I am the Clergy Development Advisor for the Diocese of Durham. Previously I was Vicar of St Giles’ Durham and Sherburn and Shadforth for 9 years. This encompassed 3 former pit villages and Gilesgate was amongst the 10% most deprived parishes in England. Before that I was director of the doctoral and masters programme at Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, University of Durham, and taught Practical Theology, Anglicanism, Church History and Spirituality. And before that I spent 5 years in 2 curacies in West Newcastle. And before that… I was a research student and youth worker in Bermondsey in south east London. I have written in the areas of spirituality (Humane Christianity 2004), Anglicanism (A Passionate Balance 2007), biblical spirituality (Looking through Jesus 2017), Practical Theology (cont. to J.Bryan and B Geary Pastoral Challenges and Concerns: A Christian Handbook for Leaders rev. ed. forthcoming), church history (cont to D Brown (ed) Durham Cathedral: History, Fabric, and Culture, 2014) and I am currently working on a book about “Vicaring” for SPCK.
But why am I am blogging?
I am blogging (in a personal capacity) to think out loud about issues of ministry, primarily ordained ministry in the Church of England.
The Church of England is facing a new challenge.
It has previously faced war, outright opposition, persecution, indifference. It has never been a perfect institution – and would never have thought that it could be! – and has often struggled to rise to the challenge of being the Church of the English people and their state. It is not just in the twenty-first century that parochial coverage has been stretched. It is not even the first time that decoupling from the English state and radical decline has been in the air. Church history can teach us not to panic!
Church history can also help to see when there is a new thing happening.
As we know, we are experiencing a widespread social and political change, which is taking place across much of Western Europe, though not elsewhere, which we call secularization [discuss!]
So the Church of England is having to move from an inherited mode of being, often supported by historic money, where allegedly recruitment happened through routine processes, to a missionary mode, where the Church has to be paid for much more by its current members and where increasing numbers of (younger) people had had little contact with the Church and so we need to be pro-active and imaginative as we share our faith.
This is well-known.
As is the impact all this having on the Church’s ordained ministers (my primary area of concern). Certainly in our part of God’s Kingdom up here in the North East, we experience ageing congregations, money and resource shortages, and being over-stretched as we attempt to pastor more congregations and wider areas. See my recent article in the Sunday Telegraph: “As a vicar, I know better than anyone why so many clergy are close to the edge“.
And undergo a change of role. From the classic praying pastor-teacher to a more entrepreneurial and even managerial mode, where the incumbent has to lead a team of churches and ministers over a wider area. For those of us who have pastor-teacher in our DNA and carry the ideal of one parish, one church, one priest in in our memories, this is a painful transition.
So there is stress and a bit of gloom.
It is hard to read the ‘signs of the times’. Not all is stress and gloom.
Again here in our North East, there are still strong links to the Church: double the national average of christenings of live births; still many funerals; a warm acceptance of the role of the Church and its clergy in the local community; a positive welcome in schools and other institutions; and evidence of response to Christ through Messy Church, Sunday @ 4, schools ministry and good old-fashioned parish ministry as well as direct evangelism.
My agenda as a Clergy Development Advisor
It is to help me and my colleagues, and thus our churches, to move to a more hopeful, outward-looking, in a proper sense more “committed”, more imaginative and perhaps a more playful way of being Christian.
But in this journey, not to forget the wisdom of the past – from Scripture and Tradition and especially some of our English Anglican insights – so that we do not lose some of our virtues:
- open-ness to God at work already in our communities;
- a sense of responsibility for and with all our community;
- a trusted pastoral character;
- enough learning to help us not to be foolish;
- some modesty about the institution of the Church;
- a deep but humble love of Christ.
I look forward to the dialogue to come.