W(h)ither the Church?

I have been struck recently by two events and a set of data that have reminded me that the relationship between the rural church and its community is far from dead, in fact, even to say its significance has withered would be going too far.

In our benefice, an average of 4% of the adult population attend church each week, 3.5% in our neighbours in Hambledon, Newtown and Soberton, the next highest in the deanery. ‘That proves not many people go to church’, I hear you say, but hold on – that is more than double the proportion attending in some more built-up areas of our deanery and even more than the diocese overall (Source: Deanery Synod papers).  It’s certainly a better position than we sometimes think!

However, we cannot be complacent.  The church nationally and locally has been on a significant journey over the last five years and not always an easy one. Slow progress and the impact of COVID-19 have taken their toll on mission and ministry; there will no doubt be further changes of direction.

In our local deanery, we are looking for ways to share our resources to best effect. We are shaping a vision of working more collegially.  We hope to create different and diverse ways for us to learn more about our faith, to equip us to serve the community better and succeed in our ministry.

As the church seeks to ensure its relevance and build sustainability, across the deanery we have identified what seems to be a way ahead:

  • Collaborate across historic parish boundaries
  • Retain and develop a vibrant local presence in communities
  • Increase the overall capacity for leadership
  • Enable clergy to focus on spiritual leadership
  • Provide co-ordinated administrative support
  • Slim down governance structures

If the future of your local church matters to you:

  • What do you see as the strength(s) in this approach?
  • What might be a concern or worry?
  • Over what timescale should such a change in our ways of working take place?
  • What about our buildings?
  • What could parishes share in general? What could we share specifically?
    (Skills, people or resources)

The local rural church and its communities have been intertwined for centuries, and many of us believe that we lose the relationship at our peril.  Email me or write with your views or ideas for sustaining that relationship or even building it further, so we can serve you better and not just survive, but have the capacity to go from strength to strength.

General Synod Paper – The  Emerging Church

Diocese Paper_4_Live_Pray_Serve_Update__Context

The Primacy of the Parish by Bishop Philip North

The Emerging Church of England

The Emerging Church of England is the name for four strands of work which together will help leaders in every diocese to discern the shape, life and activity of the Church of England in the 2020s. The main aim of the Emerging Church of England is to follow a shared vision – to share what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and continues to do through the Holy Spirit – with simpler national governance structures.

This work began before the coronavirus pandemic but has been intensified and adapted in light of the changing circumstances. The work is to:

  • Review our strategic context:? the Church and the impact of the social, political and economic world around us
  • Determine key strategic priorities for the next ten years?through a shared Vision and Strategy
  • Deliver simpler governance structures 
  • Transform our national operating model for the future i.e. the practical ways the Church is organised and functions.

The work is overseen by a Coordinating Group, chaired by the Bishop of Manchester and made up of members of the Church Commissioners, the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops. Its job is to recommend proposals to the governing bodies to ensure the necessary changes happen at the right time, as well as ensuring the different areas of work join up well.

Four groups – Recovery, Vision & Strategy, Governance, and Transforming Effectiveness – have been tasked with consulting the wider Church, providing recommendations and guidance, and transparently communicating their progress and findings.

Recovery

The Recovery Group, led by the Bishop of London, looks at how to respond to and interpret changing government advice on church buildings and services. Its responsibilities also include supporting churches in reaching out to existing and new worshippers through digital means; the Church of England’s response to social need; and the wellbeing of church and communities.

Vision and Strategy

Led by the Archbishop of York, this group works with dioceses on how best to use the resources, abilities and time available to make decisions about what our priorities should be and how they will work themselves out through the complex and dispersed diversity of a church like ours.

Governance

The Governance Group, led by the Bishop of Leeds, will review the effectiveness of the national governance structures and functions of the Church of England, and make recommendations to the Archbishops for possible changes to improve the functioning and effectiveness of those structures, processes and activities.

The group published a report which can be found here.

Transforming Effectiveness

This group, led by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, focuses on the practical ways the Church is organised and gets things done that enable the local church to flourish.?The whole system will be looked: what should continue as is, what should be changed, and what should just stop.