Rev Mat Harry – New & Renewing Communities Catalyst
Setting big goals, being decisive, valuing diversity and nurturing leaders are key aspects of creating and renewing churches, according to Anglican Bishop of Islington Ric Thorpe.
Bishop Ric, as we came to call him, oversees a strategy to revitalise 100 churches in London by 2020 and create more than 200 city-centre resource churches – that develop other churches – around England by 2030.
Representatives from a variety of denominations gathered to hear Bishop Ric speak during his Melbourne visit about the Church of England ’s effort to live out and spread the gospel in this 21st century context.
Although the context of our synod and church is very different we can still learn valuable lessons from Bishop Ric’s experiences.
First, we need to set big, hairy and audacious goals for the number of churches to be created or renewed.
This is so that we remain humble, which might sound like a paradox.
However, Bishop Ric suggests that we should not look at what we can do, but rather what needs to be done.
When we see the huge need for compassion, for community, for justice and for the love of God then we recognise we cannot do it by our own efforts.
Thus we humble ourselves and ask God for direction and help.(Matt 9:37-38).
Bishop Ric also drew on the research in the 2014 Church of England report From Anecdote to Evidence to show that there needs to be an ‘intentionality’ with our actions.
This means conscious decisions are made about the style of worship, the way people are nurtured as disciples and the importance of being alongside others, equipping them into leadership.
These decisions must then be lived out as intentional action.
We also heard that the church and its expressions are extremely diverse and that diversity should be cherished as a gift.
In England about 8 percent of the population attend existing churches with the likelihood that the figure will decrease into the future.
The Anglican Church has strategically worked to renew churches as well as create new congregations for new people in new places in new ways.
This mixed economy of ecclesial styles includes Fresh Expressions, church planting and missional communities.
Bishop Ric said to be alongside the 92 percent of the people who aren’t attending church, lots of different Christians need to connect with local communities in lots of different ways.
In recognition that leadership is key to renewing the church, the Anglican Church in England has created a leadership pipeline.
Potential leaders, both lay and ordained, are identified and invested in.
Existing leaders are encouraged and supported to take on these people as ‘apprentices’ and model ministry for them.
They come alongside the existing leaders and learn how to serve and minister.
When the leader has matured sufficiently they are encouraged to take on ‘apprentices’ of their own and pass the tradition on.
As we seek to live out the first Strategic Priority of the Synod to “ministries which foster diverse gathered communities of renewal, Christian practice and mission,” may we find ways to learn from Bishop Ric’s insights within our contexts.
If you are interested in engaging further with ideas about beginning a new community or the renewal of an existing community please feel free to be in touch with Rev Mat Harry.
He can be reached by P: 9340 8841, M:0413 309 280 or Mat.Harry@victas.uca.org.au