Mission Communities

Mission Communities

How might they look?
Appleby Deanery

Our Task

In October 2013, Diocesan Synod passed a motion charging the Deanery with the following task regarding the proposed new Diocesan Ministry Strategy:

“…in dialogue with parishes, the Bishop and ecumenical partners, to explore the local implications of the Strategy, including the shape of possible Mission Communities, and to report back to Archdeaconry and Diocesan Mission & Pastoral Committees.”

Our Deanery Mission Community Shaping Group (which includes members from our ecumenical partners) has now explored ‘the local implications of the Strategy, including the shape of possible Mission Communities’, and this leaflet is part of our dialogue with the parishes in the light of that exercise. The feedback we receive from this dialogue will inform our report to the Archdeaconry and Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committees, which must be submitted by 18th September.

A Reminder of the Background

The background to his exercise is that numbers of available Clergy will drop by 25% over 10 years (from 2013). The concept of mission communities is an attempt by the Diocese to manage that decline in clergy numbers whilst maintaining, or perhaps even enhancing, our capacity for mission. The basic idea is that the church becomes less clergy-dependent by engaging in fully developed every-member ministry, which will include a greater emphasis on lay ministry and self-supporting ordained ministry (“SSM”). It will also involve greater investment in ‘pioneer’ ministry – ministry specifically focussed on outreach to those parts of the community we don’t reach through our current ministry structures and patterns.

Our Approach

We decided to begin by identifying the shape of possible Mission Communities by facing the reality of what stipendiary ministry we can afford and then assessing the local implications of the strategy on the basis of that likely reality. At current figures, our existing parish offers would give us a ministry budget of £301,711, whereas our current ministry costs (if all our vacancies were re-filled) amount to £442,000, based on Diocesan figures. Clearly, living within our means together with the likely reduction in available clergy is going to demand a significant change for Appleby Deanery, regardless of what strategy we adopt for the future.

Our analysis began with a series of presentations to parishes in Jan/Feb 2014, as part of which we collected information from the parishes which allowed us to identify such matters as lines of allegiance between parishes (e.g. shopping, doctors, work, etc), existing church relationships and fractures and future grouping preferences.

We also conducted very wide-ranging research into the health, ministry capacity and outreach potential of our congregations. This included analysis of regular church attenders (by age category), ministry resources available (lay and ordained),occasional offices (e.g. weddings and funerals), current worship patterns, outreach initiatives (parish MAPs), small groups (e.g. prayer, bible study/discussion, choirs etc.), schools, denominational links, state of buildings and Parish Offers.
We also conducted wider research into our context, including parish populations, local geography, secular statistical information on our economic profile and secular allegiances within the Deanery.

Our Principles

We identified a number of key principles that have determined how we translate our research/analysis into a vision of the future. These principles are:

  • Church is the people, not the building (or the clergy). Therefore:
    • ‘Ministry’ is the work of all the baptised (baptism, rather than ordination being the primary authority for Christian ministry).
    • Any strategy must help the whole church to re-discover its vocation.
    • We must provide opportunities for each Christian to grow in faith and use their gifts in Christian service.
  • Christians belong to one-another. Therefore:
    • We must have open (non-exclusive) boundaries.
    • We must work together as the Body of Christ for the Kingdom of God.
    • Clergy should not work alone.
    • The better resourced should support the less well resourced.
  • Christianity is intended to take root in the local reality of people’s lives. Therefore we want to see:
    • living church in every community.
    • No planned church closures.

Our Model

From this, we concluded that the best model for achieving our principles with the available resources was an ‘umbrella’: consisting of a strong ‘hub’ able to support the weaker edges via a series of strong spokes. In practice, this means that each mission community should be able to support the weaker congregations within it by sharing resources with the strongest ‘hub’ congregations and any strong local congregations. Our analysis identified the following in our deanery:

  • 2 major hubs at Appleby and Kirkby Stephen;
  • smaller hubs at Morland, Orton & Shap;
  • a good number of strong local churches and a small number in need of support.

The model envisages that each Mission Community will have at least one ‘hub’ and a sustainable distribution of other local congregations.

The Ecumenical Dimension

Because the different denominations are starting from different points and proceeding at different rates, we have agreed to develop so as to meet Anglican needs in the here and now, but allowing for ecumenical going together on an organic basis over time when relations develop and the legalities and practicalities allow. What follows therefore will apply only to Anglican congregations in the short to medium term.

Planning Parameters

In addition to our own principles, the Diocese required us to account for the following in our planning:

  • Main objective = to resource the church to grow disciples;
  • Minister to every person (including: pastoral care, diversity of worship, baptisms, weddings, funerals and opportunities to grow the Christian faith.) especially through SSM & other innovative ways of providing ministry;
  • Collaborative ministry – encouraging clergy and lay people to share their gifts across deaneries to the benefit of all;
  • Financially realistic – based on a commitment to giving in the spirit of generosity and sacrifice so that ministry can be provided in all parts of the county;
  • Based initially on informal collaborative arrangements, with formal pastoral reorganisation taking place later once legal options are available;
  • have the agreement of all the different church communities to be included;
  • encourage at least one new style of church community within the Mission Community, e.g. church plant, fresh expression, pioneer ministry;
  • Provision for administrative support;
  • the effective, creative and financially realistic use of buildings;
  • at least 20% reduction in paid ordained ministers;
  • 30% of available resources – including time and energy – to be deployed in pioneering ministry (including the Network Youth Church minister).

So how might it look?

On the basis of the objective evidence applied to the umbrella model, our preferred option is to propose 2 Mission Communities, centred around the two major hubs:

  • The northern part of the Deanery would be served from Appleby, with added energy from Morland. It would include the current Heart of Eden, Leith-Lyvennet, and Askham with Lowther & Clifton with Brougham groupings, plus Warcop and Musgrave.
  • The southern part of the Deanery would be served from Kirkby Stephen with added energy from Shap and Orton. It would include the current Kirkby Stephen and High Westmorland groupings, plus Brough.

Each Mission Community would therefore have:

  • 3 Stipendiary Clergy:
    • 1 Mission Community Leader – (initially Anglican; 70% leadership/pioneer; 30% traditional ministry, eventually but not immediately, based in Appleby & Kirkby Stephen);
    • 1 Anglican focussing on pastoral care (70% trad. ministry; 30% pioneering);
    • 1 Methodist minister (initially informally);
  • High-level paid administrative support (plus poss. volunteer basic admin help);
  • Part share of Deanery Network Youth Church Leader;
  • Growing numbers of SSM clergy to support sacramental life;
  • Local churches overseen by growing lay ministry teams (some teams including SSM clergy).

What do we gain from this?

The only alternatives to this proposal currently available are (a) simply enlarging benefice/section groupings as vacancies arise; or (b) the initial Ministry Strategy model whereby a Mission Community is based around a single stipendiary. We believe our model, though still consistent with the Diocesan Ministry Strategy, has several key advantages over either of these alternatives:

  • It achieves the long-held deanery principle that clergy in our remote rural location should not work alone. This is a genuinely collaborative working structure;
  • It provides some traditional stipendiary ministry to enable the transition to Mission Communities;
  • It invests in administration thereby releasing clergy time for their core calling;
  • It invests in pioneering work thereby helping the mission of the church beyond our traditional reach;
  • The focus is on the ministry of all Christians with clergy focussing on enabling the whole church to re-discover its vocation;
  • It achieves better value for money by spending some of our ministerial budget on specialist ministries such as administration and pioneering (including better resourcing our Network Youth Church);
  • It is financially responsible, accepting that we can no longer justify being subsidised by other deaneries;
  • It is ecumenical, yet flexible – it plans for a Methodist minister in each Mission Community. Also, the Anglican Mission Communities would mirror Methodist sections, so that organisational unity can follow more easily from local ecumenical initiatives – growing together from ground-up, rather than top-down;
  • The stronger can support the weaker – we no longer face a straight choice between overstretching our clergy or closing/merging churches. By pulling together everyone can have a future;
  • It builds on the past – existing patterns of allegiance (including current benefices/sections) remain intact (except in the case of Brough, Musgrave & Warcop where local requests have been taken into account).

When will it happen?

The short answer is ‘when it can‘! Full implementation of the Ministry Strategy, with all its legal provisions is likely to take around 10 years, but the problems the proposal addresses affect us right now. Accordingly, we expect local implementation to begin informally wherever and whenever it can, recognising that it will proceed faster in some places than others and that full legal implementation will take approx. 10 years.

What happens next?

Diocesan Synod votes on 11 October 2014 to decide whether implement the Ministry Strategy. If it does, then Appleby Deanery will begin the work of finalising and implementing our plans for Mission Communities in this area.