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Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment Board to award £64m for ‘parish renewal’

13 June 2024

Grants include record £29 million to diocese of Southwark

DIOCESE OF BLACKBURN

Young people from parishes on an annual Diocesan holiday for 11-17 year-olds, including hearing from the Bishop of Blackburn.

Young people from parishes on an annual Diocesan holiday for 11-17 year-olds, including hearing from the Bishop of Blackburn.

PLANS for parish renewal and revitalisation will receive a share of the latest tranche of funding from the Archbishops’ Council’s Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment (SMMI) Board, totalling £64 million. It includes £29 million for the diocese of Southwark — the largest sum ever approved for a single diocese.

The diocese of Blackburn has been awarded £25.5 million for a nine-year programme that includes “parish renewal”. The diocesan strategy records that “many of the significant challenges being faced by parishes in the diocese are concentrated in 15-20 per cent of parishes that are struggling missionally or financially. These parishes are often facing long-term and deep-seated challenges. Renewal in such parishes will involve matters of spiritual health as well as a wide range of complex inter-related issues such as governance, finance and buildings.”

Parishes considered for inclusion in the scheme, which offers non-financial support, are those “where there is hard-working and faithful leadership in post but who are dealing with highly complex issues. These parishes have significant potential for growth.”

A diocesan press release said that “people in our parishes were carefully consulted over an extended period” before the submission of the SMMI bid, which includes plans for “the renewal of church life in urban areas”. In 2021, the diocese was awarded £3.5 million in SDF funding for two resource churches: St Luke’s, Blackburn, and St John’s, Blackpool, both in the HTB network (News, 21 May 2021). They were both planted from Preston Minster, itself the subject of a £1.5-million grant in 2019 (News, 25 January 2019).

The latest tranche of funding will also support the expansion of M:Power, a nine-month training programme focused on aspiring lay leaders in urban contexts (News, 8 March 2019), which will now train 18 parish-based lay pioneers; and the recruitment of 30 new parish-based posts to form the Ignite Team across Lancashire, focused on youth ministry. A Canon for Presence and Engagement, based at Blackburn Cathedral, and an Inter-Cultural Mission Enabler in Burnley will be appointed. The diocese aims to create 250 new congregations by 2030. Plans to invest in clergy include continued provision of ten curacies each year, half funded by the diocese.

Parish renewal is also a focus of Southwark’s successful bid: a “whole-diocese transformation programme”, which would “resource and enable churches of varying sizes and kinds to flourish and grow, and then share the learning to benefit every parish in the diocese”. Of the £29 million, £7.44 million will be released at a later date, when locations for “hub and resourcing churches” are identified, with plans for planting and grafting.

A diocesan press release described a new “parish development and renewal programme, which invites teams from parishes to engage in a two-year learning initiative addressing the real challenges of parish life and exploring missional change in their local context.” Other elements of the scheme include an apprenticeship-style scheme to address the need for more children and young people’s workers, offering young people a qualification and a path to paid employment. To further develop diversity among lay and ordained leaders, a research project will explore the barriers to ministry for people of all backgrounds.

The money will also be used to support Fresh Expressions, bilingual congregations (News, 7 September 2018), and estates ministry. The diocese has a strategic goal to increase average weekly attendance by five per cent by 2025, compared with 2013. Adult average weekly attendance fell by 20 per cent between 2013 and 2022, from 30,800 in 2013 to 24,400 in 2022, compared to an average national decline of 32 per cent. Other goals were met: there are now more than 100 Fresh Expressions in the diocese.

Canon Will Cookson, director of mission and dean of pioneering ministry and Fresh Expressions, said: “Mission will always be driven by the needs and character of the local community. That’s why we’ve created a programme that parishes of all kinds – from urban to rural, Anglo-Catholic to Evangelical, and everything in between – can get involved with and benefit from.”

The diocese of London has been awarded £9.4 million to support its Hackney and Islington Programme over six years. A diocesan press release said that a third of the population of the two deaneries were aged under 19 and that t hey had the highest number of socially-rented households in the UK. About half of the parishes were in “the broad Catholic tradition” and many faced “significant mission and financial challenges”.

The programme had emerged from discussions with clergy and diocesan leaders, the Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Peter Farley-Moore said. “It became apparent that by working collaboratively, making the most of our strengths, and with a boost of investment to get us going, we could reach many more young people, impact our estates in new ways, and grow mission in our churches from a distinctively Catholic tradition.” The programme would entail “drawing on the experience and expertise of church leaders with a good track-record in these areas”.

The money will be used to fund more than 20 new positions, including four “clergy missioners”. There are plans to establish ten new worshipping communities through “strategic church plants and partnerships”, five more “youth minsters” to serve 21 parishes (each supported by a youth worker, a youth apprentice, operational support, and seed funding) and five estates missioners. Catholic renewal will be supported through the formation of two “Catholic clusters” to serve eight parishes, supported by a dedicated mission enabler, two missioners, two support officers, and a music director, with seed funding and plans to establish nine new worshipping communities.

A goal of Capital Vision 2020, an earlier strategy, was to double the number of young people involved in local Christian communities in the diocese (News, 14 June 2013). This was redefined in 2017, after it was concluded that the baseline of 2000 was not “reliable”. An annual report noted that “patchy data and data collection challenges also made trying to assess the changes in numbers of young people across the diocese difficult” but that Capital Youth had made “a significant impact to growing numbers of youth in church communities”.

Last month, the SMMI Board announced that plans were under way to improve measurement of the outcomes of its funded projects and share the learning acquired (News, 24 May 2024).

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