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Diocese of Durham to give a multi-million boost to declining churches

29 March 2018

Five areas are to receive funding for church plants, of which £2.9 million is being sought from the Church Commissioners


Canon David Tomlinson

Canon David Tomlinson

A MULTI-million-pound bid to turn around churches that are in numerical decline is being prepared by the diocese of Durham.

The money will be used to turn churches in strategic locations with small congregations into “resourcing churches”. A strategic development funding bid for an estimated £2.9 million will be submitted to the Church Commissioners this month; an answer is expected in June. In total, the plan has been costed at about £4.5 million.

Canon David Tomlinson, who was appointed Senior Resourcing Church Leader this month, said last week that the funding would enable a “radical” approach to growth, “stepping outside of the norm in the Anglican Church of having a survival mentality”.

The first phase of the strategy entails church-plants in five areas: Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Durham, Gateshead, and Washington. In Stockton, missional communities of about 40 people will be developed. In the second phase, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Easington, and Jarrow will be added to the resource church network.

A church-plant from Holy Trinity, Brompton, at St George’s, Gateshead has already received £150,000 from the Church Commissioners (News, 26 May). In the past two years, its congregation has grown from 20 to 170, and it now plans to create a plant in the city centre.

In Bishop Auckland, the Revd Matthew Keddilty was last year appointed Vicar of St Andrew’s and St Anne’s. The latter, whose congregation had declined to six people, has been designated a resourcing church. Money from the Commissioners will be used to employ staff, including a youth worker, and to repair the building. In Darlington, there are plans to establish a new Sunday-evening youth congregation in the resourcing church, which is yet to be named.

All the resource churches are in urban areas — a “cost-effective” strategy, given that the population in rural areas was sparse, Canon Tomlinson said — with appointed leaders “on the Evangelical end”.

This was “not deliberate”, he said, but a reflection of the fact that “it has been churches with an Evangelical bent that have stood up and said ‘Yes, we want to be part of this, let’s work with you.’ I would love to see a vibrant liberal Catholic resourcing church. . . The challenge is finding people who are prepared to be missional leaders in that context.”

Members of the six congregations were “really hopeful,” he said. “In quite a number, people have watched the slow decline and have felt a little bit desolate about the end of something. Now, they have hope.”

One person in a church that was now growing had admitted that, had they known what the Vicar had wanted to do at the beginning, they would have opposed it, but now they thought it was “wonderful”, Canon Tomlinson said. “That kind of kindling of hope, where people realise this is not the end but a different kind of beginning, is really good.”

Canon Tomlinson, who is Vicar of Shildon and Area Dean of Auckland, has been seconded to the post, and will report directly to the Bishop of Durham. Serving in one of the most deprived parishes in the country, he has secured funding for a number of community projects (Features, 23 December), and secured awards in the process (News, 11 November, 2016).

The latest Statistics for Mission suggest that people who regularly attend church make up 1.3 per cent of the population in Durham, compared with a national average of two per cent.

Distribution of resources. Since 2014, the Commissioners have distributed £59 million in strategic development funding: bids for resource churches have featured prominently.

In return for substantial investment — £1.5 million was allocated to St Nicholas’s, Bristol (News, 26 January), for example — resource churches are expected to grow numerically, share resources and best practice with other churches in the diocese, and to plant.

In some dioceses, an existing, growing church is designated a resource church; in others, a church that is empty, or in numerical decline, receives a church plant. Ambitious targets for numerical growth have been set, including pledges to reach high percentages of unchurched or young worshippers.

To date, resource churches tend to be Evangelical; many of them are the result of partnerships between a diocese and Holy Trinity, Brompton.

Of the £8.69 million strategic development grant that the diocese of London received last year (News, 15 December), £3.9 million is to be used to train 15 “planting curates”, who, at the invitation of diocesan bishops, will be deployed to 15 “strategic cities, in terms of size and student population”, between 2020 and 2022.

Ten of the curates will be trained at Holy Trinity, Brompton, and a further five will be available to Holy Trinity, or other London-based resource churches. Each of the 15 will be expected to grow their congregation to 1000, and plant every three years. In addition, 15 resource churches will be designated or planted in London over the next three to five years; the targets will be to create 3000 “new disciples”, and for “30 struggling or weaker churches [to] benefit from church plants”.

A spokesperson for the diocese of London said this week that Holy Trinity, Brompton, had been chosen as the partner because it was experienced in training curates for this position, and because “there is demand from bishops from different dioceses for curates from HTB.”

The diocese wanted to enable any network or church in the diocese to train resource-church leaders for national deployment: “If other London churches are approached by bishops to provide curates nationally, we want to support these churches.”

To date, all resource-church leaders trained at Holy Trinity, Brompton, are men.

The Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, who leads on church planting, said on Monday that he was helping to train both women and men identified as potential resource-church leaders. He also pointed to “arise”, a movement that seeks to encourage and support young women into church leadership within the Holy Trinity, Brompton, network.

In the diocese of Leeds, which has received SDG funding to plant five resource churches by 2019, St George’s, Leeds, designated a resource church, is led by the Revd Lizzy Woolf.

Although most resource churches are in city centres or large towns, there are moves to try the formula in rural areas. In the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, the Revd Alison Jones leads the Potting Shed, a rural resource church (News, 3 February).

Resource churches were “a missing piece in the ecology” of the Church, Bishop Thorpe said. “Planting churches grow, and the net result is more people coming into the Christian faith, either de-churched or unchurched.”

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