A few years ago (as the Watling Valley was coming together in a more integrated way) we had couple of years during which we held some really incredible Holy Week journeys. Each year we followed a different Gospel account and we had a series of events during the week which followed the story. They were great events - although some groups didn't get the idea and gave us Good Friday on the Monday and the Resurrection on the Thursday - but there you go! By and large, these were big weeks and we put a lot of energy into promoting and coordinating them... We tried various tricks to make it work, including setting up cross-partnership teams to work in other people's churches, and insisting that there be only one event on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday... These weeks were hard work but they did help build our partnership unity and created some meaningful worship journeys.
A few years ago, the trend began to move the other way as churches began to push for "their" local events. The week began to break up into a series of connected or unconnected services. Attendance began to drop and a new pattern began to emerge. As I go around the churches I know that leaders tend to promote the events that are due to take place in their building or that they are personally involved in - and this does make sense - but it also means that a Partnership wide approach to Holy Week is problematic...
I was asked to organise an Easter Labyrinth this year. I should say that I wasn't present when I was volunteered and I probably wouldn't have agreed to it had I been there. Labyrinths are incredibly hard work and take a lot of preparation. They're probably not worth doing for a one off event and should probably be set up for a few days, but I was happy to organise one since it had been requested.
I think I spent around fifteen hours pulling things together and setting it up. It'll take another two or three hours to tidy up the mess in my study, car and garage. These are not low maintenance events!
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. It was a good event and those who turned up did get something out of it - but here's my point - it was a clear demonstration of the tendency for Easter services to become "local"...
Of the group who helped organise it, all four were Christ the Sower governors.
Of the ten people who actually turned up to walk the Labyrinth, seven were my own family and friends, one was a CtS governor, one was from St Mary's and one from All Saints'. As Isla and I observed afterwards, we'd have got a better turn out if we had just targeted our own friends and family with personal invites.
As I said, I'm not complaining, but I am observing that these events are not working as Partnership services. People want to celebrate Easter with those they know in places where they feel at home. In the early post-SHIFT era, we tended to organise Partnership wide events because that was the fairest way of spreading the clergy out more thinly that we could with one full-timer per church. We don't have to do that now. Each church community could organise its own event, when and where it felt most appropriate - for its own mission and spirituality needs.
Now, don't get me wrong, I do think there is value in some joint events. It is great to meet together at dawn on Easter Day and light our paschal candles together. I think that is deeply symbolic of all that unites us. I also agree that it is better (from the point of view of resources) to organise big children's activities together - but - let's get real - local churches know best how to meet the needs of their members and their target audience. Mission is not served by unity for unity's sake! Next year, I really hope that we will try a different approach to Holy Week that will let churches pull their shackles off and show us what they can do!