Enjoying the gift - Serving with Accountability

Enjoying the gift - Serving with Accountability

 This is probably the priority that is least understood and where progress has been slowest. The two words ‘serving’ and ‘accountability’ are both important. Let’s start with ‘serving’.

Jesus called his disciples first and foremost to be with him but he also commissioned them to ‘proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons’. Jesus demonstrated his love for people by laying down his life for others, and he also called his disciples to do the same. Following Jesus is about service.

The disciples didn’t always understand this. Sometimes ambition got the better of them. Jesus told them that ‘the greatest among them must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves’ (Luke 22. 26). He later demonstrated this by strapping a towel around his waist and washing the feet of the disciples. At other times, it was self-pity that diverted the disciples from the way of self-sacrifice and service. When the rich young ruler showed that he was unable to meet the demands of following Jesus, Simon Peter said ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you’ (Mark 10. 28). Following Jesus is about humility, self-sacrifice and service and these should also be the hallmarks of how we deal with one another.

‘Accountability’ is also really important. We never follow Jesus in isolation. We are members of one body. The Christian faith is far too important and far too precious for anyone to think they can go it alone. It is always ‘our’ Church, not ‘my’ Church. We are responsible for each other. This mutuality is a key component of the Church. When we speak of accountability then we are talking about our mutual responsibility; what we give to others and what we receive from them. A good start has been made among our clergy with greater participation in Ministerial Development Reviews and supervision. 

For too long, the Church has tended to operate in isolated parochial silos. Often our mutuality has been restricted to the occasional synodical meeting or to the payment of parish share. However, few parishes can survive alone and none should have to or want to. The development of Mission and Ministry Units has the potential to bring together a wider range of human and financial resources, to consider mission beyond parish boundaries, and to share expertise, prayer and encouragement for the good of the whole Church.

Becoming a healthy Church

This closer collaboration will mean that we should expect to hold ourselves accountable to one another over the things of the gospel that are most basic. In this respect we are making progress. In 2015 the Archdeacons’ Visitation documents that are sent to every parish through the Churchwardens and the parish priest, contained a paper on Serving with Accountability requesting that each parish should address nine questions and report back to their Archdeacon by the end of November.

  1. Worship: What are you doing to make worship the central focus of the life of the Church?
  2. Spirituality: What are you doing to teach people to pray?
  3. Nurture: What are you doing to teach people the faith and help them in their discipleship?
  4. Evangelism: What are you doing to share faith with others and what have the results been in the past year? Does your Church have a place of nurture?
  5. Vocation: What are you doing to nurture and develop the ministry of the whole people of God including enabling people to come forward for authorised lay and ordained ministry?
  6. Service: How is your Church a blessing to the community you serve? How is it witnessing to God’s kingdom of justice and peace?
  7. Hospitality: What are you doing to ensure that your Church is a place of safety and welcome for all ages and for people of all backgrounds?
  8. Interdependence: How are you working in partnership with other Christian communities in your locality and at diocesan, national and global level?
  9. Generosity: What are you doing to ensure that your Church is showing signs of generosity towards the wider Church and community as well as becoming financially secure?

The questions are designed to help each Church get to the heart of what it means to be a healthy Church and provide some sort of agreed yardstick about what is expected of every Church. Of course these categories are interconnected and no such list can cover every aspect of ministry: some may wish to make explicit mention of things, such as work with children and young people, pastoral care, healing and reconciliation, that are implicit under other headings.

Parishes don’t need to tackle all the questions at once but should make them part of their annual review to see what progress is being made over the forthcoming years. It is already clear that many parishes are getting to work on these questions and examining how best to become more accountable to God and the wider Christian Community.

But internal accountability is not enough – we will be held accountable to God for our service in the world (Matthew 25. 31-end). We are accountable to God’s world and all the people he has created and loves. This means we are accountable to the wider communities in which our local Churches and schools are set. We are not a special interest club for those who like religious activities. The development of Food Banks is a vivid and quite recent example of this. Wherever we venture out into the public square, we must be prepared to give of our very best and be accountable to those we seek to serve.

Making the most of our Church schools

Our schools are accountable in very formal ways for the quality of all-round education they offer. Whilst it is sometimes suggested children are not taught the basics of the Christian faith any more, we have daily contact with nearly 30,000 young people each day in our own schools and pupils attending a Church primary school will have participated in almost 1,000 acts of worship by the time they are eleven. Our schools and Sparrows  nurseries offer local Churches unique opportunities for developing sustained relationships with parents and carers through which to communicate the gospel in open and invitational ways. We need to learn to be more alert to this gift and intentional in breathing the gospel through the relationships we can build.

Moving forward

As we move forward we would expect to become a Church that is more confident about its own responsibilities, happy to be held accountable and expecting to be challenged and stretched.

Our aim is that every Church is conscious that in the Diocese of Chelmsford there is a shared expectation about ministry and mission. How Churches respond will of course vary enormously from place to place. There is no expectation of a one size fits all solution. In fact it is hoped that there will be a greater diversity of response as each Church discerns how best to develop worship and outreach in its particular context, according to its particular ethos and tradition, and with the resources at its disposal. This is not about setting up some sort of ecclesiastical Ofsted, but a deep mutual accountability where every Church, every minister and every individual Christian has an understanding of what responsibilities they carry. Serving with accountability is therefore a deeply spiritual issue. There is no reason not to be honest with ourselves; after all God knows all the secrets of our hearts.

Mutual accountability

Accountability runs three ways: to ourselves, to each other and to God. It is about everyone recognising their responsibilities within the body of Christ. This vision of the Church, which is so central to Paul’s theology, tells us that no one part of the body can be superior to another, and no part is dispensable: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12.21). This must therefore mean that the bishops are as accountable to the rest of the Church as is the PCC or the individual baptised Christian. We are in it together, each with a part to play and each expecting to be held accountable for the ministry we undertake. We are to be luminous and transparent with a desire to communicate so that we and others can learn from both success and failure.

Serving with Accountability

  • Regular self-evaluation using the criteria
  • Holding ourselves accountable before others
  • Greater financial responsibility and increased generosity
  • Clarity about what a Church and her ministers are called to be and do (and not do)

Indicators

The nine questions themselves provide some good indicators for how we are doing locally and collectively against this priority. In addition indicators of progress might include:

  • How many parishes and fresh expressions are in the practice of self-assessing against the nine questions
  • Church and fresh expression attendances reflecting the demographic of the community by age, ethnicity, gender etc.
  • The extent to which we share resources of all sorts with our neighbours
  • The proportion of parishes generating new ministers
  • We collectively achieve the total parish share request and thus can resource ourselves collectively

Some stories from around the diocese

Turnaround project

The development of this priority has led the diocese to look at those Churches most in need of support and development to help them flourish in mission. We bid for and won a substantial mission grant from the Church Commissioners to develop a project where specific, focused help and intervention can be offered to Churches that are struggling in some of these areas. This work has begun and in time it will make a big difference as additional help goes where it is most needed with the expectation of local transformation and from it mutual belonging, mutual support and selfevaluation which is at the heart of what it means to be a healthy Church.

Serving with accountability encourages Churches to think creatively about their ministry and their responsibilities to their community so as to see God’s kingdom grow. The Revd Helen Gheorghiu- Gould tells the story of what has been happening in Nazeing.

Nazeing, on the borders of Essex and Hertfordshire, has two Church buildings: All Saints, a beautiful 12th century Church two miles out of town, and St Giles, an unattractive building in the centre of the community. St Giles had been a place of lively family worship, but was closed as a worship centre a few years ago. On arrival, Helen’s first reaction was that it needed bulldozing!  

But God had other ideas. One of Bishop Stephen’s missionary journeys in 2014 came to Nazeing, and by coincidence this was planned for the 50th anniversary of St Giles and the week of the feast of St Giles. Nazeing had suffered from a breakdown in Church and community relationships, and while Bishop Stephen was there he called people to be healed and reconciled. He presented Chelmsford holding crosses, and at St Giles people were amazed to ‘get this warm feeling’ as the crosses were passed round from hand to hand.  

Since then, the Church community has been through a 12-month process of listening and reconciliation. Monthly worship has restarted at St Giles, and from autumn 2015 that will become twice a month. Far from needing a bulldozer, a programme of refurbishment is now being planned for St Giles, which aims to transform it into a missional hub for the community, with a new pre-school and a wider range of community activities.  

St Paul’s Stratford has been on an exciting, if not always easy, journey discovering more of what it means to be Church with those from different denominational and ethnic backgrounds. The Revd Canon Jeremy Fraser shares their experience.

At St Paul’s, Stratford we were renting our hall to a Bulgarian Christian fellowship, some 40 strong. From the start they were friendly and were happy to join with our congregation in mission projects. After a few months, though, they asked to see me, and I expected them to say they were leaving. But instead, to my great surprise, they sat down and said two things: we have been praying; and we have decided as a fellowship to become Anglicans.  

Since then we have taken over 50 Bulgarian Christians into membership, baptised 15 of them, and ordained two of their leaders as curates. It has not always been easy for any of us, but we have chosen to trust each other and have looked for God in all our plans and worries.  

As Anglicans, we have been always been good at attracting people who were historically from the Anglican commonwealth, but European immigration means we are now attracting people who don’t know us at all. The Bulgarian Christians were either Orthodox or American evangelical in origin, and as it turned out, the Anglican Church was the one that could encompass all of their faith journeys.

At St Matthew’s, West Ham the Revd Christiana Asinugo tells how the idea of healthy Church is enabling the Church to grow and develop. 

17 March 2013 was my first Sunday after being licensed at St Matthew’s, and the lectionary reading was Isaiah 43: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? ” These words have been prophetic for us as a Church, as we have prayerfully sought God’s way forward for us.

We started by identifying the gifts of Church members: from technology to welcoming. One of the key developments has been in our children’s ministry, which has grown from 4 to 17 children most Sundays. Our young adults (25- 30s) are encouraged to lead and speak on 5th Sundays, and we have recently started a youth ministry.

In March 2014, we had series of teachings on Healthy Church, using The Healthy Church Handbook by Robert Warren to help identify our strengths and weaknesses. As a result we are doing more on our welcome, and trying to become more outward looking. A community questionnaire was developed and we have begun knocking on doors to introduce ourselves to people who live within the parish. An Evangelism team from St John’s supports us as we build up our courage.

We are also trying to build on other outcomes of the Healthy Church discussion such as worship, pastoral care, prayer and Bible study. We are a work in progress and I am grateful to the Church wardens and other members who work with me on this.