A NEW "bishop for church-plants" has been proposed by the Bishop
of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres. The aim is to support the
burgeoning movement as it spreads across the country.
The plan, which involves reviving the see of Islington, vacant
since 1923, will be given final consideration by the Dioceses
Commission later this month.
In a report presented to the London diocesan Bishop's Council
last Wednesday, Bishop Chartres argues that there is an "urgent"
need for church-planters to be given "knowledgeable support and
mentoring in the early years". The Bishop of Islington's ministry
would be "inherently episcopal but not territorial; thoroughly
collegial but with an independent sphere of responsibility".
He or she would "open up new possibilities; provide
reinforcement for the oversight which already exists for pioneer
ministries; and disseminate the learning gained from new
This was not about "Byronic young Evangelical pastors
establishing smoothie bars uninvited," Bishop Chartres said on
Those planting churches are "tender shoots", he said. "They
really do need mentoring, oversight, and really close involvement
of a sort which it is very unrealistic to expect area bishops to
Another aspect of the Bishop of Islington's work would be to
disseminate lessons learnt in London to those outside the capital.
The principle was "to aim high, give it away, look for allies, and
keep humble", Bishop Chartres said.
He emphasised that, while receiving "direct pastoral care" from
the Bishop of Islington, planters were "totally loyal to their
local situation and bishops". The report says that existing plants
have "always issued from invitations, and there is no intention to
intrude uninvited into anyone else's jurisdiction". It cites an
appeal to "come over and help us" from the Bishop of West Malaysia,
the Rt Revd Moon Hing. There is, it says, "no intention that the
Bishop of Islington will aspire to treat 'the world as his
A recent conference on city centre resources churches had
attracted an "astonishing response" from bishops around the
country, Bishop Chartres said. In addition to plants in London,
Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), has planted in Chichester, Norwich,
Lincoln, and Bournemouth, and a "resource church" is now planned
for Birmingham. There are "active dialogues, and in some cases
advanced plans" for more in Manchester, Liverpool, Gloucester,
Oxford, Exeter, and Guildford.
A School of Church Planting and Church Growth is being
established in association with St Mellitus, which already runs a
seven-week church-planting course.
HTB had "a very great deal of experience and missionary
fruitfulness", Bishop Chartres said on Monday. "It's not part of my
job to contradict the Holy Spirit that has actually blessed many of
these enterprises and made them fruitful."
He was, however, "determined to preserve biodiversity, and make
sure everyone has a spoon in the soup". He was "constantly pointing
out to Catholic parishes in London that church-planting in the 19th
century was all the rage, very common, and largely Anglo-Catholic
in inspiration. . . This is certainly not intended to be confined
to just one part of the Church; in fact, it would be a failure if
it were to be."
As an alternative to church-planting, he cited the work of the
Revd John Wood at St Anne's, Tottenham, whose approach to growth
was "not by sending a team in but by painstaking work at the grass
The report notes that the strategy pursued by HTB "has not been
without its critics".
Bishop Chartres said: "I am very keen on debate. We want to
learn. We are not anxiously preserving our franchise. We are not
afraid of really looking at the evidence in a very scientific and
One answer to critics, he said, was that there was "very little
transfer-growth" to church-plants. Before receiving a church-plant,
the congregation of St Paul's, Shadwell, had been small, with
morale at a "very low ebb", he said. "It has not lost any of its
existing supporters, but, of course, it has developed the kind of
church life which people who went nowhere, or went out of the area,
find very attractive."
The see of Islington has only had one Bishop: the Rt Revd
Charles Turner, from 1898 until 1923. When he died, it fell until
abeyance. The plan to revive it will not fall as a charge on the
Common Fund, and could be funded in partnership with the Church
Commissioners and the existing block grant for episcopal
Bishop Chartres's plan states that the Archbishop of Canterbury
has "warmly welcomed" the proposal.
Among the bishops impressed by HTB's strategy is the Bishop of
Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who described on Tuesday
how a big new plant would "bring light to the city".
The diocese is currently raising £2 million to establish St
Luke's, Gas Street, a "resource church", in a warehouse in the city
centre. Due to open in September, it will be led by the Revd Tim
Hughes, currently Curate of St Paul's, Onslow Square, and a church
musician. "We know that this kind of leadership and this kind of
church is very attractive to young people," Bishop Urquhart said.
"The disciples made in this church are people who do not settle
down into a comfortable way of life. They are called in a very
short period of time to go out to other parishes into areas which
are very hard to reach. It's a giving-away church."
The Vicar of St Luke's, Oseney Crescent, planted from HTB in
2011, welcomed the idea of a Bishop of Islington.
"Planting a new worshipping community has been one the most
exciting, enjoyable and challenging adventures of my life," he said
on Tuesday. "Those within existing structures have done a huge
amount to help me muddle my way in the journey, but to know that
there would be someone dedicated to the unique challenges faced by
a church plant is incredibly encouraging.
"With new church plants springing up all across the UK there is
a great need for church planters to be effectively trained
throughout the journey. A lot of time and effort is spent on
training our church leaders before they lead but I know I would
have hugely benefitted from someone to provide ongoing support,
challenge and input as the church grew and developed."
Question of the week: Do you agree
with a bishop for church-plants?