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Leicester Diocese: doomsday or new daybreak?

(Photograph: Church of England/Colin Watts)

Bravo, then, Leicester Diocese in England – it has stepped off the sting and bravely taken the plunge into a complete new potential manner of doing ministry.

Whether or not that step off the sting is tantamount to falling from a cliff into an abyss – or a mild paraglide journey touchdown in contemporary sunlit pastures – stays to be seen.

The change, agreed this final weekend, has come about due to what the Diocesan Board of Finance known as “a financially unsustainable future…” Different dioceses within the Church of England will likely be watching with curiosity, as Leicester is way from the one one dealing with acute financial hassle.

So what’s Leicester doing, and is it a good suggestion or not? In a nutshell, 20-25 geographical “Minster Communities” will likely be established – every one consisting of a gaggle of parishes that are anticipated to “collaborate in mission with out dropping their particular person identification”.

The diocese’s abstract provides: “There will likely be an appointed minister for each Christian neighborhood … and sacramental provision is assured. It’s anticipated that originally many of the anticipated 80-90 paid positions will likely be stipendiary clergy, however our aspiration is for elevated lay ministry working alongside clergy throughout the diocese.” In 2020, there have been 98 stipendiary clergy and 31 curates in coaching. It’s a large lower.

Every “Minster Group” will embody a minimal of “an oversight minister (ordained)”; a “rising religion focussed minister”; an “operations director” and “a regionally contextually focussed minister”. Bishop of Leicester Martyn Snow maintains that parishes will “stay entrance and centre” and “the rights of PCCs and incumbents… revered”. The entire thing is a wholly new idea. The diocese has stated it “doesn’t mirror equally named frameworks or organisation buildings” wherever else, however is “bespoke”. It’s definitely daring.

Is it a good suggestion? Nicely, all credit score to Bishop Snow for saying, “if we wish to attain youngsters and younger folks with the Gospel of Jesus Christ we should do issues otherwise…” And there does appear to have been an infinite quantity of session, which maybe explains why the Diocesan Synod authorized the plans with a 72% vote in favour. It might be charitable to imagine that a lot prayer has gone into it. Furthermore, the diocesan press folks have been excellent, so that they get 10/10, no matter else is likely to be now stated.

My reservations – and I’d be delighted to be proved unsuitable over time – are as follows. Firstly, it runs the chance of turning clergy into one thing fully completely different from what they’ve been. There are 324 church buildings within the diocese; break up them into 25 Minster Communities and meaning 13 church buildings in every one. Even when each church solely has communion as soon as a month (and most would have it extra usually) that’s nonetheless three per Sunday. Stipendiary clergy will possible find yourself whizzing spherical handing out bread and wine – will not they? Total, the form of position envisaged for stipendiary clergy sounds nothing just like the position for which I personally (writing as one such clergyperson) was skilled, nor which I would need or really feel virtually capable of train. It sounds extra like being an Space Dean – on velocity!

Secondly, it’s based mostly on an emphasis on “the diocese” which we discover nowhere within the New Testomony. After all, some administrative construction is important (suppose safeguarding), as is pastoral care and oversight from bishops. However the New Testomony speaks initially of native congregations and the church common. Dioceses could have their makes use of, however typically they appear to accumulate a lifetime of their very own which may relatively get out of hand.

As a result of this new construction emerges from “the diocese” (albeit with session), it maintains and probably amplifies flaws inside that system. For instance, in apply various bishops as of late appear to want to behave as space-makers for various and mutually incompatible theologies relatively than as defenders of reality. It is a notion which arises from the assumption that unity means everybody sticking along with a sure flexibility of perception, relatively than unity arising from settlement within the reality. And the brand new Leicester plan would appear to herald the opportunity of taking that idea to new ranges. As a part of the method, Bishop Snow has himself just lately inspired the diocese to “recognise and have fun [its] range as a ‘fellowship of the in contrast to’.” That is definitely true geographically, however there are theological implications too.

Thus, a Minster Group will likely be based mostly on geographical proximity relatively than theological conviction. One can think about that in a set-up of 12 church buildings, two or three is likely to be clearly evangelical to begin with; 4 maybe is likely to be distinctively Anglo-Catholic; the remaining will likely be “central”. Over time, whereas “traditions” are maintained (some church buildings stay guitar-using, others swing incense and so on), theological conviction and distinctiveness may simply develop into blurred right into a middle-of-the-road mishmash. Will folks of sturdy convictions (conservative evangelicals or traditionalist Anglo-Catholics) be appointed because the ordained Oversight Minister? Or will it’s simpler to nominate folks with “much less distinct” theology, as they are going to be seen as more likely to ruffle the fewest feathers? Once more, I can solely say: I’d be delighted to be proved unsuitable. That is, in spite of everything, merely an opinion piece, not Biblical prophecy.

In my relatively idealistic and probably naïve mindset, I wish to think about one other various state of affairs by which Leicester Diocese had stated to all church buildings: “We’re sorry, however in a few years we are going to successfully be bust. So every church should pay its personal working prices, together with for all of the clergy it has, and their pensions and so on. We additionally invite you to voluntarily fund and pool ministry with much less well-off church buildings with whom you are feeling capable of work missionally. Any church which may’t afford to run on this foundation, both via its personal giving, or via assist from others will, inevitably, shut. And we invite you to declare how a lot you might be prepared to contribute every year for central posts similar to safeguarding experience and Bishops. We’ll then funds centrally accordingly.” Messy? Sure. However higher longer-term? Arguably.

So I’ve reservations. I hope I’m unsuitable; we should always want these endeavours properly. However I additionally ponder whether, maybe, it is going to be points referring to finance as a lot as sexuality which break the Church of England. Will evangelical church buildings in Leicester diocese eager to safeguard their long-term gospel future wish to be a part of what some may predict will develop into a blended ecclesiastical lumpenproletariat? And the way will the Church of England Evangelical Council and Gafcon help those that are even now pondering, “For the gospel to flourish, we’d like a unique construction,” or “For the sake of the gospel, we have to get out”?

What’s that sound I hear? Is it the sound of a crunch second getting nearer?

David Baker is Contributing Editor to Christian Right now and Senior Editor of Evangelicals Now print and on-line. He writes right here in a purely private capability.


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