On a beautifully sunny Spring day, over 300 church leaders, ordained and lay, took their seats in St Barnabas Erdington’s airy nave to hear about what the next phase of Transforming Church had in store for them and their parishes.
Bishop David welcomed the attendees before introducing Canon Dr Paula Gooder, soon to be joining his team as Director of Mission Learning & Development. Paula reflected on the radical discipleship that all followers of Jesus are called to – a discipleship that is no longer simply for the benefit of the learner, but for everyone, as we ‘fish for people’ in our communities.
Bishop Anne next reminded us of Transforming Church’s continued vision – to be a transforming presence at the heart of every community. She introduced the four key areas that new resourcing will support, which the conference workshops were also themed around: New Christian Communities, Children Youth & Families, Leadership & Discipleship and Mission & Evangelism in Diverse Contexts. She also emphasised important themes that run across the 4 areas: that mission flows from prayerful listening to both God and context, that every baptised disciple has an important part to play and that effective mission needs a mixed economy of the old and the new.
Rhiannon King and Steve Squires introduced the first area – New Christian Communities – by highlighting that one size does not fit all when setting up new communities, and that the heart of this area is simply to try new things. As the group dispersed into workshops, some heard lessons learned by Tim Hughes from planting the church in Gas Street, some explored church revitalisations with Archdeacons Simon and Hayward, while others went back to basics; asking ‘Why Fresh Expressions of Church?’ with Steve Hollinghurst. In a Diocese where only around 1% of the population attends an Anglican church, he reminded us of the importance of the ‘double listening’ principle: to God and to a context that we’re increasingly disconnected to: ‘…otherwise we become those annoying tourists who think that if they speak louder and slower in their own language then they’ll be understood…”
Next, it was on to Children, Youth & Families, introduced by Liz Dumain who encouraged us to look for the small steps that we can take rather than getting overwhelmed by the resources we don’t have to grow this important area of mission and ministry.
This message was reiterated by Ruth Hassall in her workshop as she acknowledged there was no silver bullet when growing children’s and families’ ministry, just a lot of dedicated relationship building, listening to communities and asking brave, difficult questions. How much do we really want this as a church? If we can’t do everything, what will we have to stop doing in order to prioritise this area of ministry?
After a quick lunch (and a spot of dog rescue when a stray terrier made its way into the church, despite not having a lanyard) it was back to the main church space where Mark Pryce and Ruth Hassall introduced the third area: Leadership & Discipleship. Mark and Ruth drew our attention to Mary, an ordinary girl who simply listened to God, heard his invitation and had faith in his plan, in which she became the mother of the Messiah.
Andy Delmege’s Jesus-Shaped People workshop proved popular for this area, as we learnt about this whole church discipleship tool that allows congregations a space to grapple with deep questions that lead towards culture change.
Simon Heathfield introduced the final key area, Mission & Evangelism in Diverse Contexts, by explaining that every parish is called to intercultural mission because we no longer live in a society where most folk are churchgoers. Statistics revealing the super-diversity of our Diocese told the story of our shared mission.
Simon then shared the floor with Daniel Ramble for their workshop on Intercultural Mission. In an increasingly complex and tribal society, they remarked that: “… this is no longer an ‘us and them’ conversation but an ‘us and us’ conversation.” Daniel then shared his own experience of working across different cultures in mission and suggested that the most important things for intercultural mission were to discover your own frame of reference by studying your own identity, to approach the ‘other’ to understand and then to start a dialogue.
Workshops and talks over, we gathered back in the main church to sing a specially written hymn for the occasion and to pray the Transforming Church prayer together before we dispersed back to our different contexts - all aware that this is just the beginning. The future will only really start to take shape across the Diocese as the next phase of Transforming Church is outworked parish by parish, person by person, in the months and years to come.