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Book review: Thrive: Helping your multi-parish benefice to grow by Pam MacNaughton

05 January 2024

With caveats, this guide is very helpful, Richard Greatrex concludes

ARE multi-parish benefices (MPBs) simply a matter of expediency, a way of marshalling diminishing personnel and finances while maintaining the illusion of a functioning parish system, or can they provide a way of unlocking more of the potential of small, disparate congregations to become a joyfully energised priesthood of all believers?

Pam MacNaughton believes the latter and, for nearly a decade, has been developing Thrive as a suite of resources, available via CPAS, to enable parishes to journey together, telling their stories, and asking hard questions about their priorities and practices while mapping out and enacting a shared future.

This book, which lays out the rationale for, and an overview of, the Thrive resources — all thoroughly road-tested by MacNaughton and CPAS — will be the starting point for benefices to evaluate whether its approach is appropriate for their context. It continually refers to the associated Thrive materials (a printed prayer guide and downloadable course and PCC sessions), which comprise a systematic programme of discernment. In the 12 short chapters of the book, each including perceptive questions and real-life examples of the principles in action, there is, however, a mine of material to get MPBs thinking, even if they don’t wish to buy into the whole package.

The introduction acknowledges the difficulty of change, especially for those trained for a specific model of ministry, but champions its necessity if burnout and the complete withdrawal of the Church from neighbourhoods are to be avoided. From there, it moves on to initiate an ever-rolling cycle of exploring, planning, acting, and reviewing, based on six main themes: prayer; telling our stories; refreshing leadership; reinvigorating discipleship; sharing faith; and discerning future direction. These are neatly illustrated as a five-pointed star that features prayer at the centre, while each of the other themes radiates from an arm. The accompanying Thrive Prayer Guide reinforces the centrality of prayer at every stage of the process.

My own experience in a recently reshaped MPB supports the profound benefits that the Thrive programme’s focus on fostering benefice-wide engagement can bring, especially provision of formal space for telling each parish’s story, not as a way of remaining enmeshed in the past, but to gain fuller understanding of mutual starting points, the differences and similarities. Of course, there remains the issue of encouraging overworked church members to engage with yet another series of meetings (hence the value of the accompanying PCC sessions), finance is not tackled, and I would have welcomed some input into the benefits, or otherwise, of moving to a multi-church single-parish model.

Despite these caveats, however, there is much to commend this material to benefices wishing to embrace their diversity, enhance their mutual support, and flourish together through a shared vision.

The Revd Richard Greatrex is Rector of the Chew Valley East Benefice, in Somerset

Thrive: Helping your multi-parish benefice to grow
Pam MacNaughton
Church House Publishing £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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