OUR diocese has a strategy. These days, of course, everyone has
strategies, mission plans, targets, and so forth. I was amused to
read the other day that, in fact, the largest decline in
congregations in the Scottish Episcopal Church has happened in
dioceses especially committed to strategies, plans, and schemes for
I'm not sure what to make of that, but trust that Ely is coming
late to this game, and so someone else will have done the declining
for us by now. It is certainly one thing I am very happy to see
devolved to Scotland.
As you will know, you cannot have a strategy without graphs, and
we have a lovely one that charts financial strength on one axis,
and missional strength on another axis. I imagine that whichever
diocese you are in has something similar. Financial strength is
fairly obvious, but you may wonder what is meant by missional
strength. As I type this, my computer - even more of a
traditionalist than me - underlines "missional" with a squiggly red
line, expressing the doubts I imagine the word raises in more than
a few minds.
Missional strength is measured by several things, including how
many Fresh Expressions you have; the size of your electoral roll;
community activities; and how few elderly people you have.
Apparently, in some versions of this (not, I'm sure, in Ely), you
get points taken off for having people over 70 years old. Who needs
Dignitas in Switzerland, it turns out, when you can aim for
missional strength in England?
Originating in Scotland
I CONSIDERED celebrating St Patrick wearing a green chasuble,
and we have sparkling rosé wine after mass on the fourth Sunday of
Lent, but that's as far as Fresh Expressions go at our gaff. The
parish yoof organised a Burns Night supper at the end of January,
which was certainly communal, and involved a sung grace - thus
including a sight more religion than a lot of things now registered
under the F.E. label.
I even managed to address the haggis in a Scottish accent, which
surely wins Brownie points in enculturation and transnational
harmony stakes? It's practically interfaith work.
Actually, to be accurate, it started in a Scottish accent, but
seemed to lurch into Irish, and then possibly even Welsh by the
time I got to the last verse. I should probably have tried the
whisky afterwards rather than before.
Blue blood required
IT IS all very well looking at the size of the electoral roll,
but it has always seemed to me that quality rather than quantity
ought to be the primary factor when thinking about missional
While on holiday in north Norfolk recently, I visited a number
of churches, and was filled with envy. My jealousy came not from
the beautiful buildings or delightful surroundings, but from the
tone of their electoral rolls. They didn't just have the usual Mr
and Mrs, and Dr, but Baronets and Viscounts. In fact, I didn't
visit a single church that lacked someone with a fancy title. Each
may have been a tenth or a fifth the size of our electoral roll,
but they had what one could only call "bottom".
It seems to me that if the diocese of Norwich has a strategy
(and if not, why not, we must ask), it needs to start awarding
missional-strength points to parishes on this basis. They may not
be maintaining numbers, but they can certainly maintain standards.
Now, it may be that Lord So-and-so is over 70, but his title will
at least offset the loss of points from him being as good as
To befair to the Norfolk churches, they did have other things
that impressed. They were open, for a start. This, alas, is not a
measure of missional strength in any strategy I have encountered so
far (presumably on the grounds that only Evangelical churches are
mission-ally strong, and they are always locked). Also, they had
I have got a memorial to George Washington's great-uncle in my
church; but I have nothing to compare with the parish of
Brancaster, in which I found on display a Book of Common Prayer
from Queen Anne's day, open at the page for the Touching for the
King's Evil. I mean, who needs Charismatic renewal and the Toronto
Blessing when you can have a liturgy for scrofula? Churches that
can get rid of types of tuberculosis strike me as having whopping
missional strength - although of course you would lose points if
the sufferer was over 70.
Queen trumps all
I HAVE already indicated our fervour for recruiting new souls by
telling you of the sparkling pink wine on Mothering Sunday. What I
have not told you about is the quality of our youth catechesis.
This, alas, is also not a measure of missional strength. I feel it
should be, however.
Seasoned churchgoers will know the perils of Mothering Sunday.
All too often, it descends into an unchristian sentimental mush of
family worship (by which I fear I mean worship of the family).
Plenty of people have terrible relationships with their mothers;
others have lost their mums; and there are mums who've lost their
children, and couples who can't have children. One must tread
carefully, therefore, not least given our Lord's somewhat
ambivalent attitude to the whole business of biological
Anyway, while we harangued the adults in the nave, the children
were enjoying some apposite teaching in the parish hall.
Recognising the varied and complex business of the modern family,
the teacher decided that perhaps now was a judicious moment for
inculcating a little more of the Catholic faith.
"Even if some of us don't have a mum around, does anyone know
who it is that all Christians have in common as their mother?" our
Pastoral Assistant asked, rhetorically, not entirely expecting an
answer. To which they all responded, as if with one voice,
It's moments like this that make one realise that the parish has
potential. After all, who needs a Viscount on the electoral roll
when the kids know about the Queen of Heaven?
The Rev'd Robert Mackley is Vicar of Little St Mary's,