A DOUBLING of investment in a post-war housing estate, extra staff, and pastoral reorganisation are among the proposals in a multi-million-pound plan for church growth in urban parts of the diocese of Portsmouth, announced last week.
A bid for £4.9 million of Strategic Development Funding (SDF) has already been made to the Church Commissioners, to help fund the £9.1-million plan to reach “those who we have traditionally been poor at engaging with — younger people, those in urban areas, and people on brand new housing developments”.
Parishes in the urban areas of Havant, Gosport, and the Isle of Wight have been identified “as places where renewed investment could have the maximum impact, for instance, where a one-per-cent increase in the percentage of people in those areas who go to church equates to 200-300 new worshippers”.
Reorganisation is among the proposals, which seek to “free up people, finances, administrative burdens, and buildings from solely maintaining the existing church in order to be able to support new projects, opportunities, and communities”, according to presentations made at public consultations last week.
Several clergy in the targeted areas have expressed reservations and concerns in private, but none was willing to speak out this week.
“There are some areas of the diocese where, despite the best efforts of clergy and congregations, relatively few people go to church,” the text of the presentations states. It emphasises the possibility of church growth from working with more children and families and responding to local needs including debt, food poverty, and loneliness. “It is significantly more likely that we will attract those who have never gone to church before by also providing new, accessible, child-friendly worship services.”
Citing the example of Harbour Church in Portsmouth city, the presentations argue: “Planting new churches with a fresh approach can rapidly reach many people who wouldn’t otherwise go to church.”
On Wednesday, the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, said: “There has been faithful ministry to congregations and in parishes. Nevertheless, we have not reached very many people with the good news of the gospel. We have discovered through Fresh Expressions and church-planting in the diocese that we are able to reach more people and people of different age groups and backgrounds.
“We are looking to continue to nurture and support members of existing congregations and to develop new ways to reach out to others.”
Planted from Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London, and supported by some of the £929,000 of SDF awarded by the Church Commissioners in 2016 (News, 2 September 2016), Harbour Church attracts about 500 worshippers each week with an average age of 26.
A Church Army study last year found that about a third of the congregation were students (News, 19 January). Among the survey respondents, 71 per cent were “churched”. Twenty worshippers said that they had come to faith through Harbour Church; a further 15 said that they rediscovered a lost faith there.
A survey at Harbour Church, conducted by Church Army in 2017 (Not as difficult as you think: Mission with young adults, Church Army, 2017)
The SDF funding has also supported three pioneer ministers in the diocese, including a couple in Leigh Park, thought to be the biggest council estate in Europe. This year saw the opening of Leesland Neighbourhood Church in Gosport, the first new church to be opened by the Revd Tim Watson, a pioneer minister appointed a year ago with a brief to create new church communities in Gosport (News, 28 September).
The impact of pioneer ministry to date had been “significant and encouraging”, Bishop Foster said. “We are looking to build on what we have learned, and to bring that to some other parts of the diocese where it’s contextually appropriate.”
Reaction to the proposals had been “in part supportive, in part raising understandable anxiety about what the implications of change might be”, he said. “I am, we are, concerned to help all those who might be affected to find the right ministry and place for them to flourish for the good of the gospel and for their good.”
In Havant, the three existing parishes of Leigh Park, Warren Park, and West Leigh — currently served by two full-time clergy and a pioneer minister — would be merged into one covering all of the Leigh Park estates. Staffing would rise to five, a mix of clergy, pioneering, and operations staff. Expenditure would double to £1.4 million over the next five years.
In Newport on the Isle of Wight, four parishes served by 2.8 full-time-equivalent clergy would be merged and staffing doubled. The rural part of the parish of Carisbrooke would be merged with Arreton and Gatcombe. In Gosport, two united benefices would be created, staff increased from four to six; a doubling of expenditure is envisaged. It is envisaged that at least two new congregations will be planted in the town.
On Monday, the Vicar of St John the Evangelist, Forton, in Gosport, the Revd Carrie Thompson, said that she was excited about the plans: “I hope that the new investment and a more collaborative structure will free us from some of the burdens of maintenance of our buildings and administration, and allow us to work more creatively across the whole town.”
She went on: “While traditional models of church are deeply important and loved by those who attend, others can find them alienating. In Forton, there is a great deal of good will and affection towards the Church in the wider community — we have high numbers of occasional offices, and great relationships with schools — but attendance at Sunday services doesn’t reflect that.
“We already have one emerging Fresh Expression, and we hope that the extra resources will allow us to work with local people to create more new ways of being church which resonate with them. . .
“At present, we are not convinced that the particular structures being proposed are quite right for Gosport; but we know that this is just the beginning of the consultation process.”
In addition to SDF money, the diocese plans to fund the five-year strategy with £3.75 million from the “reallocation of existing resources” and £450,000 from diocesan reserves. Both informal and formal consultations on pastoral reorganisation will take place, due to conclude by next March.