eighteen months ago i was recognised by the church of england as a lay pioneer. this morning i am going to be licensed as such by the bishop of willesden. the way the church of england works in relation to those who are in leadership is a two step process.
(you can simply read the first sentence of each of these steps below but if you are interested what on earth that means i have tried to explain further below each.)
step 1 - you are admitted into an order of ministry (order simply means category).
in the canons (rubric) of the church of england the order i was admitted to is 'lay worker - for those interested canon E7'. this is different to lay reader which most people seem to think is the only category available - in my view it is a broader description of ministry and includes evangelism so suits lay pioneers better than the category of reader. to be admitted in this way you have to demonstrate that you meet certain criteria. the criteria we use are in this document here which has been approved for use by the ministry council of the church of england and shows what is a good direction of travel in my view - recognising some core dispositions but then subsets for various types of ministries such as pioneer rather than a one size fits all. (i actually helped write the pioneer subset!) what is curious about this document is that hardly anyone seems to be using it - they still seem to be using an older approach but i am guessing that will gradually change. the recognition is like a kite mark of training and quality i guess that is able to be trusted across the church. the way the church of england is governed is episcopal which means that a bishop is trusted to oversee procedures - so to be admitted a bishop needs to approve and admit you. this is where i think it gets interesting. cms has become a religious community of the church (which i blogged about here) so rather than being a parachurch agency it is in and of itself a church (mission) community. as such we have a bishop who is linked as a visitor to cms - so we are able to admit people as lay pioneers through cms rather than through a diocese. in my case this makes perfect sense - my identity and calling in the church is mission focused and the majority of what i do by way of leadership is done through cms of which i am an enthusiastic member. the order (category) is a national one so once admitted you don't need to go through the process again if you move to another diocese for example. i apologise if this a bit technical but i have studied it to try and open a way for lay pioneers to be recognised in the church in a way that makes sense and this is the best use (legitimate hack) of the codes i could find.
step 2 - you are licensed for a particular local role/ministry
licensing is the way the church entrusts ministry to people who have admitted to an order. this is how it works for vicars - they get admitted to the order of priest (step 1) and then a license for a particular parish or whatever. so i am being given a license to be a lay pioneer with grace at st marys ealing (as a member of cms) by my local bishop. what does this mean? to be honest it won't change much - i think i may be able to do a few different things such as bury the dead. but i have been leading, preaching, as a member of grace and st marys ealing for about 20 years. like many churches a lot of ministry (rightly) flourishes and continues without being licensed. in my mind the license is simply affirming what i already do and bring - nothing more. but what i bring and do is strongly tied up with who i am and my own sense of calling. it is the recognition of the word pioneer that has made me think this is worth doing because it is affirming a ministry that is not simply pastoral with those in the church but affirms the gift of seeing and building things beyond the edge of where the church currently is. the main part of what i do as a leader in the church actually is through cms in the pioneer training i lead but the licensing system in the church is such that i think it would be too complicated to license someone for a role that is essentially a national one. the church of england still imagines ministry quite geographically i think. that's not a complaint - just explaining why the license is linked with local stuff in ealing rather than everything i am involved in.
so there you go! all that to say i am being licensed as a lay pioneer in the church of england this morning and if you've read this far i hope that sentence makes more sense.
research into new things in the church over the last decade shows that at least half of the new expressions of church have been started and led by untrained and unrecognised and unlicensed leaders - looking back i think 95% of alternative worship grew that way. all that is great in my view! so in doing this i am not for a moment thinking the church needs to license things before they should happen. i quite like it the other way round actually - it's a way of affirming something that has emerged rather than controlling it. but for me part of the reason is that the church nationally is trying to work out what lay pioneers are and how to encourage and recognise them in a way that makes sense. so we have done that through cms and this is simply showing how that can that work with the way a diocese tends to operate around ministry (i.e. a precedent of sorts). we have admitted 12 lay pioneers through cms so far and intend to keep that rolling over the next decade. i hope where cms pioneers land in a diocese that will be welcomed by bishops as a gift to the church rather than a threat, and that lay pioneers who are members of cms are both trustworthy, faithful and hopefully dangerous (in a good or prophetic way) because they are called beyond the current edge of the church in mission.
i also want to stress that this does not mean the way we operate in grace will change or the way i am in grace. the church tends to imagine leadership in one or two people. grace has a very distributed model of leadership which i like so i will carry on in the community there exactly as before. (it would actually make sense to license grace as a whole but i don't think the church of england quite thinks that way!)