On Monday I got caught in a shower, it was one of those showers where the heavens open and great fat drops just bounce like crazy. I was soaked in minutes but what caught my attention (apart from the drips coursing down my face) was the way in which a dusty gutter became a torrent in minutes. A little group of sparrows that had been rolling in dust vanished with the first drop, the world was transformed and I had no agency at all other than to be present. I find being reminded that this is God’s world is a great way of learning to rest in Him. I find in the uncertainty the certainty of His grace, and when it comes to ministry it seems to me that a key part of the brief is to see God as the one who holds us in His purposes – it is not about me.
There is a documentary series on BBC at the moment called ‘Young Welsh and pretty religious.’ The interesting thing about it is the upbeat approach of the televised to the faith they held. There is no talk from them about decline, this is about an energetic embrace of a collection of faiths by a selection of young people. Within the Christian example growth is normal, one person, tells another person, who tells another person, all about Jesus and God is just involved ‘we get a lot of healings at this church’ said one contributor. A recent twitter discussion around clergy wellbeing pointed to the way managing decline in an organisation whose conversations are all about growth as a key reason for stress. I wonder if the conversation could be reshaped, I wonder if seeing God at work is where it begins.
For me one of our great strengths as a church is the breadth we hold in each other. ‘Resource Church’ is not the answer, neither is ‘Partnership for Missional Growth’, or ‘Missional Leadership for Growth’, or ‘The Kingdom Come,’ or any other initiative or project I could name. No, initiatives and leaders come and go but people and places remain, people like us, places like ours. We and those alongside us, are the answer God has called to this place for now. Because the ministries to which God has called each of us are unique then every person as answer offers a unique perspective and thus if we are to minister to everyone we need everyone.
For some of us the lovingly supportive ending of a Christian Community that has been faithful over centuries is a gift akin to palliative care with the ministrations of the Holy Spirit, gently, wholly, present in the ending. For others it is about bringing something to birth, walking in that fragile place that is two weeks from revival and two weeks from collapse. For others it is about having an insight into a community that glimpses the work of God and seeks to join in. For others… and I could go on but I’m sure the point is made. It is our brief to be present where God is, and then to look at each other and rejoice as He pours through each of us differently and His world is transformed as a result.
When it comes to what is happening in the resource church world things have moved on a bit since my last Blog. I have moved out of Parish and into the Resourcing Church Project lead fulltime. I am expectant that this will be an opportunity to be part of what God is doing in a new and exciting way and would certainly value your prayers. As part of this newly shaped role I am developing a second bid along with supporting the first group of churches. I will blog about the second bid in due course, but I thought it might be helpful to tell the story of how we got here first.
The resourcing church program is a strategic program with the leadership being Episcopal in a ‘hands-on’ way. Almost two years ago now Bishop Paul spoke to Bishop’s Council about the opportunities offered by the Strategic Development Fund (SDF), a national initiative to fund growth focused church programs at a diocesan level. That was followed by an area deans meeting in which the energy and enthusiasm was palpable as the opportunities were shared. Several deaneries then came back to the then diocesan secretary with some thoughts and I was asked in February 2018 to help shape them around the SDF criteria.
By the end of 2018 we had taken five of those plans to a funded conclusion, the locations are Stockton Parish Church, Bishop Auckland, St. Nic’s in Durham, St. Georges Gateshead, and Oxclose in Washington. All those places are now launched and wrestling with the challenges and delights of normalising a culture of growth in their different contexts. We are still to appoint a missional leader in Oxclose but are interviewing in July so please pray. These first five are our learning places, pray for them as we learn together, exponential growth brings with it lots of interesting issues and expectations and there are some lovely stories and difficult moments emerging already.
The next five are in South Tyneside, Easington, Sunderland (Estates) Hartlepool and Stockton (Preston on Tees). Apart from Stockton each location is economically deprived so the plans that are developing are very much about enabling growth in that context. Again, please pray, and as things develop I will tell some stories. In the meantime please pray for all the locations. Pray that God will raise up lay leaders; pray that we will be wise in the planning, and most of all please pray that as we all share the unique nature of our individual calls to ministry there will just be that collective sense of what it means to be present when God is at work in His world, through us. For it is through all of us, in responding to God in our glorious diversity, that Jesus is lifted up.