I love the way that life takes us on unexpected twists and turns. There is a place near Ripon called Hackfall, we took a minibus full of children there earlier this summer, we walked and walked through woods, up steps, down steps, clambering and climbing, until suddenly a castle opened up above us. Peering above the trees it was a bit like something out of Narnia and we were the children exploring it for the first time. 

How we got here has been a little like that experience. It was in 2017 that Bishop Paul raised the topic of resourcing growth through a ‘strategic development fund’ (SDF) bid at Bishop’s Council, and then at an Area Dean’s meeting. Area Deans were invited to share with their local colleagues the vision and the opportunities the SDF process offered as a route to engaging with a Diocesan growth priority in a new and adventurous way.

Many deaneries got busy, plans were drawn up, discarded and redrawn, conversations were had, the midnight oil burned, and a further meeting with interested deaneries diaried for January 2018. It was clear by now that the whole conversation process had stimulated a wide range of creative ideas. Plans were put on paper and an early batch sent to the London SDF team for assessment.

At this point Bishop Paul invited me to take a role in supporting the development of these plans. With the criteria from the SDF clear I began by talking to those who had submitted plans, checking what was being proposed against what was possible, and arriving at a shortlist of six for now, and five for later.

An initial bid was made, and this was submitted at the beginning of April 2018, the bid was accepted and now the demanding job of putting together a detailed planning document began. The process was vigorous and one location was sadly removed from the timeline though we aspire to return there at a later time.

Five places made it through, and they are Bishop Auckland, Durham, Gateshead, Oxclose (Washington), and Stockton Parish Church. Their plans are diverse, context appropriate, and aspirational. They also have in common a willing embrace of a culture wherein they grow to give themselves away, to plant new churches, and to plant again and again. 

The place we are now at is not so much a castle on a hill as a starting block. The planning document is completed, the London team will go over it in detail, we will hear from them on December 7th, and our resourcing churches will be launched to plant in each location from January 2019.

Excitingly the bid actually contains more than resourcing churches: There is a leadership pipeline, a Community of St. Cuthbert, a mixed mode training partnership with Cranmer Hall, a Ministry Experience Volunteer scheme (MEV) in partnership with Lindisfarne and more!

Exciting times are ahead, unexpected views are just to be, well, expected, long slogs continue, but rich fellowship and church growth are good places to be! I am looking forward to the next chapter.