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Church of Ireland Synod: Progress of pioneer ministry discussed

24 May 2024

Tim Wyatt reports from the Church of Ireland Synod in Armagh


Canon Maurice Elliott introduces the Pioneer Ministry Governing Council’s first report

Canon Maurice Elliott introduces the Pioneer Ministry Governing Council’s first report

PIONEER ministry had made great strides in its first year of existence, the Synod was told on Thursday evening.

Members were first shown a video presentation about pioneer ministry, which had been formally launched in the Church in February 2023. Much of the groundwork in setting up the ministry has got under way, including a way for churches to apply for funding for pioneering projects. Eight projects have now been selected and submitted for final approval to begin later this year, four of which will be funded by the Church.

Eight pioneer ministers will begin their deployments in September, as they minister alongside part-time study. Pioneer-ministry hubs are being set up, as well as a pioneer-ministry advocate appointed in each diocese. A cross-Church conference in November will cement these exciting early stages, the Synod heard.

Canon Maurice Elliott (Down & Dromore) said that the start of pioneer ministry was “potentially one of the most significant moments for the Church of Ireland since disestablishment”. Anglicanism had always been a blend of traditions, and the introduction of pioneering into its bloodstream in Ireland was the latest new thinking in a long line of innovation. Pioneer ministry aimed to reach those with little or no connection to church, and its expressions should be “missional, contextual, ecclesial, and formational”. Pioneering projects should not become semi-detached but work in lockstep with diocesan and parochial structures, Canon Elliott said.

Pioneer ministry should not be seen as a “silver bullet” for tackling church decline, he said, which had accelerated since the pandemic. It would of course contribute to the re-evangelisation of Ireland, but could not, by itself, be the solution. It should also not be something delegated to pioneer ministers and ignored by the mainstream of the Church, he said: the point was to change the culture of the whole Church. Dioceses should not expect to get chunks of pioneer funding for their existing projects, and pioneer ministry was not an automatic pathway towards ordination, either. “By the grace of God, this new facet of ministry might help to re-envision all of us in terms of mission,” he concluded.

Seconding the report, Joe Kelly (Dublin & Glendalough) said that he was excited by the prospect of pioneer ministries collaborating with other groups with similar visions, such as the Missional Youth Church Network. He also urged members whose dioceses had not yet set up a local diocesan pioneer ministry hub to contact the central team and get the ball rolling.

The Archdeacon of Armagh, the Ven. Peter Thompson (Armagh), urged that pioneer ministry be allowed to reinvigorate the whole Church and not become a parachurch organisation which gradually accrues its own structures. The similar Methodist movement in the 18th and 19th centuries had not been clasped tightly by the established Churches, resulting in the separate denominations we know today.

The Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh, the Rt Revd Ferran Glenfield, spoke of the “synergy” between pioneer ministry and Fresh Expressions. He recently visited a Fresh Expression hub in Sligo that was growing exponentially, growing leaders, and running Alpha courses across all secondary schools in the town. It had been embraced by the Anglican parishes and the RC diocese also, he reported.

The Revd Robert Jones (Dublin & Glendalough), the national director of pioneer ministry, thanked the dioceses for their openness in facilitating this new venture. It was vital that pioneer ministry was bound up in a mixed ecology with the rest of the inherited Church from the very beginning, he said.

The Synod received the Pioneer Ministry Council’s first report.


Representative body: Funding for pioneer ministry

MORE money for pioneer ministry, and a relatively healthy investment return, were matters raised in the report from the Representative Body (RB) on Saturday morning.

Lyndon MacCann (Dublin & Glendalough), the deputy chair of the RB, introduced the report by informing the Synod that the RB’s chair, Henry Algeo, was unable to lead the debate, owing to a “life-threatening medical event” that he suffered last October. He had, however, recovered enough to be present at the Synod.

The RB’s core task was to manage the Church’s investments and provide funding for its mission, including paying stipends and pensions.

After the turmoil of 2022, the markets had performed better in 2023, and this had led to a 9.8-per-cent return on the RB’s general fund, which now stood at €235 million. This had fallen short of the market benchmark of 14 per cent, largely because of an “underweight exposure to technology stocks”. The RB had decided to increase its withdrawal rate from 3.5 to 3.6 per cent: a modest rise that would nevertheless result in €200,000 more to spend on the Church’s activities each year. The total income for the RB was €7.8 million, and its spending amounted to €7.2 million, leaving a €600,000 surplus.

The dividends in both the Republic and Northern Ireland trust funds were also slightly raised over the past year, Mr MacCann reported. When it came to spending, about half went on staff costs, and the rest was spread between the Theological Institute, the bishops, and the General Synod and its various committees. In the coming years, new costs, such as pioneer ministry, curacy reforms, and safeguarding, are expected to arise, he said.

Pioneer ministry would be supported to the tune of €200,000 a year, to enable a national leadership team, Mr MacCann said. Once the scheme was fully operational, it was expected to cost €500,000 a year. Fifty thousand euros had been given towards the mental-health Mind Matters Project, and he also urged parishes affected by flooding to apply for assistance from the RB’s appeal fund, which had plenty of money left.

The RB continued to pursue its climate-change policy, and remained one of the largest funders of the EcoCongregation scheme in Ireland. Pension payments on both sides of the border had been increased significantly, Mr MacCann said, adding that work had begun to try and consolidate some of the thousands of tiny trusts managed by the RB into larger, more productive units.

Seconding the report, the Dean of Kilmore, the Very Revd Nigel Crossey (Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh), said that the RB’s priorities were shifting from maintenance towards mission, and from preservation towards outreach — pointing to the substantial support for Pioneer Ministry as an example of this. But this did not mean any neglect of traditional parishes, and the RB was exploring grants to support curacies. The Safeguarding Board had requested an independent review of how safeguarding was overseen in the Church, and this was due to be considered by the Executive Committee, he said. A second review of the Church’s property portfolio and their most efficient use had also been initiated.

The Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, the Rt Revd Andrew Forster, welcomed how mission sat at the heart of the RB’s work, and praised in particular the work around curacies, which were becoming harder and harder to fund.

The Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, the Ven. Andrew Orr (Cork, Cloyne & Ross) thanked the RB on behalf of EcoCongregation for its funding of the project, which had helped parishes to push ahead with climate-change work at a local level. EcoCongregation was particularly focused on helping parishes to cut their energy usage at present, he explained.

The Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh, Dr Ferran Glenfield, suggested that parishes explore putting solar panels on their roofs, which he described as a “no-brainer”.

The Archdeacon of Armagh, the Ven. Dr Peter Thompson (Armagh), reiterated his concerns about the coming wave of retirements of clergy, which, he warned, were not being replaced by new ordinations. He asked how the RB was involved in planning for this future and resourcing the Church to manage a predicted 50 per cent drop in stipendiary clergy.

The Synod then authorised the RB’s allocations motion.

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