Pioneer, pastor or manager?

24 09 2009

748066_ihs_iiMark Berry started an interesting discussion recently. He was expressing a degree of frustration at the extent to which he finds himself having to engage in managerial and pastoral tasks when he really wants to be pioneering. I know how Mark feels. And I too appreciate his honesty. The whole idea of creating a new ministry stream was to set innovators free from the administrative and pastoral responsibilities of parochial ministry so that they’re free to experiment and spark off new forms of mission.

It’s maybe a bit ironic then that it was reported recently in the Church press that there are lots of people who have trained as ordained pioneer ministers who have been unable to find pioneer appointments. For some, I’m guessing, that’s because they’re looking for a ready-made fresh expression of church to look after. And I’m not dissing them for that. We need people like them. These will be the people that will release the really adventurous mission entrepreneurs to move on and try something new. But I think calling these people ‘pioneer ministers’ is muddying the waters a bit. Maybe ‘pastor to an established mission community’ is more descriptive if a little challenged on the catchiness front. The majority of those people will be ordained, I guess, especially if those communities are to receive sacramental ministry — pretty fundamental to any recognisably Anglican ecclesiology.

Mark Berry often wonders out loud about the necessity of ordination. He often talks about ‘models’ of ministry and ‘models’ of church. So do I. But I am decreasingly comfortable using this language. It suggests that the forms of ministry we have inherited were established as pragmatically determined forms that got stuck. That’s a very post/evangelical perspective, I think. The more I engage with thinking from a more catholic perspective, the less satisfied I am with approaches that ignore the ‘Tradition’, by which I mean the received form of the church. I am a pioneer through and through but I don’t think I’m free to ignore the Tradition. In my view it’s as important a source of authority within Christian faith and practice as any other — including Scripture. I want therefore to face up to the deeply searching questions that it asks of the emerging church, fresh expressions and pioneer ministry. That doesn’t mean I am ready to give up the adventure of reimagining mission and ministry for the 21st century but neither does it mean I can ignore the deep insights and experience of the previous centuries.

So, much as I think the Incarnation should inspire us to fashion indigenous forms of church, I also want to affirm that any ecclesial community is a local expression of the church catholic. Catholicity is something I am taking increasingly seriously. And the holy orders of bishop, priest and deacon are part of what ensures we are genuinely connected to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I’m attracted by Mark’s idea of ordination for a time and a place but I think it reduces ordination to something functional and ignores the ontological dimension of priesthood particularly that has been part of the traditional understanding.

But then of course, I would say that wouldn’t I? I’m part of that cadre of religious ‘professionals’. But once you’ve had your consciousness awakened to a hermeneutic of suspicion, you can’t just switch it off. And that was a feature of my critical education. So I can see the bid for power that nestles inside that particular theological assertion. I have a lot of sympathy with George Bernard Shaw’s description of professions as a ‘conspiracy against the laity’. Actually I think ordained ministers of every order should see themselves as amateurs in the true sense of that word. Colloquially ‘amateur’ has connotations of operating at a low standard of competence. But at its root it means people who do something for love. It’s only then that the distinction between a stipend and a salary makes sense.

So as an ordained pioneer minister I think I cannot escape, so easily as Mark might, the broad set of responsibilities my ordination as priest entails. That includes ‘sustain[ing] the community of the faithful by the ministry of word and sacrament, that we all may grow into the fullness of Christ and be a living sacrifice acceptable to God.’ So even if there’s an extent to which as an ordained pioneer minister pastoral care might be less of a priority than for a parish priest, it’s not a responsbility I can expect to evade entirely. And neither would I want to. I think it would be deeply hurtful to found a new community without seeing through at least some of that early fragile period by offering a degree of care and nurture to its members.

And when it comes to administration, I am minded to remember that I am a clerk in holy orders. Again there’s a different balance to be struck. But I don’t think it’s legitimate to confine ourselves to what we like doing. We don’t want pioneers to be demotivated by overburdensome administration. But neither do we want to train people who are unrealistic about the need to get stuck in with doing some boring stuff from time to time. Because it’s often necessary to do that hard groundwork in order to release the vision we’ve had.

I spent part of my week working on a hall hire agreement. Part of my role includes helping a struggling parish congregation to find a renewed engagement in mission. That parish includes some buildings that are the main source of income for the parish.

Part of the struggle for this congregation has been finding resources of time among themselves for the oversight of what is effectively a business. It wouldn’t be a viable business if you took a cold, hard look at it. But it provides funds that would otherwise be difficult to find.

I am temporarily plugging a gap by doing some of this work (though it has to be said that my colleague Alex, who is actually Priest-in-Charge of the parish, has taken the lion’s share of this sort of admin). I don’t intend to do it indefinitely. But doing it now is part of a strategy for getting everything on a surer footing going forward.

And getting things off the ground — pioneering — isn’t ever, I think, just about dreaming dreams. There is always some hard grind and detailed work to do to make the dream a reality. We don’t all necessarily have to be completer-finishers but we do need to be able to see some things through to the end. If we are truly pioneering, starting things from scratch, then it’s inevitable that there won’t be enough people to ensure that nobody has to work outside their comfort zones. Now we might argue that pioneering puts us permanently outside of a comfort zone. There’s some truth in that but there’s also a degree to which we might be letting ourselves off the hook a bit too easily. On the frontier is kind of a natural home for mavericks. Being systematic, methodical, institutional — all those things are probably much more outside of a comfort zone for entrepreneuring types. But if the analogy is business, then you only need to watch Dragons Den to know that you have to do a bit more solid work than dreaming up a great idea to actually get the money!

So in the end, I think pioneer ministry inevitably does mean getting our hands dirty with both pastoral care and even in the grubbiness of management.

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Too busy not to blog

22 09 2009

1069108_computer_keyboardOne reader posted a question today as a comment on the previous post, asking if it is ‘all quiet on the Western Front’. It has always been a feature of blogs that bloggers write a lot of posts apologising for not writing posts. I’m no exception. It has been quiet on this blog and I do worry that I will be annoying or alienating those people who take the time and trouble to read it. Sorry. I had a really interesting comment from ‘Ferry’ in questions of power and identity to which I’m still formulating a response.

The truth is I think that there may have been times when I wrote this blog in lieu of work instead of it being a report and reflection on my work. Not all the time but on occasion.

There’s loads going on at the moment. I haven’t been very effective at managing that work (what’s new?). But I think the other factor has been our sheer tiredness in this household. The summer was busy. It needed to be to entertain the children. But we (my wife and I) have come back from that break feeling more in need of a holiday than we have ever felt before. It may be something to do with the particular ages of our children (or more likely of us!) or their particular needs, but collectively they need more from us than at any time we can remember previously. We are exhausted.

But there are some good things happening in my work. I will give more detail in the coming days but the headlines are:

  • the St Luke’s PCC approved my proposal to relocate our Sunday activity to one of the local tower blocks and to change the character of what we do with that time.
  • I agreed just today with the director of a new city centre pub that I can run a Sunday evening spirituality and conversation event there each week.
  • I have made some progress with my MA and think it will be moving in a really interesting and yet achievable direction
  • I have been doing some more interesting and stimulating work with schools

That does all sound a but self-congratulatory! Well done me!

But I hope you will understand dear reader that this remains testing and challenging work that asks all sorts of questions of me personally and of the church more generally. But I’m too busy not to blog. I hope you will bear with me and continue to offer your comments as I lay out my joys and struggles and air the wider issues I think this all raises for the church in particular but also perhaps of all of us, whatever our sphere of work.

Watching this space will, I hope, not be quite so fruitless an activity as it has been for all of you of late.





Canvassing opinion

2 09 2009

1021125_under_canopies_3It was a bit longer than a week or so wasn’t it! It’s been a busy summer with a real variety of experiences. And now I am looking down the barrel of a very challenging autumn.

The summer started with the family at ‘New Wine’. This is a week long christian event run by the New Wine network.

This isn’t the place to dis’ other people’s spirituality, so I will refrain. But this was not a happy experience for me. I have been before so I wasn’t surprised, but I am so far away from this sort of muscular christianity. We only went again because the children enjoyed it last year (when I went with my then training incumbent). When they enjoy it and ask to go and when the rest of the time they have very little contact with other children in a church setting, it feels mean not to take them. I was concerned at times about the level of indoctrination my children might have been subject to, but actually, they seem to be able to make quite mature judgements about what’s being said to them. And we’ve got the rest of the year to give them a broader range of experiences.

A friend and colleague recently gave me (mischievously I think) a copy of an article by John Milbank called ‘Stale Expressions: The Management-Shaped Church’. As well as critiquing the fresh expressions agenda, Milbank gives the managerialism of evangelical Christianity a bit of a going over too. This article is uncomfortable reading for people like me who have adopted an emerging/missional ecclesiology and I will return to it as I grapple with it in the coming weeks (because he makes a lot of good points).

The managerialism of evo Xty is very much evident at something like New Wine. Milbank’s analysis is quite persuasive but when you’re at a big event away from home with your children, you notice when it’s well run. So in that regard alone, I was appreciative of evo managerialism.

It stood in stark contrast to the frankly shambolic nature of Greenbelt. This was my third time at Greenbelt (a christian arts festival over the Bank Holiday weekend). I had been in ’06 and ’07 and really enjoyed it. Both times previously I had been without children. The laid back feel had been part of the attraction on those occasions. But this time around with kids in tow, I didn’t find it quite so amusing.

The contrast was all the more stark because not only had we been to the (well run but bonkers) New Wine conference at the beginning of the summer, but also because we had been only two days previously at EuroDisney (or Disneyland Resort Paris as we must now call it). Now that is well run!

We’d been there to meet up with my brother and his family, whom we hadn’t seen since last summer. Good times. If a little tiring.

Now you’d think after 3 days in Disneyland, we’d be used to queueing. But in Disneyland, you queue for 30 minutes to share a thrilling ride with excited children. At Greenbelt, we queued for an hour for a plastic token to get our children into an activity session. At the end of the queue, there were tokens for only one out of three. The venues for our two junior age children were already full. And they wouldn’t give us tokens for the afternoon session. We’d have to come back and queue again for that (for an hour and a half as it turned out). But even before that queue, when we came back an hour after collecting the morning session token for the actual session, we queued to get through the front gate, and then again at the venue inside the children’s compound and then the same again when we came back 2½ hours later to pick her up.

Now I’m sure the properly spiritual response would have been to have appreciated the unexpected downtime and to just chill enjoying the view of ominously gathering rainclouds overhead (It never did quite properly rain – unlike New Wine where we had a monsoon). But after a night of shivering in the tent, I was having a bit of a sense of humour failure, to be honest.

That all said, Greenbelt was enjoyable. The children did have a good time and did get to see a very different expression of christianity from what they’d experienced at New Wine. They loved watching Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra on the mainstage. But Athlete on Monday night was just a bit too late for them to really enjoy it without needing to ask after every song: ‘is it finished now – can we go home?’

So now, back home, and back to work, I face the challenge of needing to write a proposal for an extension to my licence in the autumn of next year. When I started back in October, I knew this point would arrive. My job for year one was to explore possibilities and suggest a focus for ongoing work. A licence extension wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion, but it seemed like that’s what everyone expected. But the situation has changed. The bishop is retiring this month. The diocese is facing some pretty severe financial constraints. So the question I need to answer is no longer merely, ‘what will I do?’ but ‘why is it necessary?’ I need to answer that question not just for the locality but for the whole diocese, which is facing all sorts of cuts. I’m confident I can make a strong case for why this work is needed here and why an investment should be made here particularly. I’m also confident I can demonstrate how this is vital for the whole diocese. But it’s a big piece of work. If you’re the praying kind. Pray for me. If you’re not, and you don’t feel like giving praying a go, touch wood or do whatever you do to send out your positive encouragement!