There are a number of common concerns that arise across the County, on this page
we attempt to summarise the key ones and provide some response to them.
- Isn't this just an exercise in restructuring to save
money and make do with fewer stipendiary clergy?
- Working together
- Local freedom to decide
- Pioneering ministry
- Why is there no 'plan B'?
Isn't this just an exercise in restructuring to save money and make do with
fewer stipendiary clergy?
Some people see the ministry strategy simply as a continuation of the policy of
creating bigger units to spread stipendiary clergy more thinly. If that were
truly the case:
- the strategy would be seen as driven significantly by financial concerns,
- and as a reaction to the drop in stipendiary numbers,
- it would result in too many parishes retreating into their shell,
- we would see a decline in the size of congregations and a drop in giving,
- we would be in a downward spiral.
The mission strategy can only be a viable strategy if it is treated as a genuine route to enabling
substantially more mission. Success will be contingent on:
- Growing/enabling disciples:
Sufficient people coming forward:
- freeing up stipendiary clergy for mission and pastoral work,
- lay leadership significantly more involved in the running of inherited church,
- empowering more people for mission,
- significant levels of pioneering ministry,
- people working together across the denominations and across congregations.
- for lay ministry, other lay roles and for self-supporting ordained ministry,
- sufficient training capacity [note: there are issues about where and how
training should be delivered].
- ministry needs to be seen as something which involves all of us,
- lay leadership needs to play a much greater role in future.
It is important to recognise that the anticipated drop in stipendiary clergy number
(in the Church of England) is not the result of financial pressures but is simply the
recognition that a significant number of clergy are coming up to retirement over a
relatively short period of time and that number is greater than the numbers being
trained for ordination as stipendiary ministers. Another key factor is the desire to
see more of the time of stipendiary clergy devoted to pioneer ministry of various forms,
either in dedicated posts or as a significant focus of their work
A key message is that we need more people, lay and ordained, coming together to
engage in mission and outreach. As part of that we need our stipendiary clergy, as a
whole, devoting much more time on outreach to those (the vast majority) who do not
come to church on a Sunday.
There are a number of distinct concerns around the concept of 'working together'
(which is perhaps the key component of the ministry strategy).
Conservatism / parochialism - we do not want to work with other churches
- we don't want anything to change,
- we don't want to do anything new,
- it will see us out,
- we don't want to work with anyone else,
- we must have our vicar / minister.
This is, quite simply, a recipe for the death of our churches in many places:
- Church has to be more than an exclusive 'Sunday club',
- we have to take church to people - we cannot rely on them coming to us
(particularly in the case of churches exhibiting these characteristics).
Christianity is about sharing, Christ wants us, all of us, to change.
And for those who say 'we must have our vicar / minister': a reminder that
we know that the number of stipendiary clergy will inevitably drop over the next
few years, so if we leave things as they are one in five parishes will lose their
vicar or minister,
We are a big successful church - we do not need to work with other churches
- We don't understand the need for mission communities
- We already are a mission community
That may well be true, but we also need to support smaller churches and help them to
grow. Alan Bing, Rector of Ulverston, makes some telling point based on his reading
of the 'Anecdote to Evidence' rearch:
"From my reading of the report it seems that behind growing churches, there are general factors,
such as quality of leadership and context (some ground is more fertile), but there are particular
categories of church which are growing: cathedrals (though there are doubts about the depth of
discipling), greater churches, church plants and fresh expressions. Teams are not growing, except
where the key leader is based at one church and makes it a priority.
If this is the case, it seems to me that there are several useful lessons we can learn, which
will affect the ministry strategy. I will pick out two for now. Firstly, greater churches with a
civic role (such as Holy Trinity Kendal, which took part in the research as a 'greater church')
are key hubs for growth. This adds credence to my view that we need to consider the minster
church model alongside mission communities, however we end up defining them.
Secondly, where we have a rural mission community, the leader/s need to think strategically
about which church/community will be the focus, rather than spreading themselves out thinly
in the interests of being equitable."
One form of mission community that might fit in such cases is the 'Minster Model' - and the
minster model is entirely compatible with the Mission Community approach.
- Doesn't it just add to complexity?
- What happens to the services I am used to?
- What about the other denominations that we do not appear to be talking to?
- The Anglicans are bigger than us, we won't get our say.
- They are smaller than us, why do we need them?
- I joined Church X, that is where I am happy, if I wanted to be a Y then I
would have joined Church Y.
There are some brief comments that one can make about such issues:
- Yes - but we do not have to make it overly-complex. The main message
is that we need to be working together at local level. We are not
going for complete revolution or integration at this stage.
- They are not necessarily affected - although some of us do enjoy
the opportunity to worship in other traditions or to take part in
- Whilst the United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church and the Church
of England in Cumbria have a joint agreement and have been working on
shared strategy documents the arrangements are not intended to be
exclusive - we welcome co-operation with other denominations, particularly
where we already have strong local links. The other churches have signed a
letter of companionship and are in support of the journey we are on
- Something that we all need to work hard on. We also have to be aware of the
fact that although the CofE is the largest in overall numbers that does not
necessarily make it the largest in every place.
- The simplest answer might just be 'because we are Christians' - we are stronger
together and can learn from each other.
- Maybe the differences across the CofE are greater than between the denominations.
- We are tired physically, mentally and spiritually and don't have the capacity to
do any more
- There are too few of us
- We're all getting old
This can easily become a counsel of despair, so we need to look for ways out of the
problem. In this context it is important that the ministry strategy can be considered
as a part of the solution - not a significant part of the problem. The 'ways out' are
likely to involve several avenues:
- identify and grow disciples - not necessarily from the existing congregation,
- look for things that you do not need to do or that you can get someone
else to do,
- team up with adjacent parishes / congregations and start to pool effort,
resources, competencies and ideas - a mission community, as a whole, should be be
greater than the sum of the parts,
- try and ensure a whole life approach that does give you time for relaxation, reflection
prayer and the recharging of your batteries,
- give support to those engaged in mission to try and redress 'too few of us' and
the age balance,
- in most contexts there are people waiting to be asked to do more (we do recognise
that this can involve significant degrees of trust).
As we devote more effort to pioneering ministry will this reduce levels of giving?
This has to be a real concern. At one level we do expect to see some reduction in ministerial
costs as stipendiary clergy retire, but this is likely to be offset, in part, by costs increasing with
inflation. Currently the level of giving is relatively flat year-on-year - but if we do start to
see a downturn in giving this would almost certainly signal a decline. It is key, therefore, that we
can maintain generous, realistic levels of giving.
A key message is that where people can see a need for for the specific ministry and can see
the success that is being achieved they are much more likely to respond to requests for generosity.
The United Reformed Church have three clear prinicples:
- everything is for mission,
- we belong to one another,
- the strong shall help the weak.
Sharing costs and funds across the denominations and between churches
This is something of an 'elephant in the room'. It is not a problem that we have yet engaged
with to any serious extent - partly because it is probably too early to do so. What would be
useful is for people to consider the issue when looking at the shaping of mission communities
in the local context and to feed through details of any (informal) agreements that have been discussed,
the questions that have arisen and the issues that people find themselves grappling with.
The Anglicans seem to be working to a strict timescale that requires
the shape of our mission communities to be known by September 2014, the other denominations
do not seem to have such a strict timescale.
The Carlisle Diocesan Synod agreed, with our ecumenical partners, to explore the
reccommendations of the Ministry Strategy and report back to the Synod in October 2014
to allow Synod to determine whether or not it supports the Ministry Strategy in the
light of the feedback obtained.
In order to allow the strategy to be examined at the right level and in a sensible
fashion it will be necessary for groupings across the County to consider what are the
likely mission communities, how they will be resourced and the patterns of both mission
and ministry that will be appropriate.
At this stage no commitment is being made as to what mission communities will come
into being or, indeed, when. The process of moving towards a set of mission communities
is expected to occur over a period of time, perhaps over three to five years.
The ministry strategy document and the guidelines documents define a
set of constraints that planned mission communities should satisfy - do we have to
stick to them or is there some leeway?
The guidelines are just that and
are not completely hard and fast but they have been arrived at after a degree of
thought. We would suggest that where you do feel the need to deviate from them you
should have clear reasons for that decision that arise from your local circumstances.
Local freedom to decide
Too 'top-down' / too prescriptive / one size doesn't fit all
Whilst it is true that the three denominations have proposed a shared
strategy for ministry manifest in the creation of a set of mission communities
and have indicated the parameters that those mission communities are likely
to fall within we believe that the intent is not to be overly prescriptive.
During this period when groups, at local level, are investigating the feasibility
of what is being proposed, investigating the shape of mission communities in their
context and considering what forms of mission will be appropriate for them there
is very great scope for creativity at the local level.
It is certainly not the case that we expect all mission communities to look the
same - one size certainly does not fit all. There is also great scope for sharing
ideas, problems, best practice across the churches in Cumbria - and feeding those
back to the people responsible for the strategies.
- There is a danger that the benefits of existing parochial structures will be
ignored at the expense of an emphasis on pioneering.
- Help existing parish patterns become more pioneering rather than create a parallel pattern.
- One third of ministers involved with pioneering is too high.
- Although pioneering ministry sounds exciting and positive what will it look like
- What evidence is there that this will be fruitful, to make the allocation of resources worthwhile?
- Pioneering ministers must not be independent of church structures and must quickly
become financially self-supporting.
- Too much emphasis on evangelism and pioneering is going to put people off.
- We simply do not have more money (for pioneering ministry).
The individual concerns expressed above are responded to more fully in the issue log
but there is clearly a common thread running through them. If we take 'pioneering ministry'
to be centred on communicating the good news to those outside the Church then clearly
it has to be a key component of our strategy as we cannot simply wait for those who are
currently outside the church to come to church to receive ministry. It surely has to be the
case that we need to find a significant level of resource for pioneering ministry, We would
expect pioneering ministry to be met by a combination of people (ordained and lay) dedicated mainly
to such ministry and by some in parochial forms of ministry making pioneering ministry a
significant part of their ministry. To make sufficient resource available to pioneering
ministry implies that we also need more lay and non-stipendiary ordained ministers to ensure
that we can also maintain the inherited church.
Why is there no 'plan B'
A number of people have suggested that there should be a set of alternative
strategies that people could be asked to select from. They, and others, have
also questioned why there is no 'plan B'.
There would seem to be three answers to this:
- centrally, we do not have the capacity to consider and draw up multiple possible strategies,
- we almost certainly do not have the capacity on the ground to consider multiple strategies
at the level that would be required to arrive at a sensible decision,
- we do not know of better strategies.
Additionally, in the light of the feedback that is received, there is nothing to prevent
the strategy being revised.
If you have a better idea, tell us. The documented experience in other dioceses and
denominations is that fresh expressions and pioneering ministry are largely lay and