Writing in the summer edition of Outlook, the magazine of the Diocese of Canterbury, Bishop Trevor reminds readers of the three strategic objectives for our common life as a diocese over the next few years. Together, we are to :
- Re-imagine Ministry
- Grow the church numerically and spiritually
- Build partnerships that enhance communities.
It’s just three months since I was installed as Rector of the G7 Benefice. This letter seems to be a good opportunity to look back over these three months and share some thoughts about how we might be aiming to achieve these objectives both in our local parish churches and as part of the wider G7 Benefice. But first, a word about the context, for which my starting point comes from the lectionary readings used at the morning services today, the first Sunday after Trinity.
We began with part of the Creation narrative, Genesis Chapter 3 where God is seen walking in the garden in the cool of the evening. He is calling to the man to whom he had given the breath of life and with whom he had previously enjoyed conversation – we may call it prayer. “Where are you”, he calls to the man, a significant question and one that should find a resonance in all who claim to follow Christ.
The Gospel reading (Mark 3) led us to the whirlwind of activity that characterised the early ministry of Jesus. Everywhere he went, people were astounded at his teaching “for he taught as one who had authority and not as the Scribes”. People flocked to see him, to hear him, to touch him and at each encounter people were amazed at his healing powers. He was radical, he was dynamic, he was different. He overturned traditions, challenged cultural norms and broke down the walls of religiosity in order to promote freedom. In so doing, he not only incurred the wrath of the religious authorities but also courted the suspicion of those close to him. Together we pondered the question “Where are you”, in that crowd that surrounded Jesus as well established customs and patterns were being challenged and the status quo overturned.
“Where are we” … here in the second decade of the 21st century, once again a time of transition both within our society and in the Church? “Where are we” … in our local parish churches and in the wider G7 benefice as we all face change? How might we begin to ‘re-imagine’ ministry so that the church doesn’t limp its way into the third decade of this century but instead finds itself as a vibrant, self-sustaining, welcoming centre of worship?
Over the last three months I have been grappling with some of these questions. It has become clear to me that the G7 Benefice is a place of great diversity … Messy Church, the café style Re-Fresh service, the informal Iona Eucharists exist alongside 1662 Book of Common Prayer Communions and Evensongs, and clergy-led Common Worship Communion Services complement the lay-led informal services. We are indeed blessed with such considerable diversity and variety.
But how is all this not only to be managed but also empowered for further growth?
We have moved such a long way from the ‘one priest/one church’ model of the late 20th century and I celebrate the fact that here in the G7 Benefice there is not only an active team of Authorised Lay Ministers (ALMs) but also a collection of other lay leaders who are prepared each month to devise, plan and lead services in many of the churches. There is much more to be done if we are to tap all the latent ministry potential and this will be part of the plan as we continue to meet together in the coming months to discern God’s plan for growth in this benefice.
A highlight for me in the last three months has been the Novena of Prayer. Based on the idea of Hospitality and Welcome, 9 short acts of worship and prayer formed the basis of time spent together between Ascension Day and Pentecost, each day in a different church of the benefice, each act of worship led by a different person, both lay and clergy.
A theme running through the pages of the New Testament, particularly evident in the life and work of Christ, is death and resurrection. We should not be surprised therefore if this is mirrored in some of the events in the life of our churches. The Healing and Wholeness Service which has taken place on the second Sunday of each month for almost two years has come to an end in its present form. Thank you to Caroline Asteraki-Spear who has led these services faithfully and to Pete Austin who has provided the music and also to Joy Gallagher and Janet McIntyre who have played such an integral part in this service. Various exciting ideas are emerging with regard to what might come next but these need to be further shaped through prayer and discussion before they become a reality.
Whereas ministry in the G7 would be seriously limited without the assistance of members of the laity, it would be impossible to provide the current Eucharistic focus without the commitment and dedication of the clergy team, G7 Curate, Reverend Sue Starkings, Assistant Priests Reverend Richard Webb and Reverend Philip Cox, assisted also by our Reader, Alan Duncan.
There is indeed so much to celebrate and we will continue to do this when we come together each week in our individual parishes and as a benefice on the fifth Sundays of the month. These services are now set to take place at 10.30a.m. so that together we can enjoy a bring and Share lunch after the service, a further opportunity to build and strengthen relationships. The next one will take place on July 29th at Little Chart Church where we will have the opportunity to hear Reverend Canon Kerry Thorpe, Diocesan Mission and Growth Adviser, speaking, no doubt, about Re-Imagining Ministry!
To conclude, I return to the opening question “Where are you” in the midst of such change? It needs to be acknowledged that change is disturbing and we find ourselves in a social and religious climate where change is happening rapidly in all aspects of our common life. What is important is that we keep talking to one another, that we find ways of grappling with the issues that would threaten to divide and that we take every opportunity to bring all these things before God in prayer.
Indeed this is an exciting place to be. Let us continue to build on the present by prayerfully and corporately re-imagining the future.
Rector of G7 Benefice