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.
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...