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Take risks, and work out strategy, Synod urged

26 February 2016

Geoff Crawford

“No numbers game”: John Spence

“No numbers game”: John Spence

A PRESENTATION on the progress of the Renewal and Reform agenda was introduced by John Spence (Archbishops’ Council).

He said that he and his colleagues remained committed to coming out to dioceses for further discussion. He described Renewal and Reform as a “multi-faceted response to commonly held need and a set of diocesan ambitions and strategies”. He said that risks would need to be taken, and “along the way some things will not work.” Any organisation trying to reach an outcome would want to have a strategy.

A series of statistics were set before the Synod: 18 in every 1000 people attended a Church of England church (fewer than ten within a decade “unless something fundamental changes”); an 81-year-old was eight times as likely as a 21-year-old to attend church; projections suggested that there would not be attendance growth for the next 30 years.

He emphasised that Renewal and Reform was not a numbers game, but about “holistic growth”. He went on to talk about how there was a need to develop the means to measure success in “spirituality, , and the depth of evangelistic communities”. Renewal and Reform had to be “rooted in theology and spirituality”.

It sought “to bring a message of hope through changed lives and transformed communities, as people of faith and people finding faith discover their vocation to love God and serve others. This loving service will find voice and expression in a myriad of ways, but will be underpinned by justice, mercy, and a humble walk with God.”

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, spoke about Resourcing Ministerial Education. He said that the objectives had all been worked on in the past year. The focus today was on growing vocations to ordained ministry, and the funding mechanism for IME.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, spoke on growing vocations. He said that the funding proposals had been developed “through an iterative process of proposals, testing, feedback, and consultations”, and that this process would continue in the coming months. The proposal was for a block grant to each diocese, out of which it funded candidates.

“We believe the new system will build a stronger sense of partnership between dioceses and TEIs [theological training institutions]. We believe that, under the new system, dioceses will have the flexibility they need, and that they will make intelligent decisions about candidates’ pathways.”

It would be implemented in 20 months; “only an Ent could regard this as hasty.” The present was “unfit for purpose”. He explained: “A fog hangs over the operation of Vote 1. No one understands it. There is only limited accountability. It is inflexible. It cannot accommodate change. It does not provide a basis for growth. Dioceses will not invest more if they cannot see where the money is going.”

He went on to list “perverse outcomes”: for example, the dioceses of Manchester and Chelmsford subsidised the system by more than £100,000 per year. The proposals were still in development, and there was still work to do — for example, on reviewing family maintenance. There would be “robust monitoring of all outcomes”. He did not share fears about a gender bias. He denied that it was a “cost-cutting exercise”.

He then spoke about RME: “a vision to develop a stronger culture of vocations across the Church. . . There may be people whose gifts we’ve been ignoring up till now, because of a faithless, unimaginative, or, frankly, prejudiced approach to what we look for in a leader.”

A focus on ordination, licensed lay ministry, and the caring professions was “myopic”. He spoke of the goal to increase the number of ordinands by 50 per cent in 2020 and beyond: 6000 ordinands a year, 6000 by the end of the decade. He reminded the Synod that 70 per cent of existing clergy would have retired by 2030. The real number to keep clergy levels at their current size was nearer 70 per cent.

There was already difficulty in filling clergy posts in some parts of the country. There was a need to pray for vocations, and a need for confidence: where this existed in churches, “there tends to be a culture of vocation that emerges.”

He went on: “The good news is that we already have the clergy workforce that we need to lead the Church in 2030 and beyond. The bad news is that they mostly don’t know that they’re being called.”

Some parishes had a “steady trickle” of ordinands, while others had none. Some called did not fit the “standard mould”, he said. He questioned why new or black-led churches were often thriving in inner-urban or estate contexts, in a way in which the C of E was not. There were BME candidates, white working-class ones, and other under-represented groups “who could open up whole swaths of the population to the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that this archetypal white, middle-aged, middle-class Oxbridge-educated bishop simply couldn’t hope to do.”

He referred to the Church of England Ministry Experience scheme. In terms of funding the RME vision, he explained that, as the number of curates increased, the number of more experienced clergy would decrease: an inevitable consequence of decades of under-recruitment.

Jonathan Kerry, Diocesan Secretary of Leicester and a member of the Lay Leadership Task Group, said that the group had met just once, last week, and had begun to map out a plan of work. It would report back to the Archbishops’ Council at the end of September. “The time is ripe for a fresh consideration of lay leadership.”

He acknowledged that this was an area that the Church had looked at “many times before”. It was a “vast area”, and there was a “wealth of information and experience to draw on”. He set out plans to consult. This included recruitment of about 35 people as a Reference Group to work with the Task Group. It would also engage with the members of the Synod, and undertake an “extensive and open consultation process” in March, lasting about six weeks.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) was concerned about not having a proper budget for social-media projects. It should be called “the budget for the evangelisation of the unchurched young”.

Mr Spence said that there would be a budget by July, and a funding stream to enable work to start this year. It was called “digital evangelism”.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) asked whether the lay-leadership group had found the right vocabulary to distinguish between ecclesial and non-ecclesial lay ministry.

Penny Allen (Lichfield) asked about the composition of the reference group. Would it look into the vision of lay training, and would there be any joint training for clergy and lay people?

Alison Coulter (Winchester) said that coming up with clear definitions would be part of the work of the group. The lay-ministry working group would be working with the lay-leadership group, but its own remit did not include ecclesial ministry. Joint training was being considered.

Enid Barron (London) asked: “Can we do something about the general negative public perception of the Church?” She had heard the terms “irrelevant”, “terminal decline”, and “toxic brand. This must surely be a huge hindrance to growth.” What action was being taken to counter this? “In particular, are there plans to improve the Church’s interaction with the media, to get across a more positive and more attractive reality of what the Church is about?”

She hoped that the Church, at all levels, could be equipped to make “creative use of the internet and social media as a way to get across to the unchurched the many good things churches are doing in communities”.

Mr Spence said that work needed to be done on the image of the Church in society, through the use of social media, and other means. The debate on benefit sanctions was part of this. He hoped that it would be well reported.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) asked whether the Archbishops’ Council was giving enough leadership to the process. “Are we thinking the unthinkable, or trying to put new wine in old bottles?”

Mr Spenceemphasised that “I do think we are trying to think the unthinkable.” The Archbishops’ Council had declined to have any steering group underneath it, “as they felt they should take a personal, collegiate steer on this piece of work”. But “if any of you think there are things we are not thinking about, please feed them in, and they will go into mix.”

Martin Kingston (Gloucester) asked about rural areas. Was the objective of Renewal and Reform to get the money away from rural areas and put it into urban areas? And what account would be taken of the “very distinct problems in rural areas”? By some measures, rural poverty was increasing significantly.

Dr Croft acknowledged this point, and emphasised that the principle of subsidiarity ran through Renewal and Reform, with a focus on enabling dioceses to respond to their own challenges. Although some resources were finite, “in many areas we are talking about the liberation of resources already there for the purposes of mission, according to locally perceived need.”

Canon Pete Spiers (Liverpool) asked whether the peer-review system would look at the way dioceses spent Vote-1 money under the proposed arrangements

Mr Spence said that it was not intended that it would do this, as it was about “mutual learning rather than policing and supervising”. It was a matter for diocesan bishops, bishop’s councils, and the Ministry Division.

Dr Croftemphasised that the spending under Vote 1 would be scrutinised.

Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) said that people needed to be comfortable and formed in their own tradition to flourish in the diverse Church of England. What was the place of residential training, which enabled this formation?

Dr Croft agreed that this was important and would be affirmed. “For that reason, we are maintaining the present level of funding across the whole of Vote 1.”

Shayne Ardron (Leicester) said that “the Church is part of God’s Kingdom, but not the whole of it.” What was Renewal and Reform doing to equip and encourage those called to work in business, politics, and finance? “There is a desperate need for the world to have people working in those areas with God’s Kingdom at heart.”

Bishop Watsonsaid that this was a “good point, well made”. It was important that vocations work was done in the context of God’s calling of all people.

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw (Sheffield) recalled that when, aged 20, she had gone to see a DDO, she had been sent away to get life experience. This was a good thing. “If we want 50 per cent new ordinands, can we be assured the rigours of selection will still be there?”

Bishop Watson said:“The real question we have in discernment is unnecessary delays. We are picking this up: people not knowing where they are in the system, and getting put off and discouraged, and drifting off. This is happening to very able people.” He denied that there would be any decrease in the quantity or quality of discernment, “but we need to be a lot more proactive in seeking out vocations”.

Dr Angus Goudie (Durham) asked whether funding for the Ministry Experience Scheme could be scaled up within dioceses.

It could, Bishop Watson said.

The Revd Peter Breckwoldt (Salisbury) asked what thought had been given to the place of church-planting and issues around it? Could those leaders be encouraged to consider ordination?

Bishop Watson said: “We are looking for entrepreneurial clergy, and so often they [church planters] do have that about them.”

Mr Spencesaid that money had already been provided to encourage church-planting. “A critical measure is the growth and number of flourishing Christian communities across this land.” Decline was not inevitable. “Renewal and Reform is about changing a major trend in demographic patterns, and ensuring that we do now engage in ever-increasing, dramatic, and almost revolutionary ways with the different age-groups and parts of the population.” It was about “sticking with and nurturing those who are with us, and reaching out to those not yet aware”.

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