One of the many wonderful things about following Jesus is the way that adventures just keep happening. Following sounds quite passive, yet following Jesus is anything but. This morning it was a joy to attend St. Paul’s in Evenwood where I live, as the service drew to a close two young people took charge of the microphone and proceeded in humorous fashion to reflect on what getting ready for Jesus meant. Sweets were tossed around, they bounced off heads, filled the church with the crinkle sound of unwrapping and laughter while helping us to think about getting ready.
Advent, being an adventure in getting ready, was the theme and as I share where we are on the ‘Strategic Development Funding (SDF)’ this theme says it all really, for we are starting to ‘get ready’.
A brief reminder of the history: It was more than two years ago now that Area Deans were invited to talk to their deaneries about the way in which SDF could be used to enable mission in their context. Several deaneries got back with some great plans being born out of the ensuing conversations. These plans saw five ‘Resourcing Churches’ planned and all five are now embarking on their programs for growth and church planting.
Additionally, there were several other deaneries who also had a sense that God was inviting them down this path of risk and uncertainty. Over the last few months I have had lots of meetings with leaders and churches in each place. Out of those meetings we shaped a new bid which was submitted to the Strategic Investment Board in October. We heard last week that our bid has been accepted and we have been invited to progress to the planning stage.
What is in the bid? Our proposal was based around two strands, the first strand we refer to as ‘communities of hope’. The second strand designates a new resourcing church and a resourcing church parish partnership with the explicit aim in both places of developing a clear planting program.
Strand 1 ‘Community of Hope’?
This strand is targeted at areas of low income and high deprivation and is described thus:
- They are small (20-50 adults) to maximise the relational potential.
- They grow by replanting and sharing learning with other contexts, rather than expanding beyond this size: As people gather to learn, worship and discover so the enthusiasm and learning from one centre, in one street, will flow over into another, and another, and another.
- They are active in evangelising through their social networks understanding how ‘Points of Intervention’ give opportunity for prayer, eucharistic worship, creativity and human flourishing.
- They nurture discipleship through small groups running on a peer to peer basis, with lay leaders trained locally.
- They are lay led with paid key workers, with supervision and support (S&S), undertaken by a parish priest.
- They foster distinctive, attractive faith communities with a strong sense of place
- They are open daily and use highly accessible spaces. In the centre of a tired shopping street, an estate, or church building with a good strategic location. These places will be drop in ready, culturally relevant, and be constructed to speak the language of the context.
- They respond to local stories through constantly developing strategies that build context appropriate connections, such as credit union facilities, food surplus sharing, opportunities for intergenerational learning.
- They develop social enterprise as part of the life of each place. This social enterprise further enables mission, rather than just fund it. (For example – faith sharing while nails are polished)
- They are ‘safe’ places that understand and are attuned to issues of poverty and destitution, where the Christian faith is the natural, authentic foundation on which all else is built. Faith doesn’t fix, it fulfils.
- They include a strong element of relational hospitality. Whether challenging loneliness through friendship, challenging poor health through eating together, challenging low aspirations by creating together or laughing together, these are places of broken chains and new friendships.
- They are established in such away so that they minimize the need for institutional structures.
The deaneries who instigated and subsequently developed this strand are Easington, (Seaham & Murton) Hartlepool (St. Aidan’s, St. Matthew’s Community Centre, Holy Trinity West View) and Wearmouth (Town End Farm Estate and Pennywell Estate)
We anticipate at least two communities in each deanery. Each will be established in a way that is context appropriate so may not include all the above factors.
Strand 2 involves working with Jarrow Deanery and Stockton Deanery with some planting opportunities in the Stockton area already planned. These include Wynyard and St. Paul’s Newtown. All Saint’s in Eaglescliffe will be the designated resourcing church supporting those two plants while Harton and Cleadon Park will work together to build capacity to plant in Jarrow deanery.
What now? Being invited to the next stage means we have to provide a detailed planning document for the overall project and for each location. This will be submitted on 1st May with the funding available from July.
Caveat: Sometimes my experience of following Jesus is that I have found myself going one way only to discover the call to another. This may sound flaky but actually God opens eyes and softens hearts to enable us to see possibilities rather than define actualities. Sometimes others are then empowered to live in that possibility or to take the vision on the next steps. This is planning with the Holy Spirit as lead partner so a we listen, as we plan, as we pray, the unexpected can happen, rooms are shaken, and winds blow. Do therefore hold this in your prayers.
As a plan it is ground-breaking in SDF terms. If we get the detail right, it is my prayer that not only will we see new churches springing up we will also see communities of hope born in our low-income areas across the diocese.
So please do keep in mind that the new is not a critique of that which currently is. Rather it is because of the prayers, the labour, and the vision of leaders and deaneries across our diocese that we can engage with the SDF opportunity.