There has been quite a lot of interest in my previous post on How to Save a Diocese (great to see that mission can excite as much interest as sexuality!) and some really interesting things coming out in the comments. I offer here some further thoughts on the issue.
First, it is apparent that there are quite a few partnerships developing, both within the London area from one context to another, but also between London and other parts of the country. This is really good to hear—and not surprising that these are not headlined. I suspect these things work best when they are negotiated one-to-one and away from the glare of publicity.
Second, it looks as though the ‘Sheffield’ formula controlling clergy numbers is passing away. John Leach, who works in the Discipleship Development Team in Lincoln Diocese, comments:
Lincoln Diocese is indeed going for it – appointing 50 new and 50 replacement F/T clergy over the next five years. Creative use of historic resources means we have money to spend both on front-line parish clergy and central officers to resource change and growth.
and in response someone else has commented:
The Sheffield formula is no longer mandatory
The Sheffield formula was designed to manage growth or (more latterly) decline in clergy numbers. Each year, dioceses agreed to a figure for stipendiary clergy, in order to prevent wealthier or more popular regions from attracting all the clergy movements, leaving other dioceses to bear a disproportionate brunt of the drop in numbers. But like all such systems, though well-intentioned, it seems to me that is has had some unfortunate consequences, not least making the idea of decline in clergy almost unquestioned. If any diocese wants to turn decline into growth, then it would have to break out of this system and appoint more clergy.
From John’s comment, it looks like Lincoln might be wanting to do just that. But that raises the counter question: given the national decline in numbers, will there now be a competition for clergy, and will some dioceses become under-resourced in the way the Sheffield process sought to avoid?
Third, given that the longer-term problem is the drop in clergy numbers, what is happening about encouraging vocations? There are some exciting things happening:
As a London incumbent in the Kensington Area I can say that the Diocese actively encourages young leaders and vocations. In 2012 1000 young ambassadors were enlisted This mission challege was then followed by at least one enquiry weekend for those considering ordination. There have been events specifically younger women too. The diocesan strategy for 2020 is to increase by 50% the number of ordinands.
This is amazing and encouraging—but I wonder how many other dioceses are setting this kind of target? It is very clear that policy varies enormously from diocese to diocese.
And what is happening in terms of a national policy for vocations?
Fourth, the variation in approaches to vocations is just one part of the variation in approaches to ministry and mission across the country. As one commenter noted:
Maybe one of the reasons different cofe diocese are experiencing different growth (negative or positive) is also something to do with the strategy they have adopted? http://bit.ly/1tczcgA
His web page lists all the statements published by all the dioceses—and it makes for sober reading. Some are exciting, others less so—but is there a danger here of reinventing the wheel? There is always a sense that strategies and goals need to be owned locally, but at what point should we simply be saying ‘We are a national church’ and work with national approaches to mission?
Fifth, it is often the case that finance is a driving force in the challenge to think about change. Any diocese with a substantial rural component will be finding the financial challenges of maintaining ministry reaching breaking point. I feel ambivalent about this. On the one hand, it would be great if we were more motivated by thinking about whether people are lost. On the other, financial questions force us to face reality, and it is no bad thing that this is happening.
Sixthly and finally, with all the uncertainty, change and opportunity in the current situation, it appears that the C of E that will emerge is going to look very different from the one that entered this period of transition. If there are signs of new life, and if the changes that are needed include ‘unashamedly seeking to bring others to faith in Christ’ (in Julian Henderson’s words), would it be too much to hope that, looking back in this period from the future, it will be as significant as the Wesleyan revival in the 18th century?
We need nothing less.
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