Saturday, 9 May 2009

The next step change

To achieve any sense of the local leadership as normative for ministry and mission purposes, the Stipendiary Incumbents must have oversight of a sufficient number of communities as to deter unrealistic expectations based on received patterns of parochial deployment.

This is the most striking sentence from the Bishop of Lincoln’s latest suggestions about The Way Ahead for the ministry in the diocese.

The changing use of stipendiary clergy is not new in itself. I remember attending a training event in the diocese with that title when I was newly working in it nearly twenty years ago. I have the text of a sermon about the growth of lay ministry which I preached ten years ago when I was responsible for clergy in-service training in the diocese, and none of the thoughts were original then:

For the people of God to be more priestly it will be necessary for the priest to become more episcopal. In other words, if we believe in fostering the priesthood of all believers then our Vicars will have to become more like bishops - exercising oversight for the multiple ministeries in their area... We turn our thinking upside down and begin with Baptism. Instead of defining ministry as what ordained people do, and what is now shared with other authorised ministers, we should begin with what baptised people are called to do and shape our authorised and ordained ministeries to service this.

But the Bishop’s sentence, while reflecting the way things have indeed been talked about more recently, is new to me as a public statement: the assertion that it is normative for leadership to belong in the local church; the assertion that it is essential that the old model becomes unmanageable so that this may take place.

His paper is even brave enough to name a number (a cohort of 100 Stipendiary Clergy could deliver this for the diocese - which implies perhaps seven in Grimsby and Cleethorpes) and names explicitly a radical but realistic step change in the way we shape ministry and mission in our Church where change is inevitable - and potentially transformative.

I’m not sure how many of the places which have developed a lay ministry team yet envisage the step change of this providing the leadership of the local church. I’m not sure how many of the incumbents who balance the old model of priestly ministry with developing and working with such lay teams yet anticipate the step change of this balance becoming impossible.

Meanwhile, the picture is another of the mediaeval glass at St Martin’s, Stamford (taken there from Tattershall church), in this case showing the burial of the Lord.

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