Drawing Threads Together

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As I read through books on ministry, I was uplifted. They sound so hopeful. They are written by people who believe that Christian Ministry can make a difference. Whether it is Baxter's zeal, Orr's optimism, Brueggemann's prophetic imagination or Cotter's brokenness, I find myself saying Yes! Yes! That is how it should be, that is what I was called to when I submitted to the urging of God. Can this idealism be our reality?

The hard truth is that nobody seems really happy with the current situation. The Church members want to relate to O'Toole's wonderful image of the inter-relatedness of worship and pastoral care, to Carr's priestlike servant, or Schillebeeckx integrated leader. But it is not happening and we are unable to organise ourselves to deliver the ministry that our members expect? After all it is not so very far from the way Minister's perceive their role.

Perhaps our biggest problem is that we are trying to graft the old model of one minister, working with one group of Elders/Deacons amongst one congregation in a given community, onto a new situation. In addition the multi-church model has not been created because we believe it to be the best way of working but as a reaction to weaknesses in ministerial availability, finance and membership. The result is that some churches feel they have been forced into a Pastorate which weakens their own position; others regard it as a temporary measure until they can afford their own Minister; and some are quite pleased that their little church has the opportunity to continue for a few more years. We need to ask different questions when we make decisions about deployment. Such as:

We also need to make different assumptions about the way we deploy non-stipendiary ministers. We have learnt to our cost in Rochdale the perils of allocating a Pastorate a non-existent minister. The District Pastoral Committee have been unable to keep their promise to Rochdale West Pastorate because there can be no control over the availability of non-stipendary ministers and have created a feeling of resentment amongst the members affected. We need to create Pastorates which can operate effectively with one Stipendiary Minister and a local leadership team. We will then be free to use non-stipendiary Ministers according to their availability and gifts in specific areas of mission.

Perhaps the solution is an ecumenical one. It seems to make good sense that a team of ministers should take responsibility for all the churches in a given community whatever their denomination, rather than for each to spread themselves across a number of locations. It would allow churches who work together ecumenically to form closer relationships; it may encourage the sharing of resources; it could increase the opportunities for a minister to become part of a local community. However, as one of the ministerial respondents outlines, the committment needs to be there from all sides.

On the profile I received, there was mention of providing ecumenical town ministry ... The Methodists' insistence on putting their circuit considerations before all else meant that it was virtually impossible to negotiate with then as to whether a resident pastor for [Town] might work with them. I investigated this further at the last change of Methodist ministers. The Methodists had consulted nobody else, nor did they show any signs of intention to do so.

Despite the many misgivings that have been expressed by Ministers and Elders, multi-church Pastorates are with us for the foreseeable future. The key to making them work seems to be the development of local leadership, a mutual sharing of resources, a willingness to transform church structures from weapons that constrict into tools of liberation and a deployment policy that gives priority to mission over maintenance. It has been good to read and hear of multi-church pastorates that are effective and it was no surprise that the most encouraging response from amongst the Elders came from one of our Methodist members - the Circuit is after all a multi-church system which is not without problems yet offers the type of mutual support that those who have seen good examples of multi-church Pastorates believe is possible within the United Reformed Church. It is unfortunate that we seem to have created a system which relies on workaholic ministers who regularly fail to take days off and are living with the constant stress and frustration of trying to fulfil an impossible role.

Time to take a step back, remind ourselves of Romero's wise words, dream of Russell's well rounded church and head for the recreation zone.

Having come this far it may be time to add your own thoughts to the speechless blog and see what others have had to say.

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