this week i am on a few days away in shropshire with the cms team i am part of. had a shaky start when we drove into the back of a car in front and knocked a horsebox off the road (fortunately the cows that had been in it had already been dropped off at the market!)
today was a visit to telford where cms is partnering with the diocese of lichfield. this was a really interesting day reflecting on mission shaped church and how in practice one diocese is responding to it. i haven't got the statistics to hand but as in many areas of the country the overall pattern has been one of steady decline in church attendance (and therefore income). the diocese has had to reduce expenditure by laying off clergy and group parishes together etc. i have previously said on several occasions that what i think mission shaped church has done is shift the culture in the church of england to one of a culture of permission (which is great news) but it hasn't generally been prepared to go for the reallocation of resources. somehow lichfield diocese has had the courage/vision/balls in a situation of decline to address the resourcing issue as well... i have only got a short window into the story. i hope to come back to this and find out some more because i think other dioceses struggling for a way forward and other parts of the world might find some insights or clues for their own contexts and challenges. these were a few of the threads i picked up that may have contributed...
- a bishop who was up for it and made some key appointments
- the diocesan missioner - mark ireland - he did a lot of patient leg work of visiting all deaneries, listening hard and then developing a growth strategy with practical achievable goals.
- a strategic focus on how to help the diocese become a learning organisation
- taking mission shaped church seriously - all groups in the diocese have to reflect on it and mark was saying for example that he was due in a few days to meet with the diocesan architects to reflect on what the implications might be for them - (mission shaped architecture)...
- piloting an emerging church - church without walls - in stoke on trent including investing in the leadership post for 7 years. the encouraging signs from this have created interest in pushing forward in other areas.
- the decision to develop an innovations fund of a million pounds, the profit of which can be used in grant making to support initiatives in mission year on year.
- when the archbishops council allocated funds for mission several years ago the diocese used two thirds to go into the black hole of clergy salaries but since then when money comes like that have decided to ring fence it for mission and not spend it on maintenance
- a wonderful global passion and investment that has involved interchanges with malaysia and other parts of the world. this includes a trust to enable young people to take gap years there and to host young people from there to have gap years in the diocese
- being prepared to make sacrifices for mission (being prepared to lose clergy posts to invest in mission posts)
mark ireland shared with us some of the fresh expressions of church going on in the diocese which range from conventional church plants, youth congregations, a punjab christian community in walsall, a church plant that bought a butchers shop and named it the place to 'meet' which is reaching an elderly community, an emerging church in stoke and so on...
the latest venture is an emerging church in telford which cms is partnering in. this starts in september 2005 with a full time paid job. the appointment has been made and there is funding for 7 years for the post with the aim of becoming self financing, self governing and self replicating by then. it will be great to see how it develops. i don't think i am permitted to say who has the job yet but will say more when i get the ok. i was with a few people who had a wander round one part of telford (wellington) and we interviewed a few people to get a feel for the area, and the issues concerning 20-30 year olds.
but the overriding impression of the day is that it is possible for a diocese to change even when it's in decline. it is possible to do more than just give permission for new expressions of church if there is the will and vision to develop a strategic plan of action. as i say i hope to do some more to research what has happened and is going on here so i can tell the story and what we can learn from it...