"The Association of Church Fellowships welcomes all who seek to know the Christian faith deeply, grow in their understanding of Church Membership and play a full part in the life and mission of the Church and Church Family."
The ACF has had another varied and enjoyable year, supporting local charities; Deanery and Diocesan events and the fellowship of our monthly meetings.
The Annual General Meeting and Church Service commences our yearly programme, and Alan always manages to set the tone for us to develop our fellowship and commitment to service which are key aims of ACF.
For a number of years we have supported local charities so we asked them to visit us to highlight their key areas of work and why donations are so important. In February, Rachel Ingham, a Community Fundraiser from St Rocco's Hospice, came to our meeting and updated us on the work of St Rocco's. It was a fascinating talk dispelling myths about the Hospice focusing purely on terminal care, and explaining the support given to patients and their families at different stages of their illness. The Hospice costs £3.7 million annually to run of which 70% is found through fundraising. Whilst the ACF contribution is not huge, Rachel explained how valuable such donations are.
The North West Air Ambulance are another charity supported by ACF and they came in April to give a fascinating slide show. It was quickly apparent that the benefit of a helicopter on rough terrain, and for speed in transporting critically ill/injured patients far outweighs land transport. The "golden hour" following injury is critical and we were amazed to hear that crews are in the air within 4 minutes of receiving a call. The £6million annual cost to run the service comes entirely from public donation and so again we felt that ACF are making an important contribution.
Our third charity is Warrington Open Door at Christmas (WODAC) and Paul Tanner visited us in November to explain the beginnings and development of this very important charity. Whilst many thought it was just for the homeless, Paul explained that the charity caters for the vulnerable and those who are lonely over Christmas. A minibus collects those needing transport and guests are catered for between 9:30am and 4pm. A three course meal is served at lunchtime daily with snacks during the day and sandwiches to take away at the end of the day. Clothing and food are freely available thanks to donations given. A cash donation plus a significant amount of warm clothing and food was collected by members and given to WODAC.
The Women's World Day of Prayer was again organised by ACF in March at St Matthew's - the country of focus this year was The Philippines. The country of focus devises the service which is then used by an estimated 3million people in 170 countries across the World. In the UK, over 6,000 services will have been held. The Philippines have had many natural disasters and so their resilience in the face of insurmountable odds at times is amazing. They used the theme "Am I being unfair to you?" which challenged us all to understand that despite natural disasters; apparent unfairness and injustices which exist across the World, we must hold "to the truth that God is a fair and just God".
Members supported the Diocesan Service hosted by Christ Church, Barnton in May. It is always a great opportunity to network and meet up with friends across the Diocese.
St Matthew's hosted the Deanery Service in September - Harvest Songs of Praise, led by Alan. This was a very enjoyable service which was well attended and we received great feedback on the service and refreshments, kindly donated by members.
A visit to Bluebell Gardens at Dutton was the venue for our summer outing. In what turned out to be a glorious afternoon, members strolled through the gardens admiring the many unusual plants and flowers and testing the horticultural knowledge of our keener gardeners. Tea and cake sat in the sunshine was a most enjoyable end to a lovely day.
High Legh Garden Centre Restaurant for afternoon tea was the venue for a very welcome October meeting. Plenty of networking took place over scones and tea!!
ACF supported the Church Autumn Fair again this year with a Christmas Hamper raffle and gift/craft stall. £373 was raised which was a great effort from a small group of members.
An important event has occurred this year which was the decision made by the Diocesan ACF Committee and the Bishop to cease the Diocesan function. This decision, not made lightly, reflects the difficulties in attendance at Diocesan events and falling membership in ACF groups. Several more have folded this year. A vote was taken at the Diocesan Day in October attended by Kath Holbourn and Barbara Broomfield to cease the Diocesan function following the Diocesan Service in Chester, attended by Wendy Homer and Kath. Each ACF group then discussed its future and name as there is no longer a formal Association. Informal links with groups across the Deanery will continue.
Considerable discussion has taken place within our group and members wish to continue meeting and aspiring to the ACF purpose, which is to:
"grow in their understanding of Church membership, to play their full part in the life and mission of the Church and to share in the fellowship which it offers."
It has been agreed that we will from January 2018 be known as St Matthew's Church Fellowship which we hope will provide fellowship for men and women from both parishes to come together in an interesting and varied monthly programme of events.