There is a plan for certain churches to run roughshod over the rest of the deanery of the city of Plymouth. It’s an aggressive planting strategy and it worries the rest of us. They put out a consultation document and this is what I said…
Revd Dr Adrian Hough
Exeter Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Secretary
The Old Deanery
Exeter EX1 1HS
Wednesday, 09 May 2018
Re: Formal Consultation on a Proposed Mission Initiative in the City of Plymouth
I write with some comments on the Paper circulated on 1st May 2018 which I hope will add to the discussion on the initiative which will inevitably happen.
The circumstances in which this initiative arises is the result of the continued under-investment in the Deanery of Plymouth by the Diocese: the amount per capita spent on clergy resource within the deanery compared to other deaneries is directly correlatable with the level of church engagement in the areas in question. It is worth noting that all three areas are in parishes which are currently served by a single stipendiary incumbent with little clerical, administrative or lay support. Proper investment in supporting the existing parishes and their distinct tradition, with pastoral and youthworkers rather than resetting these areas in a new spiritual direction may have been more pastoral. That both of these parishes are under the oversight of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet also leaves the impression that there is a determination to undermine the spiritual authority of the parishes.
Of greatest concern to my parish, however, is in the cavalier approach to rapacious expansion that appears to be on the cards. The issuing of a BMO for the whole deanery, and the stated intention that “the plants are determined to create more plants” places the entire deanery in jeopardy of aggressive and frankly unwelcome takeover. When these plants seek to create more plants, they will obviously start to look at other areas where the Church of England is already present and active: S. Anne’s Glenholt feels especially vulnerable by this threat. It is an area where the Church is active and present, but attractive to the kind of Church plant that looks at an area of growth and gentrification as an opportunity for takeover. Under the provisions of this document, that Church feels it will be next, with little safeguard.
The wording of the fourth paragraph of your covering letter, the second para of the Explanatory Notes and most significantly sections 8.1 and 8.3 suggest that further planting WILL happen “without the permission of anyone who has the cure of souls”. The paragraph to “consult” with the local incumbent and the Initiative “informing” the Deanery Synod cuts across the legal and pastoral safeguards established within the Church of England and destabilises the parochial system. Consultation implies no expectation of agreement.
For this reason, I must object most strongly to these two clauses, not just for the way in which they are enacted in the three areas under current consideration, but in the way that they may be misused in future. These paragraphs do not safeguard my mission in the locality to which I have been licensed.
One needs to question whether a Church Plant is the most appropriate model of evangelism for these localities. The characteristics of a Church Plant is that it imports the charism of the parent church into a new area, without responding to local need. The charism of churches from other traditions to that of the parish, from more affluent areas no matter how earnest their enthusiasm may be can be analogised with African and Asian mission in the 19th Century. A more pioneering approach, which is organic, ground-up and based not on such imperialism would ensure that it truly brought the people of Ham, Whitleigh and Ernesettle into a lasting relationship with Christ.
This Mission Initiative has up to this point, not really been satisfactorily consulted and discussions at Deanery Synod and Chapter has been characterised by an attitude that “this is how it is going to be”.
I rather hope that my comments, and the comments of others to whom this particular consultation has been sent will enable a thorough rethinking of a process which in Ham, Whitleigh and Ernesettle are properly served and rebuilt as nurturing communities confident to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.