C of E webinar hears about barriers to missionary discipleship training

BUILDINGS, fear, “dabbling” in different spiritualities and the scandal of inappropriate training are among the obstacles to creating a Church of missionary discipleship, participants in a Church House webinar heard this week.

One of the three “strategic priorities” for the Church of England in the 2020s – first defined for the General Synod last November (News, December 4, 2020) – a Church of missionary disciples is one that reflects the fact that “we are sent by Jesus to be his witnesses and ambassadors in the world”, says an accompanying theological reflection.

In the webinar, filmed Tuesday, a three-person panel discussed their experiences in seeking to help build such a Church. Reverend Hannah Patton, priest-in-charge of Goole, Diocese of Sheffield, described arriving two years ago and working with a group of “very committed Sunday attendees” to “reimagine what it means to be a Christian.” . . not only in our own lives, but for the life of the city ”.

There were “spiritual barriers” to personal discipleship that needed to be put aside, she said: “We have a lot of people who are very happy to be immersed in different types of spirituality and indeed for us. it’s about naming those and saying, ‘If we’re really going to say that Jesus is Lord, all these other things cannot be Lord.’ Sometimes I think we are not bold enough to name what needs to be named for Jesus to be made Lord in our churches and in our worship communities and therefore in our cities.

A “tremendous amount of work” was required to support the clergy in the work under discussion, she said, “Any amount of theological college training does not prepare you for the amount of hard work that is required. represents the education of disciples. . .

“It is so easy to dream as a vicar that one day these doors will open and a group of people will come in, who are mature leaders, who will just come in and suddenly be able to lead your new family service. . . And it doesn’t work like that. You have what you have; so you have to invest in who you have, love them and raise them – and a lot of us just don’t know how to do it.

Asked about the barriers to coming to church, Alpha course participants spoke about buildings (“as much as we love them”) and “feeling like you don’t belong to something that has these unspoken rules”.

The buildings were also discussed by the leader of the discipleship training team in the Diocese of Bath & Wells, Julia Hill. Particularly in multi-parish benefits, buildings could become a burden on a few people, who then feel unable to explore other gifts, she said.

Work was needed to explore the “very expensive” work of churchwarden, she suggested. In addition to practical issues, fear was an obstacle to the vision of missionary disciples. In rural areas, in particular, there was “a deeply rooted culture of not talking about God with your neighbors in case you labeled yourself.”

She knew people with “wonderful gifts” who had not been able to fill positions, or receive recognition for the jobs they already held, because the forms of training were “deeply inappropriate”. The Church offered “a fairly academic training body,” and it was “scandalous in some cases” how she had excluded gifted people.

Samuel Williams, who runs a business network for Christian Aid, described hearing “the same thing over and over again: ‘I feel called to do what I’m doing, and my pastor doesn’t understand. He called for more theological exploration. of work. Nationally, the Church could be “so much more radical” in its investment and use of its money, “in using what God has given us to transform entire communities and continue to pay for your pensions.”

The vision of “missionary disciples” follows an earlier report by the Archbishops Task Force on Evangelism, which set out a vision to transform the one million people who regularly attend C of E services into “mission agents” (Actualité , February 8, 2019), and the Liberating the People of God program, which seeks to “enable all of God’s people to live the Good News of Jesus with confidence throughout their lives” (Dossiers, March 8, 2019).

Other webinars are scheduled. The first two concerned the Archbishop of York, Bishop Stephen Cottrell. The second, devoted to the vision of a “Church where mixed ecology is the norm” (“adding new churches and new forms of church to our parishes, schools and chaplaincies”), attracted 500 people on the month. latest. In it, the Archbishop firmly denied that this involved the dismantling of the parish system: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

A mixed ecology was “nothing new” and could be read in the New Testament, he said. “The history of the Christian Church has been the history of the translation, adaptation and incarnation of the Church in different contexts and cultures. . .

“What is surprising is not that we say that mixed ecology is the norm. What’s surprising is that we forgot that this was the norm at times in our history. We say there is no one size fits all: there are many different ways of expressing the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ, and, in the smorgasboard of the different cultures we serve in Britain today , we need different ways to be a church.

Those offering service at eight o’clock as well as at ten o’clock on Sunday mornings had “already crossed the theological rubicon,” he said. “You say there is more than one way to express our life together, and we say: in a culture like ours, we need many, many more different ways, and there is a lot to learn. and a lot of exciting challenges to overcome with it. “

The Church had to repent of its attachment to the “one heroic chief minister,” he said. “It is a way of extending the life of the Church that does not need a lot of centralized resources. It takes the imagination, flexibility and evangelical fidelity of two or three Christians gathered to say: “How could we find another way to live and communicate our faith in the communities where we serve?

He admitted, however, that a lot of pruning was underway, and that would mean “we’re going to have to cut some live branches, and it’s really painful.” We as the Church. . . will have to make some tough choices. If it is true, for example, that chaplaincy in, say, colleges of higher learning is a very, very effective way to bring the gospel into the lives of young people and to establish new Christian communities, what should we do? What painful decisions will we have to make to allow resources to go to this kind of ministry? “

Leadership and oversight changes would be needed, he said. Many of those entering the stipendiary ministry might be called upon to take a supervisory position, while the bishops are also expected to change. “We need more priests, but I think priests will start to express their life in different ways,” he said. “We certainly need more pioneer ministries, which will be lay and ordained. . . We have to ask ourselves, “Do we believe this is from God? Is God calling us? ‘ And I believe it is.

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