View from the Elders

My context in 2000 was the Rochdale Central Pastorate of the United Reformed Church, but in seeking the view of Elders to multi-church Pastorates I also circulated a questionnaire to our neighbours in Rochdale West. The two pastorates contain seven churches, 2 stipendary and one non-stipendary minister and the present situation has evolved over the last twenty five years.

In 1976 Milton and Hallfold created a joint Pastorate and a minister was duly called. In 1978 Trinity and Milton decided to join together and create St. Andrew's United Reformed Church and this new church continued to share ministry with Hallfold. In 1978 Castleton had formed a joint pastorate with Providence, Middleton which came to an end in 1990 when Providence closed and Castleton were left very fragile by a difficult ministry. By 1992 Castleton, Heywood, Hallfold and St. Andrew's were all looking for ministry and so they were grouped together and a newly ordained married couple were called to the Rochdale Area Group. This seems to have worked well until 1995 when their first baby was born and one resigned. The Pastorate were unable to finance the purchase of a second manse so the other continued on his own with the four churches until Heywood joined the Rochdale West Pastorate in 1997.

Bamford is the biggest of the Rochdale churches and so has always been able to support its own minister. However they were asked to form a Pastorate with Heywood and Norden and so create two three church Pastorates in Rochdale with one stipendary and non-stipendary minister each. The non-stipendary minister for Rochdale West has never materialised and the non-stipendary minister who was in place at Rochdale Central Pastorate (Castleton, Hallfold, St. Andrew's) on my arrival in 1998 resigned soon afterwards because of ill-health.

Littleborough had shared ministry with Milnrow until 1982, but after Milnrow's closure had not seriously sought full-time ministry. An Elder had emerged as a natural leader and was recognised as the Elder in Pastoral Charge. By 1999 he had decided it was time to retire and at the same time a non-stipendary minister had moved into Littleborough. It was therefore decided that Littleborough would join the Rochdale Central Pastorate and be served by the stipendary and non-stipendary minister that the three church Pastorate had anticipated. At this point Rochdale Methodist Mission came into the equation forming a Local Ecumenical Partnership with St. Andrew's to create a Methodist and United Reformed Church.

By the 2005 the situation has changed once again. In 2001 the Pastorates were re-arranged - Littleborough went on their own with a non-stipendary Minister, Castleton and Heywood formed a half-time Pastorate and called a Minister who also served as a District Minister, Bamford & Norden and Hallfold & St. Andrew's formed two full-time Pastorates. At the end of 2001 the non-stipendary minister left Littleborough and they have had no Minister since that time. In 2002 the Minister at Castleton and Heywood died, it was a shock to us all and subsequently Heywood closed and in 2004 Castleton sold their building and moved in with the local Methodist Church. They have no formal Ministry but there is some unofficial sharing between myself, the Methodist Deacon and an Elder who moved from Alkrington & Providence to help at Castleton. In 2005 the Minister at Bamford & Norden retired, hence that is now in vacancy. I can continue at Hallfold & St. Andrew's - the only United Reformed Minister in the town.

The questions and answers which follow relate to the situation in 2000.

I asked the Elders to think about their involvement in a multi-church pastorate, what it meant in terms of ministry and to reflect on the strength and weaknesses of the situation. What follows is a flavour of the responses [1].

What do you see as the role of the church in your life and in the community?

The other responses picked up various aspects of these two responses.[2].

Why does your church belong to a Multi-Church Pastorate?

The general feel of the responses was that the situation had been forced upon each church, either by the District Council or by their own weakness. Even the one positive response acknowledged the lack of ministers.

What is the role of your church within the Pastorate?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of belonging to the Pastorate?


In an ideal world would you choose to belong to the Pastorate?
13 No
5 Yes
2 Yes, until we are strong enough to support our own minister

What role do you expect from an Ordained Minister?

Contrast these answers with those given by ministers.

Have your expectations changed by belonging to a Multi-Church Pastorate?
Most have not changed their expectations of ministry, those that have done so recognise the growing pressures of administration and time and therefore do not expect to see the Minister as much as they would have once done. But the tone of those responses is still a wish that the Minister could be more personally involved in the life of the church and more available to each member.

What roles do you see being fulfilled by the present ministry?

The purpose of this question was to try and guage whether peoples expectations were being met. The general tone of the answers suggests that whilst people see the Ministers trying to fulfill the roles that members expect, the workload is such that those expectations are beginning to be watered down. People hope for more but know that such expectations are increasingly unrealistic.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of a Minister serving a Multi-Church Pastorate?

You might like to compare these responses with those made by the ministers.

Are there any other points you wish to make about being part of a Pastorate?

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A Postmodern Ministry? Art and original art work © Craig Neil Muir, August 2000