The community at St Eth's share their journey of reigniting the embers at this Fulham church, reversing the trend of decline and seeing a miraculous 400 people attend their carol service. With the installation of the Revd Ross Gunderson this week, we found out what's been happening in the run-up to this new chapter at St Eth's.
At dawn on Easter Day beside the Fulham Palace Road with the sky reddening over Gowan Avenue to the east and the full moon still hanging over the renovated vicarage to the west, the Easter fire at St Etheldreda was lit. Then in turn the Easter candle and the individual candles of 20 people were kindled to celebrate the Resurrection and renew baptismal vows, bearing witness to all those who cared to see that the Church of England is well alive in this part of London.
At 10.30am a Festival Eucharist was celebrated with a congregation of nearly 100 people of all ages – three times as many as attended the previous year at Easter. The Carol Service in early December was attended by a miraculous 400. This is a church which always had a beating heart, ready to nourish those who are hungry but, like so many parishes in London, had suffered decline over some 30 years. But now the people are coming again – only 5,000 households to go!!
In anticipation of the retirement of the previous vicar in July last year, we had asked the Bishop of Kensington to work with us on our vision for revival. He took the opportunity offered to him to do some innovative “gardening”. Not an HTB style plant and not exactly a graft, but the reintroduction of those who already lived in or had connections with the Parish but had gone elsewhere, mainly half a mile down the road to the original Fulham parish church, All Saints, at the end of Putney Bridge.
Now, on 30 April 2019, the Revd Ross Gunderson, having been appointed in June last year and spent the intervening months getting to know Fulham as part of the experienced clergy team at All Saints, will become our new Vicar at a service expected to be attended by about 200 people.
He led a small team on the inspiring 7 week long Church Planting Course last Autumn and he has been enabled to gradually become close to our existing worshipping community at St Eth’s by taking one Sunday service a month and nearly all the weekday services whilst encouraging others to join this adventure.
Already there is new energy – already there are new people. There was always a great tradition of hospitality – we daringly (even cheekily) invited the new Bishop of London to our Harvest Lunch in October last year on discovering she was preaching locally – and she came, to be welcomed by 100 cheerful people. The regular bring and share parish lunches have nearly doubled in size. The weekly Newsletter started in July has a circulation of 90 people. The sanctuary and the reading and prayer teams are growing. Everyone is welcomed.
This parish is increasingly looking outwards using the sacramental liturgy to charge up our batteries for service to the community. There will be an open discipleship course based on Alpha starting in May (following a pilot course which started in January). A mentoring scheme for Year 11 pupils at a local secondary school to prepare them for the world of work, drawing in local business leaders and entrepreneurs, is being piloted. A project to do an internal plant of a youth service into St Clement’s Church, our second site, within the next 18 months with the support of the Beating Heart Youth Minster in the Area is also being developed. Connections have been forged not only with All Saints but also with other neighbouring parishes of all traditions. The Deanery Synod meeting in February on Passing on Faith to children was held at St Clement’s.
The fire has been uncovered – God is breathing on the embers.