A PARISH twinning-scheme in the diocese of Lichfield has been hailed a success.
The initiative For Richer, For Poorer (FRFP) meant that wealthier congregations formed partnerships with more deprived ones. It initially ran from 2013 to 2017, and has now been assessed by a diocesan report as “innovative” and “courageous”.
In 2013, four richer churches were connected with four poorer ones, and members of the congregations met regularly to discuss their respective assets and challenges. Besides sometimes sharing financial assistance, the twinned congregations also shared knowledge, time, and volunteers, and collaborated on new ventures.
The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said: “Church partnerships bring home the primary truth of being the Christian Church: we belong to one another in the body of Christ.”
Over time, the report says, which church was “rich” and which was “poor” became increasingly unimportant as they began to learn from each other and recognise different forms of poverty, as in relationships or identity, in all contexts.
Besides crossing socio-economic divides, the twinning scheme crossed internal church boundaries: many of those involved were partnered with a parish from a different tradition.
In one case-study, a large and thriving open Evangelical church — St Bartholomew’s — on the edge of Wolverhampton was twinned with a much smaller, Anglo-Catholic parish, St Martin of Tours. Despite being only two-and-a-half miles away, St Martin’s was situated in one of the poorest parishes in the diocese.
Together, the two congregations ran a joint Lent course, developed mentoring schemes between parishioners, helped write and send grant applications, and even established a parish-nurse scheme: the nurse worships at St Bartholomew’s, but works, in an office redecorated by her own congregation, at St Martin’s.
Several inner-city traditional Catholic parishes receiving the ministry of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, were also successfully twinned with churches that had female incumbents.
“FRFP was an innovative and courageous initiative,” the report concludes. “It honoured the commitment which churches have to their local context, whilst enabling them to engage at depth with one other church ministering in a different context.”
Over time, the project grew to include more than 30 churches across the diocese. The report also notes how clergy found it valuable to have a colleague to share their experiences, and a “critical friend” in the twinned parish. The scheme also inspired evangelistic and discipleship activity, and prompted many of the wealthier churches to reconsider their approach to questions of poverty and social justice.
While every diocese attempts to redistribute money from wealthier areas to more deprived ones, some commentators, including the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, have argued that a broader redistribution needs to happen between dioceses with great historic assets and those without (Comment, 1 June).
Other examples of parish twinning have been undertaken without diocesan backing: in Southwark, large, conservative Evangelical churches have pooled some of their resources and given money to smaller and less well-off parishes that share their churchmanship, rather than fund their own diocese, which some in the larger parish object to (News, 17 July 2015).