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Church Commissioners allocate £35m more in strategic grants to counter decline

23 January 2019


The Bishop of Bradford (centre) with the team planting a church in City Park. From left: the Revd Linda Maslen, who will lead the new Bradford city-centre resource church; the Associate Leader the Revd Nathanael Poole, currently Assistant Curate of St John the Evangelist, Great Horton, with daughter Ivy; Nathanael’s wife Lauren; and the Archdeacon of Bradford, the Ven. Dr Andy Jolley

The Bishop of Bradford (centre) with the team planting a church in City Park. From left: the Revd Linda Maslen, who will lead the new 

THE Church Commissioners have announced their biggest grants to date in their drive to reverse numerical decline through investment in “major change projects”.

Among the projects that have secured a share of the £35-million strategic development funding are a new £4.6-million church to be built in a former nightspot in Bradford, which will include a gym and café; a centre for formation in Catholic mission at Lincoln Cathedral; and an Anglo-Catholic church-plant in Jaywick, Essex, the most deprived neighbourhood in England.

The creation of “resource churches” remains a prominent theme, present in eight of the ten funding bids from dioceses. Many of these will be in the Evangelical tradition: the five in the diocese of Durham, awarded £3.9 million, have all grown under such leadership. But bids entailing Catholic ministries have also been successful.

On Tuesday, the Dean of Lincoln, the Very Revd Christine Wilson, said that the centre for Catholic mission was “a very exciting opportunity to bring confidence in being missioners from a different tradition”. From June 2020, three curates will train at the cathedral as “Catholic missioners”, learning from those with a “proven track record” in growing churches, and going out into parishes to gain experience.

Aspects of Catholic mission which weren’t “exclusive” to the tradition but important to it included “spiritual formation that is lifelong, excellence in worship and liturgy that has order and beauty about it, a confidence in incarnational and sacramental ecclesiology, an engagement with social justice, and an emphasis on hospitality and inclusiveness”. It was important to recognise in a large and diverse diocese that “the traditional Evangelical model isn’t going to fit every place and all people,” she said.

There are also signs of collaboration. The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, has spent two years leading the development of a bid to “reinvigorate” both Preston Minster and St George the Martyr, Preston, creating a “resourcing parish” dedicated to “serving people from across church traditions”. The project has been developed in partnership with Holy Trinity, Brompton — which is currently training a number of assistant curates to plant in cities — but an Anglo-Catholic priest will serve full-time at St George’s.

Although guidance from the Commissioners states that SDF is “not primarily a capital grant scheme”, money is being invested in large building projects. The Bishop of Bradford, Dr Toby Howarth, said that the new church would have “a strong Bradford identity: young, entrepreneurial, ethnically and culturally diverse, and confident about holding out a clear religious offer and call in the public space”. It will be led by the Revd Linda Maslen, a trustee of New Wine who was born in Bradford and as an assistant curate in Halifax runs a new type of outreach church in Halifax, The Saturday Gathering, which seeks to welcome those who are homeless, and “on the margins of society”.

To date, most resources churches have been led by men, including all but one of the 19 announced in London recently (News, 23 November).

In previous rounds, millions of pounds has been issued to renovate churches that had fallen out of use, or to transform spaces such as a former railway workshop (News, 21 December) and department store (News, 2 September 2016).

Another theme is a desire to avoid repeating a historical failure to respond to new housing developments. The £3.85 million awarded to the diocese of Chelmsford is in addition to the £2 million granted in 2017, to establish worshipping communities in such areas, not all of which will involve a building (News, 20 January 2017).

There are also signs that the Commissioners are starting to respond to the missional potential of music: at Rotherham Minster, money will be invested in work with school and community choirs in the town. Many of the grants will go to churches serving deprived parishes, from Stockton, in Durham diocese, to Jaywick, in Chelmsford diocese.

The bids reflect a request from the Archbishops’ Council for proposals that address “the pressing need for the Church to engage with children, young people, and young adults”. At St Nicholas’s, Durham, two youth-evangelist posts — one specialising in mental health and the other in justice — are to be funded, while a social-media “pastor” will be based at Stockton Parish Church.

The amounts awarded to dioceses since SDF funding was launched in 2014 vary significantly. Six have received nothing to date, while the others range from £135,000 for the diocese of Sodor & Man to more than £11 million for London. The variation also applies to dioceses serving populations of a similar size: the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham (population 1.1 million) has received almost £7 million, while the diocese of Rochester (population 1.3 million) has received £665,000. The dioceses of Leeds, Leicester, and Birmingham have all received more than £7 million.

The £5 million awarded to the diocese of Birmingham will go towards a radical reorganisation initiative that will address urgent financial difficulties: a reminder that in many dioceses mission is being carried out against a challenging context. The People and Places framework, announced last year, will see a reduction in stipendiary clergy — the only solution to long-term financial issues according to the diocese, which says that a mode of a stipendiary minister for every parish is “no longer sustainable, fair, or a good fit for our diverse city region”.

The money will help develop “small, collaborative, local teams of lay and ordained leaders”, new church-plants, fresh expressions, and context-specific ministries.

Strategic development grants are one of two streams of funding introduced by the Commissioners in 2014 (the other is Lowest Income Communities Funding), following the stipulation that all funding distributed to dioceses should be investment for mission and growth (Features, 21 October 2016). It was initially envisaged that dioceses would be able to bid for between £500,000 and £1 million, but sums have increased over time; some of the projects in this round are scheduled to last six years. A total of £74.3 million can be distributed in the three years between 2017 and 2019.

Some of the earliest projects included targets set to be met in 2018 or this year.

Summary of projects

THE diocese of Birmingham has received £5 million towards a radical initiative that will allocate clergy and resources according to population, not historical parish boundaries, over the next five to ten years. The People and Places framework, announced last year, allocates clergy and resources according to population rather than historical parish boundaries, and envisages that 125 stipendiary ministers will be replaced by 36 locally funded ministers, acting in a similar way to parish priests, 72 paid “oversight ministers”, working across two or three parish churches, and 28 “paid context ministers”, offering specialist support in particular contexts.

The diocese’s guide states that “the traditional Anglican ministry model is that every parish has a church led by a paid minister. . . This model is no longer sustainable, fair, or a good fit for our diverse city region.” Having fewer stipendiary clergy is the only solution to long-term financial issues, it says: more than 100 of its 184 places of worship are “struggling”. It reassures the diocese that, “in many ways P&P means more ministry and leadership, not less.”

In the diocese of Blackburn, £1.5 million is being invested in Preston, to “reinvigorate” both Preston Minster and St George the Martyr, creating a “resourcing parish” dedicated to “serving people from across church traditions”. The focus will be on reaching those with no current connection to the church, those aged under 25, and the local student population.

A new Vicar of Preston will be announced soon, and a “core team” will include clergy who will spend two years in the parish learning about church-planting before planting a church in one of the new housing developments in the north of the city, on one of the council estates, or further afield.

The project has been developed in partnership with Holy Trinity, Brompton, in a team led by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North. An Anglo-Catholic priest will serve full-time at St George’s, and the Vision for the parish includes a commitment to “foster[ing] unity amongst Christians of different traditions within the generous boundary of Christian orthodoxy”.

PRESTON MINSTERDancers from Preston-based Egan Academy of Irish Dance, performing in Preston Minster last October    

The diocese of Chelmsford has received £3.85 million to be spent over five years, establishing 11 new congregations and a “School for Church Planters”. Two plants are planned for Southend: St John the Baptist will become a Resource Church, receiving a church-planting curate and a team from an Evangelical church near by, St Michael’s, Westcliff-on-Sea. A second plant will be created at St Mark’s, by a team from an Anglo-Catholic church, St Clement’s, Leigh-on-Sea.

“I grew up in the Southend area so know these  communities well,” the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said on Wednesday. “There are churches that are full of faith, but they need additional resource to reach out to the communities they serve where there is great opportunity, but also great need.”

Several of the 11 focus on estates. A new congregation will be founded on the Becontree Estate in Barking and Dagenham, once the largest council estate in Europe. It will be planted into St John’s by St Alban and St Martin, two churches with traditional Catholic roots in the same parish, and a curate at St James’s, Clacton, another Catholic church, will extend the work of the parish to St Christopher’s, Jaywick. A new lay community, shaped in the Benedictine tradition, is planned for Walthamstow and Chingford.

The population of east London and Essex is set to grow by 300,000 over the next ten years, and the diocese plans to plant 101 new Christian communities.

The diocese of Durham has secured £3.9 million to invest in five churches in the centres of Bishop Auckland, Durham City, Gateshead, Stockton Central, and Washington. A press release sets out how four of the churches have recently grown from small numbers. A church-plant from Holy Trinity, Brompton, at St George’s, Gateshead, has already received £150,000 from the Church Commissioners (News, 29 March 2018). In the past two years, its congregation has grown from 20 to 200, and it now plans to plant in the city centre.

A new Community of St Cuthbert, focused on discipleship and “inspired by spiritual practices of the monastic tradition”, will be established at St Nicholas’s, Durham, led by the Revd Arun Arora, formerly director of communications at Church House. The church will also have two youth- evangelist posts — one specialising in mental health and the other in justice. A social-media “pastor” — who could be lay or ordained — will be based at Stockton Parish Church.

The plans were first outlined last year by Canon David Tomlinson, Senior Resourcing Church Leader, when £2.9 million was sought.

KEITH BLUNDYCanon Dave Tomlinson (third from right) with the team in Durham

The diocese of Leeds has been given £3.9 million for a six-year project. A total of £4.6 million — including diocesan money — will be spent on establishing a new resource church in City Park in Bradford, with a gym and café, to minister to students and young adults. Funding will also go to establishing weekday congregations at Holy Trinity, Boar Lane, Leeds, serving non-Christian professionals in the city centre. The diocese said that the “much-loved landmark” had “faded as a spiritual presence in the city, with almost all its religious activity ceasing last summer”. It would be “reborn” in 2020.

In the diocese of Lincoln, £2.67 million has been granted to develop three resource churches in existing churches: St Swithin’s, Lincoln, a plant from Holy Trinity, Brompton; St George’s, Stamford, and Lincoln Cathedral, where a centre for formation in Catholic mission will be established. Last year, the Rector of St George’s, Canon Martyn Taylor, whose church welcomes more than 500 people each Sunday described a “dynamic and organic relationship between market towns and villages” (Features, 29 March 2018).

In the diocese of Portsmouth, £350,000 out of an allocation of £2.18 million will help St Margaret’s, Southsea, to move from a community centre into the church building, which was closed in 2015 in need of repairs. A new congregation, including 15 members of St Jude’s, Southsea, and led by a lay pioneer minister, Fran Carabott, started meeting in 2017 and has grown to 70 people, who have already invested about £90,000 in the building. Once reopened, it will also serve as a “a base for entrepreneurs and social enterprises”, hosting a community café, and a loan bikes scheme.

The grant will also enable St Luke’s, Southsea, to employ two pioneer ministers to support its work with teenagers and young adults. Harbour Church, a plant from Holy Trinity, Brompton, will receive further Commissioners funding to consolidate work in two new city congregations, within St George’s, Portsea, and St Alban’s, Copnor (News, 1 June 2018). The Commissioners are still considering a bid to help fund a £9-million plan for reorganisation in urban areas (News, 26 October).

A plan to create resource churches at Rotherham Minister, Wath, and St John the Evangelist, Goole, aimed at supporting the creation of 23 new congregations and 36 new activities, including café churches, community meals, singing groups, and support groups in the diocese, will receive funding in the diocese of Sheffield. In total, the diocese wants to create 12 resource churches by 2025. In this round, £3.52 million has been granted, which will also go towards investing in music specialists at Rotherham Minster to work with school and community choirs in the town.

In the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, £4.95 million has been granted. It will fund a six-year “Inspiring Ipswich” project, in which six new churches are to be planted, and also small worshipping communities meeting mainly in houses in rural areas. A new Archdeacon for Ipswich, the Revd Rhiannon King, currently Director of Mission in Birmingham, will start work in April.

The diocese of York has received £3.07 million to develop new worshipping communities, with a focus on those aged 20-50. It will fund 14 full-time ministers, already selected, and up to 25 lay people to work with this age group. St Michael-le-Belfrey, next to the Minster in York, will be developed as a resource church for “twenties-to-forties work”, and will plant a new worshipping community every two years, starting in 2022.

Martin Sheppard/Diocese of YorkThe Revd Matt Woodcock, Diocesan Mission Enabler in the diocese of York and one of the new twenties-to-forties ministers

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