“… capture a fresh vision of Christ called to his Church – a church where everyone has a vital role to play” encouraged Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans and President of the Anglican Shared Ministry Network at the start of the Network’s 2014 conference. Running from 13th – 15th November in Manchester, the event brought together almost 60 participants from England, Wales and Ireland – lay and ordained, diocesan and parish – to reflect on the theme “Holey, Wholly, Holy – ministering locally”.
Starting with ‘Holey’, Joanna Cox, C of E National Adviser for Adult Education and Lay Development, suggested that “discontent is the beginning of change”. Highlighting recent national studies on lay ministry, she drew attention to the report ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’. Attendees were challenged to consider what was being done in parishes and dioceses to change culture, move away from clericalism and “intentionally develop the whole people of God” as signs that everyone’s ministry was welcomed.
Well-known speaker, author, and recently-elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings, suggested that church leaders should watch for “the signs of the times”, look ‘Wholly’ at the sweep of social and economic change since the 1940s, and identify the issues and opportunities this presented the Church today. He drew attention to the increasingly complex relationship between Belongers, Attenders and Believers: it was no longer possible to assume those who attended church were believers, not that those who didn’t attend weren’t. The church must be willing to immerse itself in the wider community.
Finally, helped by Christopher Edmondson, Bishop of Bolton, the Conference reflected on creating a holy community. Using a pun on his title, he said that being a disciple for life, was not “a ‘bolt-on’ but the holistic integration of the whole of life”. He highlighted the power of story to transform, the need to affirm people where they are on their unique ‘front-lines’, and the challenge of creating a community that fosters and sustains whole-life discipleship.
Additional sessions provided opportunities to draw ideas from different models and strategies, including Mission Areas in Wales, Mutual Ministry in N.Michigan, i-Church, a joined-up vocations policy from Manchester, and an exciting collaborative ministry parish from North Manchester.
This was an inspiring conference which fulfilled Bishop Smith’s hope of capturing ‘fresh vision’ and reinforced the positive impact of shared ministry, already active and ever richly valued in many churches today.
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