Parish Magazine Article - June 2018
I have recently returned from Sabbatical leave. As part of that time I spent five weeks in New Zealand. As a country both islands are a similar land mass to the United Kingdom. A massive difference between us is that their population is just under five million where ours is around sixty five million. Outside the major cities their populations are small and dispersed. Shropshire is one of the least populated in the United Kingdom and so in lots of ways our rural felt similar to their rural. My visit to New Zealand included time spent with the Church. With real generosity I was able to see first hand how they exercise local ministry in the rural context, meet the Deans and hear how ministry is given through the Cathedrals and learn from their Bishops and Archbishops how oversight and leadership has developed. While the differences are real there was much we have in common as well. Like us they have the challenges of raising necessary finance and seeking to grow recognising that in many places the reality are ageing congregations.
Also like us, they have significant signs of life and hope. One of the differences was their willingness to explore and practice shared ministry patterns with leadership being held corporately in each local context. In some cases, their equivalent of a deanery was completely served by self-supporting priests. In those instances, there was a confidence that God will and does raise up from the local the necessary gifts among his people. In each situation a support officer was given to act as a critical friend and mentor to the local leadership. The work they undertook in relation to serving the common good was excellent. Rural poverty there is significant and the local church does much to meet that need.
If there was one challenge that both churches face and which there is yet to be significant fruit it was in seeing another generation come to faith and live as disciples of Christ. Henry Venn a founder of the Church Missionary Society with others encouraged Christians in each place to become self-governing, self-supporting and self-replicating. It is the last of these three, being a self-replicating community of faith that remains the challenge both there and here. One of the ways we are seeking to address this is through the Intergenerational Missioners. Easter and Pentecost encourage us to be confident disciples, seeking the common good and empowered to pass on faithfully what has faithfully passed on to us.