North Chilterns Group of Parishes
The North Chilterns Group of Parishes came into being just over 30 years ago. It is made up of three groups of village parishes. These are:
- Totternhoe, Stanbridge and Tilsworth;
- Kensworth, Studham and Whipsnade;
- Eaton Bray with Edlesborough which includes Dagnall.
Each of these groups has a full time vicar to provide for the spiritual needs of those communities and from the beginning the NCG has had the objective of bringing all the parishes together in faith and worship as well as socially. Its identity is portrayed in its logo (shown above). The logo has been embroidered onto a banner and this banner is displayed in each church on rotation throughout the year.
There are joint services at different times of the year and in addition Confirmation candidates from all the parishes learn about their Faith together. The NCG also runs a Joint Lent Course and organises a variety of events both educational and social.
Above all, our mission is to continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the rural communities we serve, through worship, teaching, witness and fellowship, using our Group and parish resources, including our parish churches, to the maximum possible effect.
As a group of small villages we believe we are stronger together - the challenge is, with God's grace, to build on that strength.
Please note: This addition content has not been updated for a number of years.
In 1976 a Deanery Pastoral and Re-organisation Committee was formed to recommend changes needed to address the decline in the number of priests and the lack of funds to pay them. At that time the above parishes boasted five incumbents but this number could no longer be sustained. A Working Party (The North Chilterns Working Party), with representatives from each parish, was established to study and discuss alternative proposals. One option was that these parishes could be looked after by Dunstable. However it was felt locally that ministry to our rural communities might be adversely affected if we became part of a town ministry. In debating the case for grouping these parishes, the options of either a Team or a Group ministry were also widely debated, both publicly and of course by the PCC's. At a public meeting it was agreed that a Group Ministry would serve the parishioners best.
The result of these deliberations and representations culminated in the formation of the North Chilterns Group of Parishes, the creation of a Group Council and the reduction of incumbent clergy to three. This was no mean task as it meant Totternhoe being united with Stanbridge and Tilsworth; Kensworth being united with Studham with Whipsnade; and Dagnall being moved from the care of Studham to Eaton Bray with Edlesborough, to create three Benefices.
The North Chilterns Group (NCG) was confirmed by Her Majesty in Council in November 1982 and is therefore a legally appointed Group Ministry. The scheme provided for the formation of a Group Council with one representative and one deputy from each parish and a further representative from Dagnall. It also provided for the setting up of a Clergy Chapter comprised of the incumbents of the three benefices.
Historic Role of the NCG
Since 1982 the NCG has developed into a well co-ordinated group. From the beginning it agreed with all PCC's that it would centrally fund the expenses of visiting clergy who were conducting services in the absence of any of the three incumbents. To do this it established a central fund from per capita levies on each parish and appointed a treasurer to manage this. The NCG has since taken on the funding of the Joint Confirmation Course and procured various pieces of equipment for use by member parishes.
The NCG, from the outset, set itself the objective of bringing all the parishes together in faith and worship as well as socially. It has an identity, portrayed in its banner which displays the NCG logo and this is displayed in each church on a rota basis throughout the year.
There are communal acts of worship at Advent, Christmas and the anniversary of the inauguration of the NCG in July. In addition to the Joint Confirmation Course, the NCG also runs the Joint Lent Course.
Believing strongly in social contact the NCG has organised many events over the last 25 years. These include:-
Annual Socials; PCC get-togethers; coach outings; Talking Point (discussion meetings); Annual Fun Walk; and various others on an ad hoc basis.
The NCG Today
In 1982 the NCG Council published a declaration, which in essence, was a statement of its objectives. In the year 2000 it agreed with all PCC's the following Millennium Mission Statement:-
- As Anglicans, to continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the rural communities we serve, through worship, teaching, witness and fellowship, using our Group and parish resources, including our parish churches, to the maximum possible effect.
- The incumbents of the participating benefices are placed under a duty, by virtue of the Group Ministry, to assist each other so as to make the best possible provision for the cure of souls throughout the area of the Group.
- As a Group, to do the things together that are best done together, and to do the things separately that are best done separately, but in all circumstances to do them well, and in supportive co-operation with each other.
- To work, as far as is possible, with other Christian denominations within the Group area.
- To continue the centuries-old stewardship of our buildings into the new millennium, so that they will continue as fit and ready centres of prayer, teaching, witness and fellowship for our communities in succeeding generations.
The population served by the North Chilterns Group of Parishes today is tabulated below.
|Eaton Bray with Edlesborough||7500|
|Totternhoe, Stanbridge and Tilsworth||3900|
|Kensworth, Studham and Whipsnade||3250|
In 1976, when the original review took place, the population was significantly less. Large building programs have taken place in the villages since then, particularly in Eaton Bray, Edlesborough and Studham, with significant infilling in Stanbridge and Tilsworth. With this population increase there has, necessarily, been an emphasis on developing an active lay involvement within the ministry. A number of candidates have completed the MTS course and practiced within the NCG. There are currently three candidates training to be Readers.
Joint North Chilterns Group Mission
Since the formation of the NCG in 1982 Confirmation courses have been organised annually on a joint basis. Courses are well subscribed and well attended and have been managed by the clergy with a significant contribution from lay Readers.
Similarly, since 1982, Lent has been a shared act of worship, sometimes with a guest leader and sometimes led by each parish each week. This practice has been welcomed by parishioners and found to be profoundly meaningful.
Celebrated annually together using a different church each year.
Inaugural Service Anniversary
After the creation of the NCG in November 1982 it was agreed that the existence of the group should be formally celebrated. Accordingly on Palm Sunday 1983 an Inaugural Service was held in Edlesborough Church where the Diocesan Bishop preached and blessed the North Chilterns Group of Parishes. An anniversary service has been held every year since and continues to be a deeply moving act of worship and celebration and never fails to fill the church.
The Working Party formed in 1976 to look at the future for these rural parishes in the light of reducing numbers of clergy studied and concluded in 1981 that a Group Ministry would best serve the needs of the Christian congregations worshiping here.
A Team Ministry was considered and rejected. Most importantly an association with the Dunstable Team Ministry was strongly felt to be wholly inappropriate. It was felt that, whilst some aspects of ministry are undoubtedly common to both urban and rural parishes, there are, however, significant differences. Incumbents having similar ministries are better able to support each other than those in dissimilar ones.
The NCG with its established central funding enables it to provide relief priests to ensure that services are maintained in all benefices. Further, it allows for the sharing of expertise and/or workload for Confirmation and Lent; mission objective 3
“As a Group, to do the things together that are best done together, and to do the things separately that are best done separately, but in all circumstances to do them well, and in supportive co-operation with each other”.
The Clergy Chapter itself is a source of strength, prayer, common wisdom and focus for ministry within the Group; mission objective 2
“The incumbents of the participating benefices are placed under a duty, by virtue of the Group Ministry, to assist each other so as to make the best possible provision for the cure of souls throughout the area of the Group”.
The rural communities served by the NCG have grown in the last 20 years. They share, to a large extent, the national profile of active church membership but there are signs of Christian growth. The opportunity is clear and the essential basis for growth exists. Schools, Scouts, Guides, Brownies, Beavers, Rainbows all give the opportunity to educate and involve the young. Benefice and NCG social activities provide the opportunity to attract their parents. This is happening.
It was an original objective of the NCG to keep all of our church buildings open and active. This has been achieved. Lay ministry has been encouraged and developed in support of the stipendiary ministry and continues to develop. The infrastructure has been healthily maintained and now, with the maintenance of three full time clergy can be viewed as a very promising springboard for the further growth of Christian life in the NCG.
The challenge is, with God's grace, to Build on Strength