Friday, April 30, 2010

Effective ministry in every parish??

That's the title of a report commissioned by FabBishop and currently making its way around deaneries, after a mixed reception at diocesan synod.
It's central premise is  that each community needs, and thus each community already has, a "God person" - someone  prayerful, holy, to whom people naturally turn when they have a spiritual need.Thinking of the Cotswold villages where I served as a Reader, each place did indeed have such a person - and when Local Ministry came on the scene, they were early and obvious members of the LMT. In larger urban or suburban communities, though such people might be obvious to the church family, they won't be evident to the wider world so some form of official category begins to be helpful...
So far, so good.

Now we're revisiting the same issue - with the thought that all such "God people" should be trained, accredited, licensed. Some might discern a call to Local Ordained Ministry, others would become Locally Licensed Ministers.
It's causing all sorts of upset.
On the one hand, there's anxiety and indignation that those who are actually doing the business, acting as resources for prayer and pastoring in (particularly) rural communities should be asked to jump through further hoops by way of training and accreditation. There's worry that the end product of the whole initiative might simply be a new tier of ordained ministry, and a way of propping up structures of church that need to be challenged, changed, transformed...There's worry too that licensed Readers and Local Ministry Team members might feel sidelined and undervalued as energy is channelled into the new scheme.
Then there's a different sort of anxiety, that some communities might simply not have any identifiable candidates. I think that might be the case in one of my parishes,-so there has been talk about the scheme leading simply to the publication of details of a "first call" person for crises in each location.....perhaps a Church Warden. That sounds more attainable, but loses sight of the initial vision of holiness.
Further upset.

It seems to me that once again we are in real danger of confusing ministry with function.  I have just had to write a report for the Bishop about the Herring of Christ's diaconal year. It's been a good one, I think, though absolutely unlike my own experience as a full time stipendiary curate. He has other responsibilities, other spheres on ministry and I think that for the moment the parish will continue to take second place...So what does this mean for his priesthood. Will he be jetted in as a "Mass Priest" - able to preside at the Eucharist in one community, but acting as the holy person most consistently in another (his workplace)? He can and will carry out the liturgical functions of priesthood, but his priestly formation and the fullest expression of his ministry is in his weekday community where I, his training incumbent, have absolutely no points of reference, nor any legitimate access...It has led to some interesting conversations through the year, and I hope that the report that I submitted will stimulate similar discussions on high. In my final paragraph I described the diocesan template for the year as rather a procrustean bed...I spent too long worrying about our inability to conform to something based on a different sort of ministry altogether, and have doubtless missed out on, and failed to celebrate,the many God-moments that have not fitted into the confines of parish life.

I have a feeling that there is a connection between all these half understandings of the nature of ministry - but I can't quite articulate what I think it is. It has taken me over a week to not really finish this post...I'm certain that if the church (including me) cannot decide what we actually mean by ministry, we'll go on failing those people whom we are called to serve...

Ministry in a time of transition is no easier than anything else. Not being sure where we are going as Church, it's very hard to work out how best to get there...but I'm pretty certain that looking backwards over our shoulders is unlikely to work.

Which is a shame, as I do love being a parish priest...


Minnie said...

Oh dear, it does sound as if attempts are being made to - that dread term - 'professionalise' the ministry, whether lay or ordained. From my exp. in other areas, whenever bureaucratic hoops are introduced, people tend to give up, and stop jumping through 'em.
A recent homily by our priest here emphasised the notion that each of us was responsible for carrying the ministry out into the wider community. Perhaps the idea's unrealistic, but as your into suggests there are such people - holy people - to be found in each parish ... Why do they need organising, examining, controlling? Goes against the grain.

Kathryn said...

Yup...that's part of what worries me, though I can also see that a non churchgoing family in most UK communities wouldn't necessarily know to whom they should speak if they had a sudden need of the church...With one priest for several communities, the vicar's phonenumber on the noticeboard may not be much comfort, whereas "Susie Smith at Dove Cottage" might seem more approachable...
IT's all far from straightforward

Chris said...

This is very familiar territory for us! Strangely, though I preach when necessary and do the intercessions on a regular basis, though I am involved in facilitating the training of others in the diocese who want to become accredited in some way, I have no wish to do other than the ad hoc training needed to keep me from either heresy or blatant ignorance.

But I do worry about the dilution of the priesthood in terms of theological education - I feel the need for someone to whom I can turn who will offer me the things I don't know yet, give me the insights I'm unsure about: a properly educated professional, in fact.

Having said that, I acknowledge that learning does not impart holiness, and that I am far from being one of the holy people you talk about!

David said...

I'm operating three different models of ministry in each of the three parishes in my benefice. 1. Strong lay led team with an outreach group (LMT by another name) 2. An ecumenical support/fellowship group that energise things Christian in the village and help the church 'do' things, like Alpha, back to church, etc, 3. Formal Leadership team alongside PCC. It sounds confusing when you say it out loud! But when I move amongst and between them as 'the dog collar' it works, mainly because the communities are different and there have been different histories that have got them to where they are now. So, I think I can find the 'holy people' but they won't all fit the same mould. Alleluia! many would cry!

Song in my Heart said...

I think the nature of communities is changing. Where did I go when I started to recognise that I needed a church? Well, I went to church, but at the time I wasn't in a position to attend Sunday morning services or get too attached to any one community, so that wasn't much use.

I started blogging about it, because blogland was a community I could join despite my geographical and temporal limitations. It was a community I could join entirely on my own terms, which was and remains very important, though I blog less actively now.

I talked to people I already knew and thought spiritually astute -- not all of them Christians. I made use of my existing community.

I like Minnie's point that each of us is responsible for carrying ministry out into the wider community. I don't like pushy evangelism, and I don't think it should be encouraged.

If there are indeed holy people to be found within every community, perhaps building community is the best way to make sure everyone who needs such people can find them.

The parish system attempts to address the geographical nature of community, but as church is no longer the default option in this society, there is a serious shortage of ministers: smaller congregations simply cannot support as many clergy. The parish system deals much less well with the very fuzzy edges communities have these days. But those fuzzy edges are changing all the time, and people move from one to another often. One major difficulty with professionalised ministry is that the training standards will never keep up with that fuzziness, that fluidity -- as demonstrated by the Herring. But rather than creating further tiers of ordained or official ministry, perhaps the answer is to provide more training in ministerial subjects with no official titles attached. I also wonder whether a greater focus on diaconal ministry in a wide range of contexts might be relevant. Perhaps one might even lower the bar to priestly ministry but set up additional training for those with a vocation to vicaring. This might take some of the pressure off of vicars who are the only priest for benefices with several parishes, though obviously the priestly part of their ministry is very important. And it would let those who are good priests but perhaps not amazing vicars get on with their work.

Maybe that is what is being attempted by the NSM/OLM/etc tracks but I'm not entirely sure it's working. It still seems like there's very little training for theologically enthusiastic laypeople (I've not seen anything in Chelmsford that I can actually get to, the RSCM stuff for organists is very much on the musical side, and so again I thank God I have the blogging world and books and people in my existing communities to talk to...), but training for ordination is so disruptive and requires such a huge commitment that many people don't pursue it. I do think that ordination should be taken seriously, of course -- but perhaps we take it a little too seriously.

I think a conscious focus on the ministry of the parish church community to serve and care for all the residents of the parish, regardless of background or belief, is one way of strengthening the awareness of wider ministry.

More on this another time, perhaps...

Still Breathing said...

Coming from a Baptist, priesthood of all believers, background I actually like the Anglican parish system. It one of your strengths just as not being parish based is one of ours.
However I do think the most important call to any form of ministry should be the work of the Holy Spirit and not jumping through bureaucratic hoops. Of course this doesn’t sit well in any large organisation and it would be hard work but don’t you think we should give it a go?