One way to cope with having too many churches is to concentrate resources and opportunities in just a few and to run the others on more of a ‘care and maintenance’ basis. The local Methodist Circuit is now considering doing something like this, albeit in a far less crude way.
It proposes that each church should be ‘a centre of hospitality’ to which ministerial time would be given for Sunday worship, pastoral care and routine activities. But only those churches which apply to be ‘a centre of mission’ as well, and which can demonstrate that this is genuinely what they are, would get further ministerial time for worship mid-week and on special occasions and for encouragement in mission, and only these churches would get other Circuit resources such as the limited amount of financial grants available and the time of those employed to assist with projects and in youth work.
The Circuit Meeting in September may agree this policy, in which case applications for being considered centres of mission would need to be made ahead of the one in March 2009 which might also be agreeing which Ministers will be taking responsibility for which churches from September 2009; the possibility that churches might wish to become (or cease to be) centres of mission at later dates is also written into the proposal.
One impetus for this is a recognition that the present level of ministerial time and other resources simply isn’t sufficient to sustain a large number of churches so that each and every one flourishes, grows and witnesses. I’ve blogged before about the way in which this Anglican Deanery and the local Catholic Community seem to recognise this to be the case for them also. Bells also ring for me when those proposing the new approach say that as soon as one of the lower number of Ministers in the Circuit goes on holiday, on sabbatical or becomes ill the rest are reduced to providing emergency cover only.
The other impetus is that imposed changes have not worked in the past: attempts to bring three churches in the Circuit together a short while ago proved to be traumatic; policy agreed since then which depended on Circuit leaders designating a small number of focus churches has not really stood the chance of being implemented. One of the strengths of the new proposal is that it provides basic care for all, but puts it in the hands of those who wish to do more to opt in themselves.
I shall follow all this with more than mild neighbourly interest. The photograph was taken yesterday evening at Laceby Road Methodist Church which houses both a traditional congregation and the Side Door church.