St Cuthbert’s, Marley Hill & All Saints, Lobley Hill

Listening Portfolio Report

50% of our congregation come from outside the parish. This makes it more difficult for people to participate with some activities, given that congregants are not known or recognised within the parish boundaries, and are not really aware of what it feels like to live within the parish community.

2. Demographic and Deprivation data

Unsurprisingly, there is a bias towards the lower socio-economic groupings, higher than general UK population, and higher than many other areas in the diocese. There is an increasingly large population of single house hold pensioners living in poverty (twice as likely to be ’in poverty’ as a ‘couple’ residing in the area)**. 12% of households are living as single parents** and just over 50% households are not owner occupiers** (of which 28% are council or housing association).

The Friday morning cafe seems to hit a need, (20% of pensioners live in poverty and 65+ make up 19% of the overall population). As do the pre-school activities at both venues.

We don’t seem to meet the relatively high number of Middle Aged FT employed people in the area. Building the relationship with the pre-school parents could improve this. Taking the relationships formed in pre-school and Open the Book further so we maintain contact with the children and families going on is something to give prayer. Although we have a number of parishioners who would be considered to be in severe poverty, we do not have members of this sector of our community within our congregation, so perhaps we need to find a way to reach out to this sector.

What potential ‘people of peace’ are highlighted in this report? What relationships, if any, do you have with groups or organisations in the community?
Community Centre, Watergate Cafe, school, Lighting Up Sunniside, Community Garden, NCS, Labour/Liberal Councillors, other churches, Community Development Group?

We seem to hit the age demographic relatively well , although we don’t have many single working age parents which is a significant part of the local community. We lack the teenagers. Within the congregation we have few unemployed and on benefits.

He seems to be telling us as a church to pray more and to get involved more with the community. Interestingly, the local community centre has recently closed, meaning that several groups who used to use those facilities are now meeting in our buildings – perhaps this is God at work bringing the community and church together.

What is the story you will tell someone having read this data?
The community in which we are based is demographically diverse in terms of gender, socio-economics and age, but not in relation to ethnicity and nationality. Large sections of the community are deprived relative to the national averages and other parts of the deanery and the level of education relatively low. Its particularly pertinent that our parish has areas particularly deprived in relation to a neighbouring parish which emphasises the issues that arise from relative poverty. We offer several groups and activities which would offer support to the community but we don’t seem to get the message out effectively, this is potentially in part due to history (although this is largely anecdotal) and seems to be impacted by geography of the church building. There is a lack of community organised social activity happening on a large scale.

3. Building Use and Travel

Apart from two households, the other 77 people live within three miles of the parish boundary. There are three concentrations of people in our congregation: a group in Sunniside/Marley Hill; a group in Lobley Hill itself and a group in Whickham. In Lobley Hill, only two individuals live on the northern side of the A692, despite roughly equal numbers of houses.

Our buildings have enough space and parking to allow us to reach out to the community, as shown already by pre-school, todders, messy church, coffee morning. The interiors of both church buildings is fine, although the exterior of All Saints is not appealing. There is little footfall past either building, but thousands of people drive past St. Cuthbert’s every day.

4. Numerical Growth and Decline

Over the last 5 years or so, the usual Sunday congregation size remained relatively stable around 80 – 90 2008 – 2015, but has dipped to around 60 2016-17. Easter generally sees about 20 extras, whilst Christmas services bring in huge numbers of over 150.The % of children in the services has dipped since 2013 from 25% to 15%.

Baptisms have remained fairly stable at around 10 per year, but the number of funerals is decreasing steadily from 40 in 2008 to 10 in 2017. If we go back 20 years, however, we see a different picture. From 1998 to 2004 weekly attendances were usually 110-120, including 40+ children. By October 2005 this had dropped to about 100, with less than 10 children. By 2006, regular attendance was almost always below 100, and gradually reduced since. This trend is repeated across the deanery.

Numbers have remained relatively stable with the new incumbent. It was inevitable that we would lose some members of the congregation, and it always takes longer to bring new people in. I think God is giving us some ‘breathing space’ and Glen time to settle in & it will be interesting to see if new people join in the next 2 – 3 years or after we have got the ethos of PMC embedded.

Keeping numbers up, especially of children and young people is a challenge. Maybe God is telling us that we need to do something about it and quickly! Having exciting children’s work doesn’t just bring in kids, but brings in whole families – couples who keep coming to the church because their kids are happy

Numbers are always a bit higher at Easter and massively higher at Christmas. This tells us that there IS interest in coming to church within the wider community; we just need to harness it more regularly.

Weddings & baptism numbers are relatively stable, but funerals dipping. This suggest less people may be dying, or more likely less are interested in a church funeral, just going to the crem, or other places. I don’t think these events pull anyone into becoming regular attenders. Maybe we could do ‘follow up’ visits on the pretext of seeing how people are doing & perhaps encourage them to come back on the anniversary as a starting point. This might mean a visit once a fortnight, possibly by a member of the pastoral team?

Perhaps the church of the Laeodicians who were described as lukewarm might spring to mind. We are aware that numbers in decline and that we need to be doing something about it. We know that we need to do something, but are not fully committed to prayer and action to try to improve numbers.

Can you account for rises and falls in the membership and worship attendance patterns? What might God have been doing at those times? There have been times when numbers have fallen due to fallouts within the community, particularly fall outs with the previous incumbent. Similarly, there have been times of growth during the same era. I guess through the periods of growth, God is telling us that it is possible to attract more people into our community if we sell ourselves well and provide what people want, which might be a variety of worship styles to appeal to different sectors of the community, but essentially lively, modern worship. If we reach out to the community, they will come. Times of fall may reflect a reminder from God that we cannot become complacent, and that we need to listen to Him.

5. Finance and leadership

We are more than holding our own financially, being nett contributors to the diocese. This is encouraging given the current economic climate .

The challenge is to ensure that income does not slip any further. It is unlikely that members will be prepared to increase their individual giving, but they do need reminding about the effect of inflation and the need to keep a strong financial position. The best way to increase income is to increase the size of the worshipping community.

When the previous incumbent. Rev Bob Hopper, was the leader, he was very much the leader, directing all that was planned and happened, then bringing other church members on board to assist. The present leader, Rev Glen MacKnight has a very different approach, with a very much more devolved style of leadership, wanting the development of the church to be very much more congregation led. It is fair to say that it is taking some time for church members to get used to this approach, but we are getting there. There now seems to be a closer and more open relationship between ordained and lay leaders. This is beginning to show fruits as more lay members take on leadership and development roles. It gives a feeling that God certainly has an eye on our future, as the number of ordained ministers nationally decreases. I feel He is preparing us to be able to almost run the church without massive input from a leader. It remains to see how this model works as the church tries to develop and move forward.

The congregation are very aware of the importance of giving, and we are lucky to be able to say that we are nett contributors to the parish share. It is notable that when we have a specific request for giving such as ‘heap offerings’ we have had, whether this be for local or global issues, they have always been very generously supported. The congregation are aware of the importance of giving, and seem willing to give as necessary. We still work very much on a tithing basis, and there may be a feeling that once the tithe has been given, ‘that’s my job done’.

6. Civil Society and Culture

Lobley Hill as a community struggles with being cut in half by the A692, a busy road that cuts through Sunniside and Marley Hill also. This is maybe the main reason that these communities do not seem to have a strong community feel. It’s difficult to think of symbols, rituals and metaphors that are significant to the community. The local supermarket is at the centre of the community at Lobley Hill! There are a lot of dog walkers who value Watergate Park and potentially the cafe. In Sunniside, there is a monument to a police officer who died in service and that is where community activities like Lighting Up Sunniside are focused. Perhaps football supporting & going to the pub could be considered as two significant rituals within the community. Neither of these activities is at odds with the congregants. The Remembrance Day service is always a highlight at St. Cuthbert’s, whilst Christingle services are highlights at both churches. The annual local funfair is regarded as a ritual by many members of the community.

The Remembrance Day service is always a highlight at St. Cuthbert’s, whilst Christingle services are highlights at both churches; both these events offer chances for ministry. Cafe church is an important ritual, bring many people into the congregation who do not attend more traditional services.

All Saints has become known for its band over the years and music has always been a key ministry within Hillside. Children’s work has always been a priority – changing over the years but with some great highlights. Hillside is known for marching on its stomach – with cafe church, Alpha, women’s breakfasts etc. There is a desire to reach out into the community and this has always been a strand that has been explored in depth with toddler groups, the Friday coffee morning etc. We are a welcoming church that encourages attendees to get involved, and to go out to spread the word – being a Christian is not just for Sundays.

All Saints was seen to be a lively Anglican church where God was at work in the worship, the Children’s Work and the outreach activities. It attracted Christians from other churches. There was a time when the church attracted many local young families to attend the church and the Toddler Groups etc. Christians from other churches would come to see how we did worship with the band, puppets, cafe church etc. God has been at work bringing resolution to problems on occasions and reconciliation. The church was a strong supporter of Alpha over the years. Cafe church and Messy Church have become the vehicle for inviting non church families into church. From the Timeline event, it became clear that people have valued the welcome, the work with young people, the rites of passage and being involved in wider events like Spring Harvest and IXth Hour above all else. Families will stay if there is good provision for their children. Interpersonal relationships need to demonstrate the love of God in action. The examples of hope always seem to follow a period of difficulty/sadness. There is a strong sense of hope currently with PMC and the new vicar. There’s a sense that this is an active congregation with loads of gifts and expectation.