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Working Together in the Countryside

by glynch — last modified 28 Feb, 2018 03:50 PM

Energising Local Ministry helps share skills across benefices

Working Together in the Countryside

St Nicholas', Winterborne Kingston, (C) Gerry Lynch

Multi-parish benefices have been the norm in our rural churches for a long time now. One challenge can be to ensure particular skills and ministries are available to the whole benefice, when most people’s attachment is naturally most strongly to their own parish church.

Energising Local Ministry (ELM) is a diocesan programme which aims to help multi-parish benefices share gifts across parish lines, particularly important when each individual community might have a small population and a relatively small congregation.

Two benefices in West Dorset have found ELM particularly helpful: the Golden Cap Team, centred on Lyme Bay, and the Benefice of Askerswell, Loders, Powerstock and Symondsbury. Although geographically quite close, the two benefices are quite different in nature: the latter consists of four parishes with eight places of worship between them, around but not including Bridport. The Golden Cap Team has twelve churches, and in the form of St Michael the Archangel in Lyme Regis has quite a large town church anchoring it.

Both benefices have a number of small teams working on specific topics: these are task-oriented and meet when needed.

“The aim is to bring people together to dream God’s dream”, says Peter Hunt, Team Treasurer in the Golden Cap Team.

“By bringing people together with particular passions and interests, we can ensure we are a more effective witness across the benefice. For example, we’re in the process of modernising financial procedures, we’re on the way to implementing online banking in every parish and to eliminating ledgers.”

In the case of the Askerswell Benefice, there are seven of these focused ELM teams: prayer, worship, social events, communication, pastoral care (which helps the three Lay Pastoral Assistants co-ordinate), social action (especially working with the local foodbank) and finally fabric, which focuses on sharing learning about things like faculties and local tradespeople.

“There is also an ELM co-ordination group”, says Godfrey Lancashire, “which is not a decision-making body. Power still rests with the PCCs. It does, however, have the space to think creatively without the weight of legal requirements that can weigh on PCCs.”

In very practical terms, the benefice now has a shared administrator and a shared bank account.

“It was the parish treasurers who were the key driver of that”, says George Streatfieild.

Back in Golden Cap, ELM helped Ros Woodbridge of Whitchurch Canonicorum share her passion for and expertise on children’s worship around the benefice. Ros is a retired primary headteacher with an unusual professional specialism of teaching RE to infants, skills too valuable not to be shared.

“One of our ideas was to run ‘short and sweet’ services for people who haven’t been churchgoers before, perhaps around six times per year and mostly linked to major church festivals. These are designed to last half an hour, and while they’re specifically targeted at children, adults often enjoy participating too.

“Examples include services for Stir-Up Sunday and a Tractor Service at Rogationtide. At Christmas, we ran a ‘short and sweet’ service in nearly every parish in the benefice.

“They bring people into church who don’t normally attend and help bring our average age down a lot.”

Other examples out outreach supported by ELM include a chance for people, whether or not they have any faith, to talk about topical issues over tea and coffee in Chideock and pub theology in Charmouth.

A worshipper with graphic design skills and a notably high level of computer literacy is able to do things across the benefice as well as teaching others.

Tony Winlow, churchwarden in Hawkchurch, has also benefited from ELM activity in the next door Melbury Team.

“Their Gutter Gang, as it’s informally known, is a great idea”, he says, “They meet one Saturday a month, and hit two churches for basic maintenance tasks like cleaning cutters, making sure gullies are running, and the like.

“With so many small churches to look after, it’s a great way of having the labour force we need but also of boosting morale.”

Chris Grasske, Rector of Askerswell, Powerstock, Loders and Symondsbury, concluded, “ELM helps people from different parishes to work together and share skills to everyone’s benefit. The nature of rural ministry is such that clergy are looking after large numbers of churches, and getting the work of the Church done means lay people need make leadership part of their Christian discipleship.

“Inevitably, like everything in the Church of England it takes time to build the relationships needed to make ELM work, but it pays dividends in the long run.

“The special services we’ve held have been especially great at building a sense of belonging within the benefice and with the wider community.”

Canon Janet Smith, Co-ordinator for Energising Local Ministry, said, “I would welcome contact from anyone, anywhere in the Diocese, who would like to have a conversation about Energising Local Ministry. I can be reached on 07468 580 196 or .”

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