A COMMON refrain that Canon Tim Horobin has encountered in urban areas is the lament that no “leaders” are to be found. It is a diagnosis that he has questioned ever since his ordination, 25 years ago.
“Maybe we are not calling them out and training them right,” he said on Tuesday. “Maybe we just needed a different model to do it.”
With the help of a share of a £1.54-million grant from the Church Commissioners (News, 15 December 2017), and the support of the bishops of the diocese of Blackburn, one such model is now under way. Fifteen people have been meeting weekly at M-Power, a “school of urban leadership”, at St James’s, Lower Darwen, where Canon Horobin serves as Vicar.
The Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff, commissioned the team — which includes two urban evangelists, Sharon Collins and Rob McGibbon — last week.
The aim of the school was to train new leaders “in a way that equips and empowers and transforms them, without taking them out of their context”,” Canon Horobin said. Jesus, he said, “transformed the disciples without taking them out of their context. . . Lots of training offered has scared urban people off, and it’s time to change the language and, practically, how we do it. We are seeing some leaders that probably wouldn’t be recognised in some places, maybe who society has put down.”
Jill DuffParticipants on the MPower training course, including Jason Clemson (second left)
The first cohort of 15 is due to finish in May. Clergy in the diocese had been encouraged to recommend people, and “all sorts of kinds” had joined, from the age of 23 up to the mid-fifties, and across traditions, Canon Horobin reported.
The course had been tailored and reviewed regularly, and confidence had been built, he said: “confidence in themselves, but also confidence in scripture: they did not feel they knew it or understood it, but, as we have unpacked that, you can see a great desire and hunger, and how scripture sets them free to set communities free.”
On Tuesday, Sharon Collins, who spends a quarter of her time as a tutor on M-Power, described how she had come to faith later in life. After being prayed for during an Alpha course, “I became so hungry; I had no academic or Christian background, but I joined a group that met midweek and started to go deeper with scripture. I used to ask for homework.”
After a year-long apprenticeship at St Paul’s, Widnes, and training as a Reader, she joined M-Power and moved to the Roman Road estate in Lower Darwen, where she has established a church that meets in a community-run library, attended by 21 adults and five children, all new to faith.
The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, who has played an important part in developing M-Power, has suggested that establishing a Christian presence on every estate “might not necessarily mean a building” but “a joyful, Christ-centred community of people who exist to serve and proclaim” (News, 28 September 2018).
Reaction to outreach had been “quite favourable”, Ms Collins said. “I think that is because I came to faith quite late in life, and from quite a broken background. But, because Jesus has healed me and transformed my life, I find it really easy to sit and tell people that that is what is waiting for them: Jesus is waiting with open arms.”
Jill DuffSharon Collins at the MPower centre at St James, Lower Darwen
The fact that she lived on the estate was also important, she said. Among the community projects she is involved in is the planting of wildflowers and pathways in local woodland.
She sees “massive potential” in M-Power. “The idea is that it’s going to raise up some different and maybe unlikely leaders.”
Among the participants in the current cohort is Jason Clemson, who grew up in an Anglo-Catholic church. He describes the course as “absolutely amazing — it’s given me a deeper faith and understanding in the scriptures”.
Currently working as the sales director of his own business, he has helped to established a new church in a school: the first session was attended by 150 people. He is currently in the discernment process with the diocese’s director of vocations.
“The more people that get to grips with it, that speak the day-to-day lingo of the community — I think that would have a massive impact moving forward,” he said. “The school is in a really deprived area. . . To reach those people is really, really hard. A lot of them feel they have been left by the wayside, so to speak.”
On Wednesday, Dr Duff said that M-Power was calling out urban leaders in Lancashire who, as described in Isaiah 61, would “renew rebuild and restore the ancient ruins”. She was praying for the calling out of “Peters from Lancashire, because, without them, there are parts of the country that will never be reached with the gospel; we need these people in leadership because I believe they will be the rock on which Jesus will build the church in this country.”