Parish Annual Report

December 2017

Dear Friends

It has been a very memorable year for lots of reasons.  It was the first year for the congregation to come to the island and see the results of the refurbishment of the Church following the successful 1855 Appeal; it was our first year (in recent times) where we relied solely upon priests-in-residence and our lay ministry to preach and conduct all our Sunday and other services; and it was our first time (again in recent times) when the island was hit by the heavy assault of a major hurricane.  On all of these fronts I am happy to report only positive follow-ups!

A 'New' Church!
I am sure there was some trepidation when our congregation was told that we were going to refurbish the Church.  Would the building, which they knew and loved, be changed or altered and not have the same wonderful timeless feel.  Well the response from everyone was that the refurbishment has not only enhanced what we already had, but has taken us a step forward.  It was also very timely - not only did we take the opportunity to catch the termites 'mid-bite' under the pews and on the side pillars, but I am certain that the new roof and bell tower shingles (not one of which was lost during Irma) meant that the church did not suffer the same amount of damage that happened during Louis some 20 years ago when the tin roof came off and the rain came in. (More about Irma later!)  
Also, it was clear to see the delight on the faces of the returning worshippers as they realised that the overall feel of the church had not changed - with many exclaiming surprise that the more comfortable, smart-looking pews were actually the 'old' ones which had been carefully renovated, extended and cushioned.  Likewise, the new and improved sound system was well received, with the services and sermons now fully audible for those at the back, as well as those seating in front seats - usually fewer!

Our Bishop helps us celebrate
It was a fitting occasion to have the Right Revd Errol Brooks celebrate with us in February when he re-dedicated our Church with the pomp and ceremony which the building rightly deserved.  He was joined by our new Priest-in-Charge the Revd Terrence Rawlins, who looks after the two churches on St Martin, for the confirmation of Charles Romney; and the congregation enjoyed drinks in the garden afterwards. 
We also used this occasion to announce that the church gardens would be undergoing a complete upgrade and transformation and would be be named after Brook Lacour in recognition of the tremendous time and effort which Brook dedicated to the church here on St Barts.  It was a particularly emotional part of the day, with the President of the Friends, Bill Barret, making a moving tribute to Brook, who was there with Roger (just a few weeks before his passing), along with other members of her family; and many more of her friends from the Church and local community - who all raised a glass in thanks to Brook.

Our Continuing Ministry
As was announced this time last year, with the Revd Charlie Vere Nichol standing down after 14 years of service, we chose to continue and extend the visiting priests programme with oversight provided by Father Rawlins on St Martin.  This programme has been in place for over 20 years, with the stalwart help for many years of Bishop Ted and Sarah Eastman.  This continued throughout the year and we had plenty of returning regulars as well as some new faces join us - and we thank all of the clergy for their special ministry. We created a slot each Thursday afternoon called 'Open Church' when our priest-in-residence is available with any prior appointment to talk, pray or just chat with members of our congregation. If you would like to see who was visiting when you were not on the island, you can check out their sermons by going to our web site or searching for the church on iTunes podcasts!
We had approximately 3,000 attend our services through the year, and we had 10 marriages or renewals of vow ceremonies, as well as the privilege of baptising 12 children to welcome them into the Christian family.

Facing the unknown
Many of us have been in the islands or elsewhere when we have had the 'threat' of a hurricane; and many, like me, who chose to live in the Caribbean have been here when past ones have come close or small ones have hit St Barts in the last 20 years.  Having said that nothing could have prepared us for the wrath that Irma brought with it on that day in early September.  I will not go into any details of the terror felt during the storm, but rather focus on the amazing recovery which the island has seen.  The island had three great resources at its disposal: the government, the people and the island itself.  The combination of these three is what helped achieved an almost 'miraculous' speed of recovery. First the island government and services did an incredible job getting aid to the people, right from the start. Food and water supplies were delivered to all areas before shops were able to open. Then somehow the internet was made available in certain spots so people could make contact with the outside world and tell them we were safe. The electricity and water utilities worked night and day (literally) to get supplies not only in Gustavia but also outlying areas within a few weeks.  And people who needed emergency repairs or accommodation could find help through the Collectivité. The Church made the Vicarage available to two young men who otherwise would have been sleeping rough.
Second, was the spirit of the local community - where from the very next day they devoted their time to helping clear the roads and helping each other to prepare for what we could scarcely believe could be another one - Jose! As you know, we were all thankful when it headed North.
Thirdly, the island flora was dealt a severe blow as Irma bought a deluge of salt rain which 'burnt' the hillsides brown, as well as devastating winds which chopped trees in half and left no traces of green anywhere.  As we escaped the near-miss of Maria just two weeks later, which sadly so badly hit Dominica and Puerto Rico, we had its fresh rain and within days we saw the green shoots of recovery on the hills - and now barely three months later our hills are once again green and welcoming - such a 
joy to see. Of course, the beaches, beachside villas and hotels, and many houses were severely damaged - and we hope that the resources will be found to restore these to their former status.  
(Additional details of how Irma affected the Church and island can be found in the October edition of the Anchor - do let us know if you did not receive a copy.  It is also available via our Newsletters webpage).
Of course, faith and time can help heal the mental scars from that night and it is also time, resources and energy which will help bring the island back.  
We were pleased to be able to help our Diocese with fund raising for our sister islands, as well as pointing people in the direction of the local Rotary Club with their project to restore the public gardens in Gustavia. 

Looking Forward
Having been fortunate to survive relatively unscathed compared with some, we can now look to our other projects to continue our commitment to be the guardians of the Church, the gardens and other buildings.  As I mentioned earlier thanks to several significant donations from people who wished to acknowledge Brook's role at the Church, we are able employ a garden designer to transform our Garden into a spiritual oasis. This has been postponed due to Irma and is now scheduled to start after Easter 2018.  Likewise, we now have an established program of visiting clergy and we wanted to be able to make their stay as comfortable as possible.  The vicarage accommodation is a bit cramped and so we have decided to extend one bedroom and the outside terrace, as well as give the vicarage a new roof.  This will be funded from the remaining monies put aside for the vicarage from the 1855 Appeal, plus as we have gone beyond our original plans, some generous donations received through the Friends for this specific purpose.  At the same time, we wanted to acknowledge the significant role Bishop Ted and Sarah Eastman played in the life of our Church and particularly the visiting clergy programme. The refurbished vicarage will therefore be known as The Eastman House. A note from Sarah is to be found to the right.

Thanks to all
I cannot finish my year summary without acknowledging the support which I receive from so many. Firstly, our Bishop and Father Rawlins who have encouraged me in my role as lay reader and parish administrator. Then my fellow vestry members who help with all the important decision-making processes at the Church. Then we have our marvelous music team, led by Ombeline Collin, who make each service a musical as well as a spiritual event. 

And I would especially like to thank the Friends, without whom we would not be in a position to offer our unique ministry, music and outreach; as well as needing their support to keep the buildings in a such a good state of repair. Lastly, I wish to thank you the congregation, who offer me so much support and make my job so rewarding.

At this festive season, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and I hope you will be able to come down and see the island's recovery in 2018.

With many blessing to you all
Philip