On the 23rd April the Deanery Strategy Group met to discuss the Diocesan Vision statement, Living Faith for the future. The group wanted to see how our work compared with the priorities set out in the diocesan document and whether it might provide some structure for our thinking.
According to Living Faith:
The vision of the diocese is “the transformation of all life under God.”
The values of the diocese are that we should be:
- Contemplative: attentive to God
- Creative: imaginatively releasing and harnessing all the gifts of all God’s people
- Continuous: rooted in scripture, faithful to the traditions we have received and seeking to give them fresh expression
- Accountable: to God and to each other as we build for tomorrow as well as today
The purpose of the diocese is “to join with God in creating a caring, sustainable and growing Christian presence in every part of the diocese of Oxford, enabling every Christian and every Christian community to live and share the love of God, seen in the life of Jesus Christ.”
The priorities of the diocese are:
- Sustaining the sacred centre
- Making disciples
- Making a difference in the world
- Shaping confident, collaborative leadership
- Creating vibrant Christian communities
The Strategy Group discussed the priorities and came to the following conclusions:
Sustaining the Sacred Centre:
Spirituality and prayer must be at the front and centre of the new Deanery Plan. In Milton Keynes we have tended to give a great deal of energy to meetings, structures and general busyness. It is really important that we give more priority to things that lead to rejuvenation, refreshment and self-protection. We can only serve others if we are rooted and sustained in Christ. We need to find deep resources that empower us to be God’s people in this city.
We tend to prioritise activity or meetings, but we need to give some time to God so that the rest of our time is filled with his life.
In practice the deanery needs to lead by example and create opportunities for refreshment. We need to think about how we do this. Could we have more time for prayer when we meet? Should we hold more quiet days or retreats? Should we help churches to keep their buildings open or hold a continuous prayer vigil in one building during Lent? Does Cornerstone have a key role in our prayer life as a deanery?
Christ’s command to the Church was that we should be disciples who call other people to join us as fellow disciples. Making disciples is what we do. It is right, however, that we prioritise spirituality and prayer since it is only as we are refreshed by God that we are able to bring refreshment to others. It is only through the work of the Spirit that people are drawn closer to God.
Many of our more vibrant, healthy or growing churches already prioritise discipleship and evangelism, but is there more we can do as a deanery to fulfil Christ’s call? Is there anything we can do to help local churches in this area?
Should we give more energy and support to Alpha? Should we encourage the development of fresh expressions? How do we support pioneers, entrepreneurs, missionaries and evangelists?
Making a Difference in the World:
Many church members are already making a difference in a wide variety of ways. We are involved in the local community through schools, care homes, and a wide variety of work places. As individuals and congregations we’ve supported some significant campaigns on a wide variety of issues ranging from debt relief to the environment. As a deanery, we invest in our mission to the wider community through the Christian Foundation and the Development Chaplain. There are also a number of chaplains in this deanery who do valuable work on our behalf.
On the other hand, there is limited interaction between this work and our congregations and members. There is also a tendency to separate our church life on a Sunday from our weekday life and work. Do we need to spend some time mapping what is already going on and make some connections? What can we do to support our members as Christian disciples in their everyday life?
We also have a number of community-centre style churches that were built to serve local people. Many of these churches have financial difficulties or are struggling in some way. Most of them seem to be declining in membership. This is a pattern that is repeated elsewhere in the country. Is it time to do some serious work looking at the history of community-centre style churches, the challenges they face and the possible solutions that could be considered? Is it worth pulling in some expert support to help us turn these challenges into opportunities?
Creating Vibrant Christian Communities:
The evidence of research gathered by Natural Church Development and Healthy Churches is that when Christian communities function in a healthy way as part of the Body of Christ, they tend to grow in depth and numbers. That is not to say that a “healthy” church is always comfortable and cosy. They aren’t always wealthy or well resourced. Neither do they necessarily embrace any particular style of worship or programme. On the other hand, a healthy Church will be able to embrace challenge and change - and be willing to follow Christ wherever he leads…
We have a number of churches in Milton Keynes which are thriving because they are “healthy” or are striving to become more “fit for purpose”. We need to support these churches and find ways to encourage more Christian communities to adopt a “healthy lifestyle”.
As a deanery, do we need to make more use of the “Building Healthy Churches” process or something similar? What else could we do to make some of our communities more vibrant?
Shaping Confident, Collaborative Leadership:
As disciples we need to be confident in our faith and in our relationship with God in order to fulfil Christ’s call to make disciples and to make a difference in the world. Although many of our churches have made huge progress in developing shared ministry and leadership there is still a great need for development.
What can we do to encourage the development of confident, collaborative leadership in all areas of the churches’ life? Will the Local Shared Ministry project play a role in this? Do we need more local training? Should we offer a “Growing Leaders” course across the deanery? What else could we do to encourage lay people? How will stipendiary ministry need to change?
Supporting the Priorities:
In the first paper produced by the Strategy Group we observed that the 2005 Deanery Plan, A Framework for the Future, was driven by a range of practical issues, including finance, deployment, ecumenism and decision-making. We noted that this felt the wrong way round and that the 2009 Deanery Plan should start with vision and finish with practicalities. We think that the priorities of Living Faith could provide the core of the plan but that they should be supported by a range of policies and statements covering a range of issues including: finance, deployment, ecumenical relationships, decision-making and administration.
The Deanery Strategy Group will be making a presentation at the Deanery Synod on Wednesday 13th May. This presentation will focus on the work done so far in reviewing the existing plan and the Diocesan Vision.
Members of Deanery Synod, and the wider church, will then be asked for feedback about the issues that the Plan will need to address. What questions should it attempt to answer? What priorities should it deal with?
The wider church community and our ecumenical partners will also be asked for feedback.
The Deanery Strategy Group will attempt to produce a very rough draft of a new deanery plan for the next Deanery Pastoral Committee meeting on 1st July. This document will then be circulated widely for discussion.
The Strategy Group will receive feedback and will present an amended document at the Deanery Synod on 23rd September.
This document will be a work in progress and will provide the starting point for further discussions as we work through together our ongoing and ever evolving strategy.