New directions

23 06 2010

I know someone who got themselves in a right pickle by blogging about what had gone on in a PCC meeting. PCC? Parochial Church Council – it’s a Church of England parish’s very own baby church parliament. In other church traditions the whole membership of a local congregation takes decisions about the deployment of resources. In the Anglican setup, at least in England, these decisions are delegated to a small, elected, representative body: the PCC.

The Church of England is episcopally led and synodically governed. Basically that means that clergy have all the responsibility and none of the power! Which is a good thing, I think. No really it is. I aim to give away power and pursue influence instead.

Except tonight, the PCC gave genuine leadership itself I think. And I don’t think it will be a problem to blog about it – I’m bigging them up, not dissing them!

We finally, after a few days’ delay, met to kick start the process of discerning a way forward for our main activity. I was going to say, our main Sunday morning activity, but one of the options to emerge was that we should change the time when we meet. That suggestion came from me (and actually, initially from my colleague Alex, so I’ll steal no credit there).

After a short devotional introduction, and a bit of business, we began the process of examining where we’ve got to and where we might be going next. I was surprised by how positive we were about the first of those. There was no desire to roll back in terms of location or engagement or to attempt to work with a different ‘client group’. Young families are still the focus of our presence in Wilmcote House and Somerstown more generally. Measuring ourselves against each of the five values of a mission-shaped church, there was much to encourage us.

We all know, though, that there are frustrations for some of our number – the lack of opportunities to encounter God in sung worship, the lack of extended Bible teaching and opportunities for corporate prayer, the relentless hard work required to do what we’re doing now and the smaller numbers we’re seeing on Sunday mornings these days.

I don’t share many of these concerns personally, but is undeniable that they are very much in evidence among us and that these have the potential to break our communion. Sorry if that phraseology sounds too grand. This is not on the scale or intensity of the things threatening to break the Anglican Communion. But it is clear that we cannot carry the unresolved tension any further without people feeling compelled to walk away.

So, we try and move forward together; to preserve all that we have invested in each other. At the same time, we were keen to preserve the relationships we’ve established with our new friends in Wilmcote House. I was concerned that in our desire to reinstate some aspects of worship as we have experienced we might be loading people up with some unhelpful ‘baggage’ or, worse (is it worse?) put them off completely so that they never darken their door again.

We had an involved, and at odd moments, difficult, conversation. But we managed to conduct it in a spirit of honesty, humility and compassion. At the end of that discussion, we formulated three options:

  1. Integrate more familiar elements of worship throughout the morning.
    We would shorten our opening times. Instead of opening at 10 am, we would open at 10:30. As now, the first half hour would be set aside for welcome, breakfast and conversation. The next hour would incorporate singing, preaching and prayer alongside some more all-age focused activities.
  2. Add a ‘service’ at the end.
    The start and finish times would remain the same, and the time between 10:30 and 11:15 would remain predominated by all-age focused activities, but the time between 11:15 and 11:45 would be a more concentrated and structured service of worship including the elements identified in option 1.
  3. Move to the afternoon.
    Given that research suggests family activities are most successful in the afternoon, we thought we should consider as one of our options moving our activity to that time. This would involve an hour focused on hospitality and storytelling between 5pm and 6pm and then a contemporary music style service at 6:30 pm.

The master stroke that came out of our discussion was that the Wilmcote House families who are part of ‘us’ now should also be invited to participate in our discernment process. We could have invited them to come to our Tuesday evening gatherings that we have set aside for this purpose. But the suggestion that we should instead move our communal discernment to Sunday mornings for the next few weeks was recognised by all as the best way forward. It allows all ages to participate and allows the broadest possible participation in terms of residents, more longstanding members of the congregation formerly known as St Luke’s and some of that latter group who don’t normally make Tuesday evenings.

I am troubled by the possibility that we might be becoming more worship-shaped and less mission-shaped, slightly more stale than fresh expression, but I have to recognise the reality of where people are, what they’re able to give and what they need to receive. I just hope and pray that, whatever the final shape of what we do together, this is a necessary corrective to ensure we grow and develop as a pioneering community and not a withdrawal into more safe and familiar territory. That way lies our demise, I fear.



7 responses

23 06 2010

Hey Mark – regular reader from Australia here… involved in Church leadership, looking at setting up a family friendly thing, blah blah.

Noticed this quote: “Given that research suggests family activities are most successful in the afternoon”. Wondered if you can point me to relevant research? I believe it’s true, but would like to explore more deeply since it’s relevant to our ponderings…

23 06 2010

I should be more careful about what I casually say! This was a comment from my colleague. He thinks it came from Mission-shaped Children: Moving Towards a Child-centered Church, a book by Margaret Withers, published by Church House Publishing.

23 06 2010

Thanks – will check that out.

23 06 2010

true consultation never takes us to a place we had imagined or intended. keep going and making the difference.

23 06 2010

I believe that it’s important for everyone to live a full life, which includes ‘smelling the roses’ as much as doing the dishes; otherwise we become self-trained automatons living empty shells of lives that are seen to be what they are: empty. ‘Mission’ isn’t something we ‘do’ at a time or place; it is who we are, an attitude, a way of living.
We aren’t called to ‘persuade’ people to our way of thinking, merely to let them witness how we are different – to be witnesses to changed lives. The rest is Someone Else’s job……..

23 06 2010

Oh I agree. I’m just not convinced that for a new generation of un-or dis-churched people, singing soft rock songs to Jesus, listening to a sermon or saying prayers is what is going to amount to smelling the roses. I am deliberately caricaturing there, obviously. I am not being entirely fair. I think I am feeling a little cross about it. But I have to take seriously the fact that it is clear that what we’re currently doing is not smelling the roses for those who are used to encountering God in those more familiar churchy ways.

And I’m not ‘in charge’. I genuinely believe that it is the community together, not ‘father’ that knows best. I have a kind of authority in this situation. But it is not the authority to dictate. (I hope I would cast it aside, even if it were, as much as it might be easier on occasion!) It is the authority to teach. Persuasion is a valid part of the ministry of a priest, I think. Not for those finding explicit faith consciously for the first time, that is much more about who we are with them and the stories we share with them. I don’t think people are argued into faith.

But for that part of our community that is made up of more long standing Christians, I think it is legitimate to ‘teach’ – to seek to persuade. That’s not about telling grown ups what to think. (As much as ‘grown ups’ might want you to.) It’s about sharing a perspective on scripture that invites us to experience transformation.

That group of people are actually asking for that to a greater extent than I have been willing to give so far. (‘There’s no teaching,’ they say, ‘how are we to be fed as Christians.’) So I have failed to persuade this group that we don’t need all those things I listed above. They have found the lack of them increasingly hard to bear.

But I am heartened by their commitment, greater than mine on the night in practical/process terms as it turns out, to include our newer friends in the process of discernment. And by include I don’t just mean asking them as an extra, but inviting them to take their place alongside the more longstanding members at the centre.

9 10 2010
We’re one, but we’re not the same « the Pompey Pioneer

[…] and breakfast together. Then, when it came to our circle/all-together time, we explained the three options that the PCC had come up with. These were meant to be a basis for conversation, not a […]

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