am confident that, together and by the grace of God, we can move forward, in time, renewed in faith, hope and love.
Revd. Nick Andrewes
The Parochial Church Council has the responsibility, according to law:
To cooperate with the minister in promoting in the parish the whole mission of the church, pastoral, evangelistic, social, and ecumenical.
PCC Structure & Governance
The method of appointment of PCC members is broadly as set out in the Church Representation Rules, with one exception: Church Wardens may be elected for an unlimited number of consecutive periods of office. The Hon. Assistant Priest is also an ex-officio member of the PCC.
Thus the PCC currently consists of 9 elected members, depending on numbers on the Electoral Roll. Thus 4 were elected in 2012 (when there were more numbers on the role); 3 each year. In addition, there are ex officio members: 3 Deanery Synod Representatives; 2 Church Wardens, the Vicar, and the Hon. Assistant Priest.
All who attend Church are encouraged to register on the Electoral Roll and stand for election to the PCC.
(2 years to serve):
(1 year to serve):
(0 years to serve):
No attendance is currently recorded for 2020 because services were alternating with St. Paul's Church, and the data would not help in determining a trend. This was because of the global pandemic (Covid-19) and the aftermath. (As of May 2021, we were between 30 and 40 were attending on a Sunday morning).
The number of people on our Parish Electoral Roll is now 51.
PCC Secretary's Report
The months leading from the beginning of the year may well be regarded as one of the most difficult and testing of all the years of St Thomas’ serving this parish. We became involved from the beginning of the year in what was to be a major global pandemic of COVID-19 which has reached to the far corners of the world.
However it has turned out to be a situation which seems to have brought out the very best in people irrespective of race or creed. Here at St Thomas’ we have worked together often under difficult circumstances but attempting to follow the directives imposed by our Christian authorities. When possible we have resorted to holding services via Zoom with Sunday School being enjoyed by the increasing number of children taking part. Continuing maintenance and repairs have needed agreement from the PCC again by Zoom (for those members able to participate).
A number of our Farsi speaking regular attendees live quite a distance from the church and during lockdowns have been unable to attend but we are hoping they will return in the near future.
Grass cutting and attention to the environment through care of bushes and plants has taken place by our more active members.
Sincere thanks must be afforded to our clergy and lay people led most ably by our Vicar the Rev NJ Andrewes who has worked untiringly with the PCC; coped with the complexities of applications for funding from various sources; the management of two parishes and a very active day school alongside his responsibilities as Area Dean for Oldham West. Thanks are due to the many people who have taken on tasks which have required regular commitment. Matters have continued quietly in the background and electronically which has proved a challenge to some of our members who have gradually become involved.
It is to be hoped that as we rise out of an unparalleled situation we will emerge stronger and firmer in our Christian faith and move forward to strengthen our belief and trust in becoming a visible and living force in the parish of St Thomas, Werneth and beyond.
PCC Treasurer's Report
The main part of our income is by the envelope scheme and due to the difficult year we have had, giving is obviously down on last year. However I have to say a number of the congregation changed to standing order, paying direct to the church account or sending a cheque to be paid in and I have to thank these people, without this happening we would have really struggled. The tax we recovered in 2020 was slightly down on 2019. Overall our direct giving receipts were up £2,187 on 2019.
Parish share for 2020 was £7,860 which we paid in full and that was only made possible by a very generous donation from a parishioner, otherwise as has happened with a number of churches this year we would not have paid it in full.
With this donation we can also claim the tax back on it.
Running expenses electricity, gas and insurance were down by £980 on 2019, due to the church not being in full use.
General church expenses are up on 2019, mainly due to roof repairs, TV installation.
Overall we do finish with a surplus of £3,803. Finances are now going to be very tight in 2021 as we have still to pay off the final amount for the re-order.
Can I encourage everyone to start using the envelope scheme, I have plenty of spare envelopes.
2020 has been a strange year as for most of the year we have been in covid lockdown situations.
When we were in church children in Sunday School and those in the singing group were accompanied by a parent.
During the covid period there has been a Zoom Sunday School with all the children in safe environments – usually their homes. The Zoom meetings are all password protected so it would be very difficult for them to be crashed into by an outsider.
Now that services are being held in church again, and with the vestry being too small to allow for a socially distanced and safe Sunday School, children are being offered activities to do in church during the services (TV and sketchbook).
The Deanery Synod is a meeting of representatives from individual parishes in West Oldham. It is, among other things, a means by which local churches can raise concerns that may need consideration by the Diocese. It is also a means by which they may discuss, and vote on, issues of concern to the diocese and national Church.
Both clergy and lay people from each parish attend. Jonathan Shaw and Maureen Yarwood represented St. Thomas’ for the laity.
We met only twice in 2020, at the Parish Church in January and online in November due to the pandemic. The main issue of concern this year has been the planned reorganisation of the 20 deaneries across the Diocese into just seven.
At the first meeting, Bishop Mark gave a very clear outline of the plan. Each new deanery will have a full-time Area Dean, rather than requiring one of the parish clergy to take it on as an additional job. Our own Vicar has been serving as Area Dean for Oldham West, and due to the pandemic has had to serve considerably longer than the regular term. We are most grateful for his leadership during a very unusual time.
The new arrangement is intended to make the best use of the clergy, all of whom will need to be responsible for more than one parish. There is no question that St Thomas’ and St Paul’s will remain open.
There is also an intention to group churches into Mission Communities (similar in many ways to the Mission Unit to which we already belong), again to make the best use of our resources.
Planned Giving & Gift Aid
In 2020 we reclaimed £4,362 in tax from Gift Aid. We have at present 15 Gift Aiders.
Anyone paying tax and wishing to make regular donations please see Janet Campbell, Treasurer for a Gift Aid form.
We have received news of Daniel and Mei Whetam who after twelve years service in Laos teaching English and giving Christian experience, returned to UK during the year.
The Kimbilio Project, working with street children in the Democratic Republic of Congo has continued to expand its work to meet the huge need.
We have continued to support The Children’s Society with home collecting boxes.
Stitch & Share
The sewing groups across the two churches of St Paul’s and St Thomas’ continued to meet until early March.
Over the Spring and Summer months, members shared work and news in an organised email group.
In September we held a support meeting, where 15 people attended.
In December we had a non-festive, distanced gathering
Some members have been supported with resources delivered to their homes.
Looking ahead to 2021 we hope to begin meeting face to face again.
We will continue to work with Action Together Oldham in welcoming new members through the social prescribing scheme.
Gina Andrewes & Auriel Hopkinson
In these different and difficult circumstances Sunday School has taken place, online, and over the years we have adapted and gained skills, despite missing so many of the relationships and routines that have been so positive in the past years.
Last Easter, families made cross images out of what they could find from their homes. These were shared for Palm Sunday on the website.
After Easter we experimented with Sunday School on Zoom, bringing together members of both congregations: St Paul's and St Thomas’. A massive learning curve for all. Finding the best way to communicate; to speak and to listen; where is the ‘mute’ button and the ‘spotlight’ tool?!
By September when children were returning to school a Sunday school planning group of seven started working on celebrating Harvest, Advent and Nativity online. We also explored some of the Psalms.
We also discussed ways to resource families with craft materials to their learning. In November the first Sunday School packs were delivered in a COVID safe way to the families’ doorsteps. Family engagement with Sunday School accelerated over night, often with between 19 and 26 children attending.
Reflecting back we have missed meeting, making and praying with each other in person and showing our creations and performances in church. However we have enjoyed meeting on Zoom with families sharing our creativity, prayers, readings and still being able to perform nativity by You tube in church. We have been part of a broader community with both the churches. Nick, Cath and Richard have come to Sunday school every week to support with worship, play, imagination and reflection.
Looking forward to 2021 we are continuing with Zoom Sunday school until the churches are open again. When we are back in church the provision for our families will be a regular focus in the main Sunday morning service until we are allowed to return to a separate Sunday school. However who knows yet what Sunday school will look like but we are certainly open to seeing it in a different light.