RESOURCE churches in the Church of England tend to be led by men in a city; this month, the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham announced that the Revd Alison Jones would be leading one that could meet in a barn.
This week, Mrs Jones spoke of her determination to find ways to “land, listen, and learn” from churches in the deanery of Newark & Southwell, where the church will be established.
She has not heard of any other “resource church” in a rural setting. “I do feel it is very new, in that there is not a model to look to,” she said. “In some ways, it really excites me; but it’s also slightly daunting. The phrase that we keep coming to is a sense of the need to land, listen, and learn. . . . A big part of it is going to be building relationships and working alongside those who are leading rural churches and supporting them. My absolute heart is that you will see flourishing in the existing rural churches.”
Her time as the Assistant Curate of St Mary’s, Burghfield, had given her an insight into the opportunities and challenges of rural ministry, she said, including the missional potential of the seasons and “rhythms of village life”.
The church, supported by funding from the Church Commissioners, is part of the diocese’s strategy — “Growing Disciples: Wider, Younger and Deeper” — which includes plans to develop 25 resource churches. It is envisaged that each of these churches will have attendance of at least 150 people by 2023, and plant at least one new worshipping community.
A diocesan press release said that Mrs Jones’s church would have “a distinctive focus on nurturing faith among families, children, and young people”, and would “create a distinctive culture and approach in connecting with people who do not presently engage in the life of the Church”.
Mrs Jones did not grow up going to church, but came to faith after being “intrigued” by an Alpha poster on a bus in London. She is determined, she says, to removing “any stumbling block to someone considering the person of Jesus”. Before ordination, she attended St James, Gerrards Cross, where she was involved in outreach to those new to faith, including mothers with young children.
The church will not meet in a traditional church building, and she hopes that the venue will be “something that is part of the landscape”. She is aware that talk of the rural church often leads people to picture a building, or a “Vicar of Dibley-type image”, and hopes that “getting out of church buildings will enable us to think afresh about what it is to be Church”, but that this will then prompt a return to those buildings by those who might not have engaged in the Church before.
She is “acutely conscious” that the potential of resource churches to attract people from other local churches can be a cause of anxiety. “People like to join in something new, but how do we enable that to be fed back into local churches? That has to be about closely working alongside people, and enabling them to join in with it. We have to go very open to what God is doing, and be very sensitive.”
She was embarking on “an extraordinary adventure”, she said.