Working hard is the key to growth

St Paul’s Church Ipswich is the next stop in a series of features that profiles growing parishes where James O’Callaghan speaks to parishioners and Priest-in-Charge, The Rev’d Steve McMahon.

Focus Magazine: An analysis of the Annual Return data has revealed that the number of worshippers in your parish, St Paul’s Church Ipswich, has grown over the last three years. What is going on?

Steve: It’s difficult for me to answer this one as I’ve only been here for one year, but I suspect that it’s a combination of the three things. The parish have had a reasonably long interregnum during that time and took a leap of faith in appointing someone from overseas, and I know it wasn’t done without a great deal of prayer and discussion beforehand. Not only that but they were prepared to look to the building of the future of the Church as a whole and to take on a curate who would be able to assist, alongside being trained for a future in ministry. Neither of these decisions were made without sacrifice but they have responded to God’s “nudging” and move on in a deepening relationship with Him.

At the same time they have been prepared to work hard and try new things, this year’s Good Friday “Stations of the Cross” being a case in point, which many found to be deeply spiritual and thought provoking just ahead of the great celebration of Easter. It’s not all work though – the parish come together in times of celebration as a family. We work hard, pray hard, play hard.

Any parish has its problems and disagreements (even the Apostles didn’t always see eye-to-eye) and St Paul’s Church Ipswich has been no exception. But, in the main, these have been resolved. The movement and renovation of the huge pipe organ was a significant undertaking that stretched the patience of a number of people. However, the end result has, by and large, been worth it and it enhances our regular worship as well as being used for concerts, individual recitals etc.

After a period of instability, the appointment of a permanent parish priest who would be here for some time after the ministries of two excellent locums, meant that the parish can really start looking to the future and can really plan ahead. The lack of ability to really formulate a vision meant that the parish was unable to really grow – thankfully we are now responding to the call to the future with excitement.

Focus Magazine: What do you see as the three most important contributing factors to your growth?

  • Regular corporate prayer. People join us for the Daily Office when the day-to-day needs of the parish can be brought to God rather than storing all of it up till Sunday.
  • The willingness to try new things – and to be realistic (and honest) enough to admit if they don’t work.
  • A real sense of joy – even fun – in worship. An attractive congregation smiles a lot rather than looks sullen.

Focus Magazine: Have you run introduction to Christianity/disciple programs? Have you found them successful?

Pilgrim has been run in the parish (both by clergy and laity in their own homes) for a while and is relatively successful. We’re looking at the possibility of developing something in-house that’s tailored to the needs
of the parish more specifically. Watch this space!

Focus Magazine: What advice would you give your brothers and sisters in other parishes?

Don’t be afraid of looking foolish in trying a new idea – some of the best ideas seem mad at their outset. “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” 1 Cor 1:25

Ruth Mullen has been associated with St Paul’s Church Ipswich all her life, initially through family connections and frequent visits.

The West Moreton Anglican College choir performing at St Paul’s Church Ipswich

Focus Magazine: How long have you been in the parish?

Ruth: Two of my grandparents were baptised at St Paul’s Church Ipswich in 1871, and a number of relatives, including my parents worshipped at St Paul’s and were married here. I have been a member of the Parish since moving to Ipswich following my own marriage (at St Paul’s Church Ipswich) in 1967.

Focus: What drew you to the parish and what has helped you stay?

St Paul’s Church Ipswich is geographically central to where I live and I enjoy the ongoing association with family and old friends, as well as making new friends. I like the traditional worship style, enjoy singing in the choir and participating in a number of parish activities and find the building itself a very peaceful and prayer-filled haven.

Focus: What is the growing edge of your life? How does belonging to the church give you life?

Having observed many changes in the parish over the years, experiencing some good and some not so good times, I feel that our parish is currently moving in a positive direction. Our current Parish Priest, Steve, while maintaining a high level of respect and dignity within the worship, has the ability to make people feel at ease particularly families and young children. I feel that over the last couple of years the lay people have taken a positive turn by accepting responsibility for being welcoming and friendly.

Focus Magazine: What prompted you to start attending? Were there any teachings that you found particularly helpful?

My faith has grown over the years through being supported by the faith and actions of others in my parish community and journeying with them through ups and downs. Through Study Groups and Retreats, I have learned to listen more closely to God and to value the thoughts and experiences of others. Our parish has been blessed over the years by the delivery of excellent sermons from a number of clergy with a variety of viewpoints, offering a different perspective on even the most familiar Bible passages, thereby providing a challenge to question and grow our faith.

Focus Magazine: What three things could be improved?

(a) Expansion of the small groups program, offering different styles of discussion to meet differing needs.
(b) Informal services to attract newcomers who are unfamiliar with the traditional service. (This is currently under discussion)
(c) Social gatherings to help parishioners get to know each other better and feel comfortable to invite non-parishioners to get to know about the parish in a non-threatening way.