Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lent Blog 17: Diocesan Synod

I can tell that title has got you excited already!

Church of England Synods are gathering of elected representatives from clergy and lay people, alog with some representative co-opted members. There are 3 levels: Deanery (local area, little power), Diocesan (whole Diocese), General (national for England).

One item on the Blackburn Diocesan Synod this morning related to Urban Priority Area parishes - i.e. those with the greatest level of economic and social deprivation within cities and towns. The understandable concern was that the Church of England shouldn't withdraw its presence from those areas, as some other denominations have been forced to do.

My question was this: what does the presence of the good old C of E look like? All too often we can think it means the continuance of church services in the same way that we always did them in the same locations where we always held them. The problem is with the term 'withdrawal'. We risk getting into thinking of 'presence ' in a UPA that is more like the mentality of an occupying force than a missionary church.

What if parish ministry in some challenging UPAs was more like guerilla tactics than occupying army (I don't like military analogies either, but stay with me here) What about a parish without a parish church building? What if we just bought time at a multifaith centre (like many University Chaplaincies share prayer space)? What if 'presence' in a UPA parish didn't involve any of the usual ecclesiastical duties for the priest at all - ie no church building and perhaps even no Sunday worship? What if they were free just to get to know people and start meeting, prayer, gathering as and when it seemed appropriate?

As a University Chaplain, I knew that many colleagues had no church 'kit' to support them in their quest to be a presence. They had an office and a mandate to be around. What if we appointed priests in UPA parishes that couldn't afford buildings or parish share to do that? We might be more present in that form than we are where priests are holding services for a few people in a cold church that they can't afford.

It seems to me that the issue isn't about withdrawal vs staying; it's about our understanding of what being present might look like. I suspect the C of E isn't yet bold enough to make the sorts of decision that might effect that kind of culture shift, but we've got to start the thinking now.
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1 comment:

Revsimmy said...

Amen, Mike. Preach it! And not just for UPAs either. Rural ministry needs a huge rethink as well. Too often we think about "presence" as a pile of stones announcing "The CofE is here" and spend millions maintaining it, while the clergy are spread increasingly thinly and spend half their time fundraising, administering churchyards and keeping the show on the road. Stressed, moi?