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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 14.03.2024

14th March, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

I'm filming this week from Archdeacon Fiona's house, uh, between interviews and, uh, one of the consultation meetings about the next phase of the diocesan strategy. It's a bit windy out there in Shropshire, so I'm indoors now. These sorts of conversations are incredibly useful as the creativity and insight of the whole diocesan family can be channelled into addressing the many challenges we face.

Time and time again, one is confronted with the particular challenge of communication. I note how a statement which was written to and address an issue emphasised in the consultations that have been going on for some months can be received in a very different way to that intended. In part, this is because some of our aspirations as a diocese hold needs and ideas, intention.

So, on the one hand, we want to value all of our churches, since the best way of providing a sustainable future for a building is to have a vibrant, worshipping community within it. However, it's also true that many of our 406 churches have congregations of ten or less, and we need to seek some critical mass to provide the ministries of nurture and children's work that are vital to growing more representative of the communities that we serve.

If you're faithfully serving in a very small church community, I can understand how wanting to grow some larger congregations can seem like a threat. Our strategy picks up from where the last one left off, with the centre being a statement of our purpose to proclaim Christ and grow disciples.

It paints a broad brush picture of the values that we'd hope all our churches would demonstrate, which is to be Christ like, prayerful and engaged with the wider community. Jesus Christ is magnetic and the more we show him in our, uh, individual lives and in the way we relate to one another, the more others will be drawn to him.

However, as I go around the diocese, reflect on the conversations about our strategy and see churches where there are signs of growth both in depth and numbers. Another feature is evident that is the power of working together. Psalm 133 says, how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity.

Now I completely understand and support the importance of place and belonging in our diocese, especially in rural areas. It's the commitment to sustaining a christian presence in our villages and small communities that has ensured their survival when many other institutions would have given up. I also understand how feeling beleaguered tends to make us want to circle the wagons and concentrate our limited resources, certainly as we perceive them to be limited, on what we know and treasure.

But there's a paradox that in times of insecurity and change. We can pour all our energy into preserving something we value and by so doing, actually accelerate its demise. The fact is that we need each other now more than ever. When clergy met together in pairs of deanries on Monday, there was a sense of energy and synergy as conversations began about things that could be done together.

At an interview earlier this week, the parish representatives reflected on the benefits they had found in working together in a vacancy. Negotiations and compromises in service patterns had meant that more ministry could be provided, not less. The openness to lay led services had meant the clergy had more time to develop deeper relationships across the board, rather than the usual Sunday train crash of running from one place to another with scarcely a moment to draw breath.

The willingness of lay ministers from a, uh, stronger church in the benefit to cross parish boundaries and offer ministry in another contributed to this sense of togetherness. The commitment to place was still there, but collaboration actually enhanced the possibilities rather than diminish them. I've been able to reassure people at, uh, the consultations that there is not a master plan to close smaller churches.

Neither is there a plan to create super parishes. However, there is a desire to see much more collaboration and boundary crossing both within and between benefices. The thing about synergy is that you create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Love is the only thing that isn't diminished by giving it away.

I believe it is perfectly possible to preserve and enhance the ministry and effectiveness of our existing parishes by the sort of imaginative and open hearted collaboration that is evident in a number of places. Yes, the times are tough, but we are in this together, and truly we are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, far greater than the sum of our individual parts.


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