In 1995 Fr David Emmott wrote a paper with the heading ‘St Barnabas’ church: our mission to the parish’. He clearly thought it was strong stuff in that he prefaced it with a health warning. His principle point was that the church in England had developed on a village model which didn’t any longer work for city settings like London. Some of his main points of difference have not since changed, for example that Southfields has a mainly commuting workforce and that most young couples seek to marry elsewhere, but he wasn’t then to know about the imminent demographic shift which led to the nickname Nappy Valley.
He wrote at a time when St Barnabas’ income was not adequate to cover its running costs, let alone the cost of having a vicar or repairing and maintaining a building. The reality is that probably the year 2012 has been the first year since the church was built when we have not run at an annual loss, and that is only due to skilful management of the halls, so we are still far from out of the woods!
Some of Fr David’s points are still very telling- that we should be genuinely welcoming, with no strings attached, and that we should be more actively involved in helping with practical needs on our own door-step- and some have actually led to positive change. He thought we had too much ‘plant’ to look after, my words, not his and that we should use some of it to provide much needed cheap accommodation, and the old vicarage site is now occupied by a Housing Association flats- although in our surreal world that has taken the form of what is euphemistically called’ affordable’ housing instead.
But things have moved on. During Fr Bertrand’s time here the young families arrived and found a very warm welcome, and in the last few years we have manged to transform the church and its environment and can boast one of the best and most adaptable hall complexes in this part of London, but we still have to constantly ask what it is all for.
In his paper Fr David quoted John 15:16, ‘ You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.
That is surely key. We want to be a place where faith can be nurtured and seen in action. We need therefore to keep our focus on worship and to celebrate and improve our understanding of a lived out faith- for young and old alike.
And we need to treasure those distinctive qualities that St Barnabas has as a result of its history and the people who have worshipped here over the last century. Alive to the Mystery of God and the centrality of the sacraments, but unafraid of change and the modern world and alert to the spiritual and practical needs of those around us.
One thing that I have differed about with both of my predecessors is seeing the main church building as a burden. Hopefully when the lighting is finished and the parapet repairs are completed it will become even more of an asset as a place of worship and for community use.