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Parish amateurs and pros

by
24 May 2011

Graham James looks at ministry issues —and who foots the bill

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Reimagining Ministry
David Heywood

SCM Press £19.99
(978-0-334-04367-6)
Church Times Bookshop £18

SINCE one of the three strategic themes endorsed by the Arch­bishops’ Council for the next five years is re­imagining ministry, David Hey­wood’s book could hardly be more timely.

He understands ministry as our participation in God’s mission to the world. It is about Kingdom-building, and creating learning communities in which believers themselves are transformed by prayer and worship and their en­gage­ment with the world around them.

Heywood offers an accessible distillation of a great deal of writing on mission and ministry over recent years, with practical illustrations from different localities across England. It is a very English and Anglican book, but its particularity is a strength. One telling example comes from St Michael’s, Black­heath, and its engagement with the Brooklands Park estate in the par­ish, where the clearing of a pond was the unlikely trigger for the growth of a new and distinctive church community.

Reimagining Ministry follows quickly upon the publication of Andrew Davison and Alison Mil­bank’s For the Parish (Books, 26 November 2010). Intriguingly, some of the examples that Heywood uses might equally have been employed by Davison and Milbank in defence of the parish; for a good many find their origins in parish churches’ thinking afresh about their participation in the mission of God to their locality.

Heywood acknowledges that a fresh focus on mission has reshaped the approach of some traditional churches to their ministry (he uses Back to Church Sunday as one example), but he never defines satisfactorily what he means by “traditional churches”.

He is on stronger ground in challenging the value of a profes­sional model of ministry. He argues that professionals are increasingly under suspicion in all walks of life, and that professional ministry has too often rendered the laity con­sumers or clients.

Even so, the sort of formation and training for the ordained ministry which Heywood believes is still required demands a good deal of expertise. This is no apologia for sham amateurism.

I hope many experienced clergy and lay ministers, as well as those in training, will read this book, and that those who find some of the Fresh Expressions rhetoric over­blown will not be put off. It is as much an account of how the C of E has already been reshaping its ministry as it is a proposal for further develop­ment.

There is certainly more to be done — not least, reimagining the way in which the Church is funded. Heywood makes a sharp passing comment that the “traditional church still largely pays the bills: all denominations rely heavily on the contribution of existing churchgoers to provide the finance needed for new developments.”

The financial challenge may turn out to require the biggest exercise of our imagination in the coming years, and, from that, who knows what may come?

The Rt Revd Graham James is the Bishop of Norwich.

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