Guest Blog

What we need is more love and less paperwork - Renewal and Reform

By freeing-up clergy from administration, more time can be given to growing the Church and serving local communities, argues Graham Millar, from the Mission Partnership Development Worker Project in Sheffield Diocese.

Anyone not involved closely with parish ministry may be surprised to know research has found that administration takes up more clergy time than any other type of work. Paperwork is clearly not what most priests are called to and filling in forms and photocopying, whilst humbling, do little to grow the Kingdom.

The ‘Experiences of Ministry’ research undertaken by Kings College London in 2013, was one of the catalysts that led the Diocese of Sheffield to secure funding to support up to a third of its parishes with admin support.

The ‘Mission Partnership Development Worker Project’ is a six-year programme that has been supported by a £1m grant from the Church Commissioners’ Strategic Development Fund, part of the Renewal and Reform programme.

So far six development workers have been appointed to provide groups of churches (working together as Mission Partnerships) with professional support in areas such as administration, communication, publicity and finance. This number will more than double in 2017.

The overall aim is to free up clergy time for mission and the project has engaged academic partners to evaluate the success of this in relation to: church growth; lay leadership; and financial stability.

Wedding management is just one example of how this works. The development worker is able to provide an efficient response to initial enquiries, manage diaries for multiple churches and organise organists/choirs/bells etc., leaving the clergy free to provide pastoral support to couples.

One vicar described their development worker as ‘a God send’ and another reported being able to finally develop working links with a local credit union which resulted in the church becoming a base for money advice and support to the local community – creating both missional and community engagement opportunities. This was a development that had been talked about for years – but was made possible by the easing of the administrative burden.

Waiting & Wanting

The Access credit card once coined the strapline, “Takes the waiting out of wanting.”

Have it now – pay later: convenience for most, credit trap for some, consumerist tendency for us all. Our material and financial wants position themselves as gods.

As Christmas comes round, the retail industry goes into overdrive. “Wanting” comes into its own. Only a few shopping days before Christmas as you read this…

We all want Christmas, of course – the presents, the family, the celebrations, the holiday season, and, above all, the message of Jesus’ birth.

But what about the waiting?

We are still in Advent, which is the Christian season of waiting: four weeks or so of self-examination, preparation and expectation, before we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Advent teaches us to value the waiting, as a time to prepare our hearts and lives to be ready for Jesus at Christmas. Waiting, watching and being prepared is vital to Christian living.

The waiting only increases our joy when Christmas day is revealed, and we celebrate the greatest of all stories – Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Son, our Lord: born in a stable, laid in a manger, worshipped by angels, adored by shepherds, visited by wise men.

We mark the Advent season at the start of our Christian Year, because watching and waiting, rather than wanting and getting, come first in God’s economy. The Old Testament Scriptures prepared God’s people for the fulfilment of God’s plan. God’s promises to Abraham, Moses and the Prophets spoke of wonderful things, but they were kept waiting for hundreds of years. Still they hoped and waited before Jesus arrived.

As we prepare for Christmas, we too prepare ourselves, and wait for a future beyond December 25th. Jesus will return, glorious, at the end of time. He commanded us to watch and wait expectantly, because even Christmas doesn’t deliver everything we want. Despite our songs of “peace and good will”, the world remains a place of strife and tears, our lives remain fragile and mortal. 

Only when Jesus returns at the end of time will all our wants be satisfied. Our Christmas joy will only be complete when God’s new age dawns, when sin, sorrow and death will end. The earliest Christians used to say, “Maranatha!” – “O Lord, come!” The Bible ends with Jesus’ final recorded words, “I am coming soon.” We could want nothing better.

There can be no true wanting without waiting, because what we most need is to be for ever with Jesus, which is infinitely worth waiting for. Don’t take the waiting out of wanting, because our waiting helps us to want the very best. Value the waiting, not as impatient frustration, but as a time to prepare and be ready for the joy that will be ours at Christmas, and then for ever when Jesus returns.

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Are we a Raft or a Trawler?

My training incumbent used to ask his church “are we a raft or a trawler?”

On a recent visit to a parish I was really encouraged to see the notice board advertising loads of events and activities for children. In addition to Sunday school there was a weekly toddlers group and a monthly Messy Church service. It was also clear that the church was regularly visiting the local primary school. None of this had shown up in the 2015 statistics for mission.

Chatting to the Vicar, she explained how working through the Mission Action Planning Tool had helped the PCC and the wider church to make working with children and families their number one priority. They had then stepped out in faith and worked with the Centenary Project to appoint a part time children and families worker who they share with a neighbouring parish.

The visit came as a timely encouragement to the Parish Support Team as we carry on the detailed work of editing and fine tuning the second Mission Action Planning Tool which comes out in January with the imaginative title of MAP 2. This will help parishes to celebrate and review their progress since MAP 1 and then prayerfully discern what God is calling them to do to build on this over the next two years.

As a Vicar for over 20 years I found parish planning to be a helpful and liberating exercise. Not only did it provide a really effective way of involving the whole church in praying and listening to God and to each other about our direction and priorities as a church, it also gave me and the PCC a clear mandate to say these are our priorities and this is what we need to spend our time money and resources on doing. At a time of ever growing demands and seemingly constant change it’s really helpful to have clarity about what are priorities are. Without a clear sense of direction we either drift around aimlessly like a raft, or as it says in Ephesians 4:14 , we are “tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind”. Alternatively we can be more like a trawler, with a clear plan and sense of direction carrying out our God given commission to catch fish.

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Combatting Gender Based Violence

Two weeks ago I attended the Partnership for World Mission conference at Swanwick, themed around “Mission in a Moving World”. The conference was both inspirational and, at times, deeply upsetting.  For me, and for many others, the most difficult part was hearing the stories of those who had experienced rape as a weapon of war, even in detention centres in the UK. 

The leaders of the Anglican Communion have identified Gender Based Violence as a key issue for the communion and have urged all provinces to work to combat it.  Although the term “Gender Based Violence” (GBV) is a neutral one and theoretically can be committed in either direction, in practice the vast majority of GBV is committed by men against women.

According to UN Women: an estimated 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.  One survey estimates that the figure in Zambia is 47% of women. 

Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data.   

But this is not just an issue that happens overseas – it affects the UK deeply too.  The women whose stories I heard at the conference were raped in UK detention centres.  From Eastenders to The Archers, broadcast media are raising awareness of the issue of GBV.  And there are women who have experienced GBV in our churches, even if we don’t know who they are.

Friday 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (White Ribbon Day) and is the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, which runs until International Human Rights Day (10 December).  Churches can be involved in many different ways.

Responding locally: Restored is an international Christian organisation resourcing churches to respond effectively and appropriately to end violence against women.  They can offer resources to help churches undertake a self-assessment, to become a safer space for victims of GBV and to see what the Bible has to say.  Some of the ideas are really simple such as putting a poster on the inside of the toilet door telling women where they can get help. 

Responding globally:  having arrived at the subject of toilets, not having a proper toilet at home exposes many women across the world to danger and violence.  Ebinda, from the DRC, was bitten by a snake as she crouched down to relieve herself.  A few months later she was attacked by several men in daylight when she went into the bush to relieve herself. She became pregnant and now has a 6 year old son.  Something as simple as twinning your church toilet can provide protection for women like Ebinda.

Across the Anglican Communion (and beyond) the mission and development agencies are working to support victims of GBV and to work with men, boys and families to change attitudes and transform attitudes and relationships to reduce the incidence of domestic violence.  USPG, Tearfund, Christian Aid, the Mothers Union and CMS are all working to overcome Gender Based Violence. 

Whether we engage locally and/or support agencies acting globally to combat GBV, we remember that Christianity is about serving the God of love who made all people with value and dignity. Our faith is about following Jesus Christ who honoured and respected women, and resisted violence.

Warp and Weft

As Diocesan Environmental Officer for Sheffield Diocese, I went to my first DEO day recently, feeling very green. Green in the sense of feeling inexperienced, rather than in the environmental sense! I’ve had the role for a few months, but with only a day a week to devote to it and school summer holidays taken over by family illness (all better now) I feel I’ve hardly got started. It certainly showed up what I don’t know – do we even have a diocesan environmental policy? Any eco-congregations? Any churches or parsonages with solar panel? Lots to discover.

I was inspired too, by the stories other DEOs shared. Stories of Cathedrals with solar panels and winning eco-church awards, stories of schemes to help churches switch to green energy,stories of community environmental projects which build relationships as well as care for creation, stories of simple pledges people can make to reduce their carbon footprint. My mind is whirring. How can we bring these things to bear in Sheffield Diocese?

But most of all, the day seemed to keep coming back to one word – ‘embed’. How do we embed our creation care into our everyday church life – our liturgy, our spirituality, our mission, our social justice, our discipleship? How do we make sure it is the warp and weft of who we are, what we do?

We finished with the Rt Rev Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston, and so I will too. Creation care and tackling climate change flow directly from the Gospel. Right now, creation is groaning (Romans 8:22), but through Christ, all things have been reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20). We have been given creation as a gift (Genesis 1:28-29), but it is not ours to exploit (Leviticus 19:9-10) much less to destroy. It is entrusted to us for future generations until creation is restored and renewed. As we live out our calling to be the body of Christ and to be Good News for the world, our commitment to the care of the world is central to our identity in Christ.

Jo's writes a regular blog which can be found at: Act justly love mercy walk humbly...

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