Shaping the gift – Re-imagining Ministry

Shaping the gift – Re-imagining Ministry

Much has happened in the area of re-imagining ministry and it is probably where there have been the most immediate headaches and painful heart-aches. It is one thing to believe that ministry belongs to the whole people of God and that each person must play their part in the great orchestra of God’s Church; but it is quite another to face the painful and difficult decisions about pastoral and missional re-organisation that come with falling numbers of stipendiary clergy, a proliferation of lay and authorised ministries, and different ways of exercising priestly ministry.

But first of all thanks; it is amazing how much progress has been made. Most of it has settled around the new ways that Churches need to relate to each other and the world. At the heart of this is the local Church. Chiefly it has been about the organisation of the Church from the bottom up into what have come to be known as Mission and Ministry Units. But with the development of fresh expressions we want more local Churches and diversity within local Churches and the communities they serve.

Mission and Ministry Units

Mission and Ministry Units are not necessarily new legal entities. They range from formal team ministries to very informal clustering of parishes and all sorts of other covenant arrangements in-between. There is no expectation that they are formally called ‘Mission and Ministry Units’. This is an internal term and each Mission and Ministry Unit is encouraged to choose its own name.

However, the ordering of the term Mission and Ministry Units is deliberate. Their starting point must be better to equip and organise our resources for mission. This means looking outward and discerning what God is already doing and may be calling Christian people to do in their locality, through service and evangelism. This is not an exercise in re-arranging ecclesiastical deckchairs. Whilst it is a fact that many stipendiary clergy are retiring, never has there been so much ministry exercised by so many people. What is God saying to us through this? How can we best shape our local organisation to work with God’s tomorrow rather than just try to sustain yesterday?

It is a deanery responsibility in partnership with their archdeacon to come up with a plan for their Mission and Ministry Units. Some deaneries have completed their plans already and the first Mission and Ministry Unit was approved in November 2014, which is a fantastic achievement. Others are still working away on their plans, and that is fine. But without a plan the process will only become more uncertain and breed much greater confusion. Therefore completing a deanery plan is the most immediate priority that calls for the active engagement of all clergy and PCCs. Non-engagement in the hope that we can carry on as we are is simply not an option – that will only lead to long or unfilled vacancies, poor appointments, the reactive amalgamation of parishes or the unnecessary closure of Churches.

Plenty of support is available to deaneries, including the Area Mission and Ministry Advisers and skilled accompaniers who can support and facilitate the process of Mission and Ministry Unit formation and initial working together.

Implementation may, of course, take some time. That is why the Transforming Presence priorities talk about where we will be by 2025. It will take time to make many of the changes envisaged. Furthermore, a plan is a living thing. Circumstances change. New opportunities emerge. As the plan is implemented so it will need to be reviewed.

A priest for every parish, and a ministry in every place

Each plan will be different. Mission and Ministry Units will vary in size and scope according to the vast differences we enjoy across such a large and diverse diocese. However, each Mission and Ministry Unit will have a team of ordained and lay people working together; and each will have someone with oversight responsibility.

Each individual Church will have a ministry and an Incumbent. Often the Incumbent will have shared responsibilities, but there will always be a local ministry team appropriate to the context 3. In the main, the local team will be self-generated and renewed with the active support and enabling of the team of clergy and authorised lay ministers in the Unit. By working together across a wider geographic area, there will be more scope to plant new Churches and new worshipping communities.

As was promised three years ago, the salami slicing of the last fifty years whereby deaneries were always being told to lose a few more clergy will come to an end. Even with the increase in ordinations of the last few years we cannot avoid the implications of the huge wave of clergy retirements across the whole Church of England that will be a fact of the next decade. So rather than cut, this diocese will have a sustainable number of stipendiary clergy from which more can be grown. The local will be affirmed. But Churches will operate more collegially within the natural networks and localities in which they serve. Ministry will be enabled in every place. In short, there will be a priest for every parish, and a ministry in every place.

There will be different types of clergy. Some will be leaders of the Mission and Ministry Units; others will be pioneers and Church planters; others will be in a supportive role; some will be stipendiary; many will be voluntary/self-supporting and locally deployed.

A huge proliferation of lay ministry

There will be different types of lay ministry. The starting point for everyone will be the same: because of our baptism we are called to be part of God’s mission. There will be Readers, Licensed Lay Ministers, Authorised Local Preachers, Pastoral Assistants, Evangelism Enablers, Schools Ministers, Governors, Children and Youth leaders, Music Leaders, Pioneer Ministers, Churchwardens, Teachers, administrators and more besides.

Just think: even five years ago there were no Authorised Local Preachers in the diocese, no Licensed Lay Ministers, and no Locally Deployed Clergy. Now there are loads. A lot has been achieved in a short time.

The feedback from Time to Talk 2 made clear, however, that we need to keep making sure we provide the right training to enable this proliferation of lay ministry – training that is relevant and accessible to different people in different contexts across the diocese. We want people to be confident, equipped and supported for the roles they are taking on. Some of that training will be organised for the diocese as a whole, and some will be organised more locally, by deaneries or units. Some will be needed to prepare for a particular ministry and more will encourage an apprenticeship style of learning-while-doing.

Vocation for All

Ultimately, vocation is ‘God’s summons into existence itself ’ . The various ways in which Christian people discover and live out their vocation to be outward looking disciples of Christ are signs of that most fundamental call. For many, vocation to particular tasks and ways of life unfolds gradually and flows from God’s disclosure in our spiritual life, the encouragement of other Christians and our attention to the needs of the world and Church. Vocation is dynamic and ongoing throughout our lives; it is not a ‘thing’ granted only to some people and forever fixed. So part of the life of every parish and Mission and Ministry Unit will be concerned with helping everyone to discover and re-discover their vocation. For some, it will be expressed in serving an observable need in the world or through their work. For some, it will be through embarking on a new lay ministry in the Church or through a renewed commitment to prayer or to family. This may simply involve a seamless development from where they currently are or it might bring a more fundamental change of direction or lifestyle. Today there are some very obvious needs if the Church is to flourish in service and evangelism. Our Churches need more lay ministers of different kinds, we need more parish clergy and more chaplains. Our schools need more Christian teachers and governors.

More clergy still needed

As well as alerting the Church to the huge increase in clergy retirements, in the Diocese of Chelmsford we are doing something about this. There has been a big increase in the number of people, of all ages, coming forward for ordination. The hard work and imaginative faithfulness of our DDO team needs to be celebrated. There is an obligation on all parishes to call forward the next generation of clergy; it cannot be right that just one third of parishes are producing all our ordinands.

There is still an urgent need for more black and minority ethnic clergy. There needs to be a proper balance of men and women. Many of our excellent women clergy need to be helped into appropriate positions of leadership and responsibility. God already seems to be blessing the strategy. The diocese is not far away from ensuring that the sustainable number of clergy identified can be delivered. If the Church now organises itself in such a way that the Mission and Ministry Units ensure a sustainable and flourishing ministry in every Church then we are well on the way to transitioning into a new shape of Church which is simpler, more collaborative and, we believe, more missionally effective.

Just as with lay ministry, the right training is going to be essential if ordained ministry is going to be as relevant, flexible and contextual as we need it to be. This includes releasing young people into ministry, and helping those clergy, who don’t always find it easy to use the lay ministers they have, to learn how to grow and better utilise the ministry that is already available. Working this out is a priority.

New patterns of belonging

The local Church will continue to be a focus for belonging and for ministry and outreach across this diocese. Each person will continue to be part of a local Church, and this local Church – be it a parish Church or a fresh expression – will be part of a Mission and Ministry Unit. These units will be part of an archdeaconry and a diocese. This new pattern is already emerging.

For the moment, the parishes and deaneries of the diocese deserve thanks and commendation for the tremendous progress that has been made in one of the most difficult and painful areas of change.

In the next phase of development, the Mission and Ministry Units need to get properly established making sure every local Church has a future and that new Churches are planted into the Mission Priority Areas that have been identified. This is not just about better management of the Church, but missional change. At the same time there may be one or two places where the Church building is in the wrong place or is disproportionately expensive and may have to close. But this will probably be the exception. There is no agenda to close Church buildings, but there is permission for each worshipping community to think differently about their building.

Everyone is called to missionary discipleship within God’s Church. The Church must be ordered and managed so that the resources of people, finance and plant are deployed to the very best effect so that the gospel of Jesus Christ may be proclaimed.

Our booklet A Simple Guide to Mission and Ministry Units, says more about what Mission and Ministry Units are and what needs to be done to make them happen.

Moving forward

As we move forward every local Church will have discovered God’s call to them to ministry and mission in their local community. They will be led and enabled by an active and outward looking team of individuals who themselves have discovered their own vocations as stipendiary priests, Self-supporting Ministers, Locally Deployed clergy, Licensed Lay Ministers, Readers, Authorised Local Preachers, Pastoral Assistants, Evangelism Enablers, school leaders, Churchwardens, pioneer ministers and the many and varied ministries which God is raising up. The old model of a vicar who does everything will have gone but each and every local Church will have the support and oversight of an ordained priest within their Mission and Ministry Unit. And if the money keeps coming in – and if we are able to raise just a little bit more – there will be additional stipendiary resources, lay or ordained, that can be used for youth work, administration, Church planting and evangelism or whatever is the particular need in that Mission and Ministry Unit. A new tier of ministry will have been created, but others will readjust accordingly and in some cases fade away. The diocese will have become better able to respond to a complex and mobile society. Ours will be a more missionally-focused Church with a ministry that belongs to everyone.

Addressing these questions of accountability and ministry are key responsibilities for a Church which strives to be transparent. We want to be open and accountable to each other and to God over the things we believe God is calling us to do and to be. We want to shape the ministry of the Church on the belief that all belong to Christ within the body of His Church, and all have gifts for ministry. By focusing on these two priorities we will be ‘formed’ in order to be sent.

Re-imagining Ministry

  • Develop a plan for Mission and Ministry Units as the sustainable basis for future mission and ministry
  • Proactively call out vocations
  • Use the flexibility and permission we already have to “faithfully improvise” and experiment locally


Indicators that show we are Re-imagining Ministry might include:

  • How many deaneries have a plan
  • Proportion of the diocese living as part of a commissioned Mission and Ministry Unit
  • Growing use of the diocesan Your SHAPE for God’s Service course and other means of gift discovery and vocational discernment
  • Increasing Ordinations
  • More people identified and equipped for authorised or licenced lay ministry
  • More Christian teachers and school leaders
  • Greater availability of local training for ministry
  • The diversity of clergy, better reflecting the communities we serve
  • Better recruitment and increased retention of able ministers

Some stories from around the diocese

Saffron Walden Deanery has become our first Mission and Ministry Unit. The Revd Canon David Tomlinson explains what they have been doing.

The primary reason for the deanery becoming a Mission and Ministry Unit is the way we are collaborating together. We’ve held two very successful day conferences, focused on the Transforming Presence strategic aims, and have another planned for 2016. We’re about to launch our second Growing Leaders course (CPAS) to foster lay and ordained ministry. With the same aim in mind, we’ve made having a locally based Christian Studies course a priority, and are now seeing a third cohort enter their final year.

A project called ‘pathways in prayer’ is aimed at helping people to pray and to encourage Churches to innovate. Annually, there are three events offering particular experiences of prayers, including Ignatian prayer and intercessory prayer. Worshipping together annually has been a key feature of the common life of the deanery since 2011. Last year, Dr Rowan Williams preached on incarnational mission, and, as usual, some examples of good practice from around the Deanery were showcased.

Our deanery, which in 2012 was a pioneer for the Mission Weekends, has a wide and varied series of evangelistic events from ‘Big Dinner, Big Questions’ – a dinner for parents of young children to think about the difficult questions of life – to a ‘Forest Walk’ with a talk and reflection on the wonder and beauty of God’s creation.

We look forward to discovering new opportunities to support each other and work together in Christ’s mission and ministry in beautiful North West Essex.

Time to Share is the Evangelism course run in the Deanery of Newham from February to August, yearly. The coordinator, the Revd Chigor Chike, describes their approach.

In the past three years, Time to Share has trained an average of eight people to become Parish Evangelists in the various Churches in Newham. The style of the course is to use the experience of participants rather than top-down teaching. Participants learn why and how to share their Christian faith with others, the place of prayer in evangelism and examples of evangelism in the Bible, among other things. In the second term, participants undertake a five-week placement in an establishment other than their own Church, learn about team-working and carry out a project.

Ann, a participant in 2014 said: “Looking back, I am amazed at how much I learnt in a relatively short time, both from the tutors and other participants. I feel it has helped me to grow and mature as a Christian and given me more confidence to speak about my faith."

Another participant, Jonathan, said: “Having been awarded a certificate as a Parish Evangelist, recognised by the Diocese of Chelmsford at a special celebration presided over by the Bishop, is an added bonus. To God be the praise and glory.”

At All Saints’, Wrabness, it was clear that new lay leadership was needed, but Laura Garnham hadn’t anticipated being the solution to that problem. She shares her story.

The Rector at All Saints’, Wrabness, retired in 2008, and was not replaced at the time. My husband, who had been the Reader for the benefice, died in 2007. It seemed clear to me that Wrabness needed a Reader, but when I looked around, I seemed to be the only remote possibility, having done the Course in Christian Studies many years before.

So reluctantly and unexpectedly I applied for Reader training, and was surprised to be accepted. Some rewarding years at St Mellitus College followed, and a very helpful placement at St Stephen’s, Colchester helped me, along with the wise words of the Rector there: ‘’When God calls you out of your comfort zone, He will resource you’’.

Seven years down the line we are still without an incumbent. But the parish has some gifted and generous people, and we work together with a vision of hospitality and welcome. Replacing the pews with chairs has meant that we can invite people to community lunches and summer teas. We also hold concerts, poetry evenings and other special events. The prayer and worship of the Church is sustained through active lay involvement and the generosity of three retired clergy.

The village has many visitors: it is on the Essex Way; it has ‘’Julie’s House’’ (of Grayson Perry fame); and there is a natural burial ground. We take every opportunity to show Christ’s love through offering hospitality – including “help yourself” drinks while the Church is open, and use of a Portaloo.

Revd Canon Philip Need, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands shares his reflections on the growth in numbers of those offering for ordination and other ministries.

The work done with vocations to ordained ministry recently has been very exciting. The vision of the Diocese has become a reality as more people offer themselves for ordained priestly ministry. The number of those in the discernment process has grown and we now have more Area Ordination Advisers and extra DDO capacity to handle this. In the year 2014/15 well over fifty people went through the selection process with three quarters being recommended for training. For the second year running we had three ordination services in the Cathedral as 28 new deacons were ordained to serve in our parishes.

We are also seeing similar growth in vocations to authorized and licensed lay ministry, including our first cohort of LLMs.

Our new ministers represent a cross section of Church traditions; from rural, urban, town, innercity, sub-urban and seaside parishes. They range in age from early twenties to late sixties and each of their stories tells of their commitment to the Gospel as they offer themselves in response to God’s call. There are those whose sense of vocation has been dramatic, and who have only recently come to faith; others have lived the Gospel life quietly and carefully for generations; and some who have come kicking and screaming because God kept on nudging and prodding them. Some offer themselves for ordination to work in their home parishes and will play a huge part in our plans for the future. Others will be deployable as self-supporting or stipendiary priests and all will have a tremendous impact on tomorrow’s emerging Church.

The development of Mission and Ministry Units in the Epping Forest and Ongar Deanery became focused in 2013 with the coming together of the two separate deaneries of Epping Forest and Ongar. Following consultations at synod meetings and through the Mission and Pastoral Committee, three potential Mission and Ministry Units were identified; Ongar, Epping Forest North and Epping Forest South. Revd Dr Joyce Smith, the Area Dean, explains how the proposed Ongar Mission and Ministry Unit is being developed.

In the proposed Ongar Mission and Ministry Unit, vacancies through clergy retirements and moves to new posts, have enabled us to reimagine ministry and carry out pastoral reorganisation to form a grouping which includes most of the old Ongar deanery, with three parishes from the former deanery joining the Epping Forest North Unit.

To provide ministry in these six parishes/ benefices, with 20 Churches, is a challenge which is being embraced by the clergy and laity. It is proposed that there will be four stipendiary and one house for duty clergy. In addition we currently have a pioneer minister, one curate, one SSM, one retired member of the clergy with PTO and one Reader.

In the multiple-Church benefices a considerable amount of work has been carried out to look at different service patterns which will be sustainable with the reduction in clergy numbers. Lay-led Services of the Word are being developed and a training programme for lay people is being held this autumn. Clergy are already praying and working together and this was particularly evident in the willingness to provide cover during vacancies. With vacancies being filled and a unit leader-designate in post, we are now looking forward to collaborative working throughout the unit.

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