The Bishop of
This is a personal response to the vision statement which comes out of my experience as
1. an active member of the congregation of St Mathews Preston (Parish of the Risen Lord)
2. forty years of experience in urban mission and community development in
and London Lancashire(including a current role as a staff member of Together Lancashire)
3. extensive research and writing in the sociology of religion, specialising in the role of faith in urban communities (see website for links to publications etc.. http://gregsmith.synthasite.com/
There is much to be commended in the vision.. It is clear that as society changes rapidly the church needs to change too. Click on this link for my extended thoughts on reassembling the church in the contemporary context .
It is clear to me that for the Church of England in
Within the vision document I note three areas of concern where in my view the statements need to be strengthened and developed.
meeting the needs of the community and tackling poverty
supporting mission and ministry in the tougher places, (UPA parishes and social housing estates)
The vision speaks of the need to
Plan to grow new congregations and unashamedly seek to bring others to faith in Christ
Historically it has been much easier to achieve this in comfortable areas and parishes than in UPA parishes and social housing estates, with the result that where the practical and social needs are greatest the church is often at its weakest. The Church of England has a unique role in many of these places as the commitment to parish ministry throughout the land mean that Anglicans "hang in there" long after all the other churches have given up. This commitment to the most deprived communities needs to be sustained and prioritised, with new forms of redistributing resources of finance and mission and ministry resources from wealthy Christians and parishes towards the most needy. (As an aside it is refreshing to see how Pope Francis understands and articulates these principles). Christians from such communities, and indeed ordinary residents in these places, need to be empowered and given a voice so that their experiences, assets and concerns are better recognized within the diocese and across the county.
working collaboratively with neighbouring churches across the denominations
For the church to be renewed we need to move away from tribal religion and silo thinking to a a wider and more open ecumenism, building friendships and alliances with the widest range of Christians, and those of other faiths and none. "working collaboratively with neighbouring churches" cannot be defined merely as sharing resources more efficiently across parishes within the deaneries of the diocese, or relying on formal ecumenical institutions such as Churches Together in Lancashire or its local groups, many or which are struggling and sometimes just boring committees that have little impact on local church life. Rather what is called for are emerging informal networks of active, mission focused, cross church partnerships that can move rapidly to meet need, take opportunities and share information and resources. In
Working together in this way also opens up pathways to collaboration and partnership with local authorities and secular voluntary organizations, as well as with people and groups within other faith communities concerned for the welfare and shalom of the wider community. Indeed I would argue that the most appropriate models of interfaith work are based around community action rather than the tired out and naïve models which were based on tea and samosas with a period of silent reflection to remember our God(s).
If these three priorities can be incorporated as central to the vision of the church in