L-R: Revd Arun Arora, Revd Mark Miller, Revd Matt Keddilty, Revd Rich Grant and Revd Canon David Tomlinson with members of the St Georges Gateshead Leadership Team celebrate the award of £3.9M to grow mission communities across the North East. (Picture By: Keith Blundy)

The Diocese of Durham has been awarded £3.9M pounds to help develop new Christian communities in the North East of England.

The award from the Church of England is part of £35M awarded to dioceses across the country this month in support of church growth through the Churches Strategic Development Funding (SDF) programme. In the Diocese of Durham five (5) projects will benefit from the award over a 6 year period, for activities designed to grow new church communities in Bishop Auckland, Stockton, Durham City, Washington and Gateshead.

Each project is different, but each is focused on sustainable growth and innovative approaches which include the development of a social media ‘pastor’ in Stockton; the creation of a new Discipleship community in Durham and the planting out of a new church in Gateshead. These are just a sample of activities amongst the ambitious plans for growth recognised by the award.

The Rt Revd Paul Butler Bishop of Durham said: “The North East of England has long deserved this kind of investment. We are a people rooted in the Christian faith and tradition. It is our privilege to serve all the people of our region.

“The relevance of the Church is as important as ever. We all know we are in troubled times. Finding new ways to grow communities through effective Christian living such as that demonstrated in these projects will deliver hope and aspiration to many in our region.”

Senior Resourcing Church Leader, the Revd Canon David Tomlinson who is leading the Diocese of Durham’s programme said: “Building churches requires inspirational leaders at all levels, people committed to prayer, to exemplifying a radical Christian life, teaching, encouraging, and exhorting as they go.

“This next stage of development funding, which builds on work already started, will allow us to be radical in our approach to Church growth. This work will involve creating ‘Resourcing Churches’ that are then further planted, growing church and transforming society.

“Resourcing churches are established to be catalysts of church growth and development. They have an agenda that looks to the wider community rather than looking inwards and have a proven track record across the country of reinvigorating churches and driving community engagement.

“In order to do this we need to create ‘Mission Energy’ and I liken this to the analogy of dropping a mint into a bottle of fizzy drink – and the explosion of energy that we are all too familiar with. That is what we hope to achieve,  we will introduce a range of external stimuli into our mix and in doing so gain an explosion of growth and a permanent change in our way of being Church.”

It is hoped that the funding will see the development of new missional communities through the Diocese. David comments: “Missional communities can mean many things, but here it means planting groups of people into an estate or neighbourhood in such a way that the neighbourhood experiences transformation, this is by a sharing of the gospel, building community capacity, engaging with local needs.”

One of the innovative missional approaches being developed is The Community of St Cuthbert which will seek to renew and inspire discipleship across the Diocese leading to numerical and spiritual growth. Based in Durham City it will promote a rhythm of life inspired by the monastic tradition and disciplines exemplified by the life of Cuthbert.

David commented: “As a  premier division northern saint, Cuthbert was a man who sought to introduce Jesus to a whole generation. Shaped by prayer and study, driven by a love of the gospel and the salvation it contained, Cuthbert offered a gospel for all.

“Today’s funding announcement will allow us to forge a new community seeking to establish prayerful, missional groups across the diocese, in the same way, Cuthbert did, more than a thousand years ago.”

David added: “Individuals will be called to a life of prayer just where they are, in school, college, home, or the workplace. Meeting in small groups members will commit themselves to the common-good, transforming their communities through Christian concern and action. It is anticipated that vocations will shine brightly as discernment of individual giftings is celebrated, releasing a new generation of leaders into the wider church.”

Revd Canon David Tomlinson with the Church of England Award of £3.9M (Picture By: Keith Blundy)

NOTES – Pen Portraits of the projects

St. Georges Gateshead: Planted with SDF funding in 2016 St. Georges has grown from 20 people to around 200 today, most under 30 years. With an outward-looking community focus St. Georges is looking to plant out it’s an enthusiastic model of faith in action across Gateshead. The new SDF funding will enable the building of capacity to ensure this is properly equipped and a range of family and youth-friendly activities will launch throughout 2019 with the first plants anticipated in 2020. Using a campus model of church and led by the Revd Rich Grant the church has demonstrated a passion for the kind of transformative gospel that makes a positive difference in people’s lives.

Oxclose Washington: A former LEP, in 2017 Oxclose community church was destined for closure. The 15 people still attending were all that remained of a 1980’s congregation that numbered in the hundreds. Situated in the centre of around 70,000 people the opportunity for an active engaged church was there but somehow growth had been submerged in a local story of decline and unemployment. In 2018 the diocese decided to look again and a recently retired vicar offered to go and do some preliminary work. By December 2018 around 80 people of all ages were gathering to worship, grow community, and reach out to others with the love of God. The SDF funding will enable the employment of a missional leader to build on this remarkable growth and the establishment of a new staff team. A range of opportunities for children, families and teens will be rolled out once the appointment is made. There is a real buzz in the area that once again, hope is coming.

Stockton Parish Church (SPC): One of the most deprived parishes in the country has seen SPC become a centre of outreach to those slipping through the net of state support. Led by Revd Mark Miller, the church was on the verge of closure 11 years ago, with only a handful of people attending. It is now a thriving community of around 300 people having experienced growth both within those who exist on societies margins and those fleeing persecution in other countries. Around 180 people gather to worship each Sunday, the majority of whom are under 30 and hope, warmth and stories are swapped and learned from. Building on these key growth strands SDF funding will enable regular gatherings of the marginalised, continued growth among refugees, and new congregations on local estates filled up with local people reaching out to local people with the Christian hope of abundant life. The award will also see the founding of a social media ‘pastor’ to reach wider into the community.

St Nicholas Durham: led by Revd Arun Arora. As a city centre church with a long established evangelical tradition, St Nics will be the base for the Community of St Cuthbert, a movement seeking to renew discipleship, spiritual growth and Gospel confidence across the Diocese. St Nics will also seek to engage with the FE sector across Durham building on its existing work with University students. The award will fund two youth evangelist posts – one specialising in mental health and the other in justice – seeking to accompany, inspire and disciple young leaders from networks traditionally overlooked by the Church.

St. Anne’s Bishop Auckland: With a single 8 am service a congregation of 12 and poor quality building St. Anne’s was struggling to continue being church. Yet the building was right in the middle of a population centre of some 40,000 and surrounded by new exciting developments being pioneered by Christian businessman Jonathan Ruffer. With the town also being home to the Bishop of Durham and church-based social capital high the decision was taken to explore growing something new. Missional leader Revd Matt Keddilty was appointed taking the post in December 2017. With the original eight now around 40 people SDF funding will employ the team needed to capitalise on the growth opportunities already evidenced in this ancient town. With 6 children of his own Matt is no stranger to what it takes to engage children and an exciting program of community-based children and family activities are already being rolled out.