It would take an act of almost wilful ignorance for any long-term UK resident to be unaware that the Church of England has some problems. Since the 1950s there’s been a gradual reduction in church going in England, and, since the 1970s, a strong sense that most people no longer see their default identity as ‘C of E’. There are, of course, many factors in these changes and I’m not going to outline them here. Rather, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge ‘the facts’.
As a Church of England parish church, St Nicks faces many challenges and opportunities, whether that’s in terms of fabric or in terms of the helping our congregation to grow and thrive. In many respects I am not over anxious about these matters, primarily because God is extraordinary gracious and good. That which is of God cannot be kept down in the long-term. However, it’s also clear to me that we are called into partnership with God to work for the Kingdom. We are people of The Way and we follow where Christ leads, but we only do that in participation. We are also the Body of Christ. If we are to be that in the world we have to get on actually live it.
As such, we have ‘re-booted’ our Mission and Stewardship Group. It includes people like the church wardens, the curate and me as well a number of other volunteers from both the PCC and the wider congregation. We are in the midst of developing a Mission Action Plan (MAP). If you haven’t heard of them, expect to become a mighty expert on them in coming months! I’ve no wish to sport with your intelligence, but for those of you who don’t know what a MAP is, it’s a way of reflecting on where we are as a congregation/parish and – by understanding our hopes, priorities and opportunities – planning our mission strategy. If that still sounds a little opaque, do not be alarmed! In essence, a MAP is there as a tool to help us think about how we can practically serve the wider community as well become a growing congregation.
The one thing a MAP is not is a magic wand. By attempting to follow through on the priorities we set we shall find that some things work and some things don’t. The MAP also shows us where we’re doing good and exciting things already. In having a plan written down we have a reference point. If a particular project isn’t going well, then we can revisit it and adjust.
Apologies if this all sounds very dry. In one respect it is. For those of us who are rather more instinctual in our faith and who delight in the wild wanderings of the Spirit, Mission Action Planning comes across as the invention of the managerial mind – safe, planned, and unimaginative.
However, MAP offers us a way to hold our mission to account. And it exists as a tool. In the coming months, I hope more and more people – as the MAP process develops – will take ‘ownership’ of our Plan. What I mean is, that each one of us (whether we see ourselves at the centre of the church’s life or at its edges) have an opportunity to shape our plan of action for coming months and years. I hope to have a session or a morning in which feedback can be worked into the Plan. I shall also preach on the matter at some point. (Oh, how you wait with bated breath for that one!)
‘Consultation’ isn’t about paying lip-service to congregational views, but a reminder of my earlier point about us being Christ in this little plot of Manchester. We are people God is calling to service, love and proclamation. The future of the Church of England and of St Nick’s is ultimately in God’s hands, but we are representatives of those hands in this world. We have so many gifts, so much hope and a whole panoply of joy here at St Nick’s.