Revd Caroline Dick & Revd Fiona Collin - brush up their missional ping=pong skills. (Picture By: Keith Blundy)

More than 70 Clergy from the Diocese of Durham have so far embarked on MLG (Missional Leadership for Growth) a programmed designed to challenge the status quo and help churches face outward in their communities and navigate a more missional direction.

The program of training and reimagining creative leadership of mission and ministry is already in its third cohort round of activity in a two year long programme of engagement supported by a £800K grant from the National Church’s Strategic Development Fund. A residential programme and additional ‘mission support’ work is intended to accelerate ‘Church Growth’ in the Diocese of Durham as one of its priorities to ‘Bless our communities in Jesus’ name for the transformation of us all’.

The Revd Canon Sophie Jelley, Director of Mission, Ministry and Discipleship in the Diocese of Durham said: “The idea is to help churches face outwardly into their communities and in a more missional direction. The outcome from each of the Cohorts is to engage in a variety of  collaborative mission projects with laity and clergy working together that will begin to have a profound and sustainable impact on numbers and depth of transformational discipleship.

“You might even say we are looking to achieve step-change and encouraging the kind of risk taking as part of everyday ministry that Jesus did.

“We have been comfortable in accepting the status-quo, a set of practices that were hatched more than a century ago. Today we need to foster a return to the kinds of methodology of the

Northern Saints and their pioneering ministry that set the course of Christian discipleship in the first millennium.”

One participant even said: “Every now and again we need to have the courage to be radical and do things differently.

“This training is taking place at Sneaton Castle nr Whitby North Yorkshire, in the very place where the Synod of Whitby set the direction and course of the Church which we have been using since 664AD. That meeting, where decisions about the way in which the date of Easter should be calculated; the observance of the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practised by Irish monks at Iona and its satellite institutions, were made, becoming enduring landmarks in the history of Christianity in England. We need to be as bold, make decisions and lead mission to grow the Church for this age.”

One of the course facilitators Revd Tim Marks said: “What will move the Church of England on for the next fifty years is Ministry as Religious Transformation rather than Religious Transaction – the act of constantly praying, acting and thinking about people being impossibly transformed.”

One example of this in action is demonstrated by two vicars from the Durham Team Ministry – engaging in a series of leisure and sporting activities in and around their Churches.

The Revd Fiona Collin and the Revd Caroline Dick started taking part in a weekly table tennis group that meet at their church for the express purpose of being with people where they are and building relationships with them.

Revd Dick said: “We need to be doing more of this kind of thing – and less of church events. Being here has a twofold benefit it’s good for our own health (better enabling us to be healthy in our leadership) and it allows us to pose the questions that engage people in a dialogue.”

Revd Collin added: “We don’t see this as a recruitment exercise as much as a serious engagement exercise that we want to expand further. Jesus would have been doing these things, being amongst the people and engaging them to answer the big questions – this has been great fun and really rewarding.”

Revd Fiona Collin discusses her missional leadership project with clergy colleagues.
(Picture: Keith Blundy)

Revd Jelley added: “Other examples are of completely different types of worship events reaching people who have not yet felt able to engage with faith before, and in several other contexts the beginnings of plans towards much more radical expressions of new churches being planted into new contexts.

“God is always doing a new thing, MLG is one part of a deliberately changing culture open to new ways and strengthening the our communities – we are excited to see the beginnings of some new things He is doing here in the Diocese of Durham.

“We are already starting to see the positive green shoots of transformational growth from the mission projects undertaken by the first cohort which went through the programme in 2016/17 .”

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