Is church for the long-term?
If it is not happening in a parish somewhere then it is not happening. This may be just another way of saying “… Mission is always in a local context – whether diocese, parish or other local community” (Archbishop of Armagh, 2016 General Synod). So, if all mission is local in the Church of Ireland are there things that the central Church can do to encourage this?
The Church of Ireland’s Long-term Church initiative is one such thing that has been put in place recently. The purpose of the initiative is to equip and support those serving the Church as it readies itself for a challenging future. So how will that purpose be worked out?
In line with the vision of the Archbishop of Armagh, the Long-term Church initiative combines a number of projects which are about developing and re-organising the central Church in order that it can better support the missional and pastoral strategy of the whole Church of Ireland.
STRUCTURES AND MISSION?
So, do structures make a difference in a Church? Can they make a difference to how effectively a Church can do mission? The evidence is that structures have a real impact. But don’t just take it from me!
Jaci Maraschin, a Brazilian theologian, said: “One of the characteristic and fundamental missionary tasks of the Church is to examine and review its structures to see that they continue to remain suitable for mission”. Who would have thought it?
Back in 1988 the Lambeth Conference made a call to the Anglican Communion to “shift to a dynamic missionary emphasis going beyond care and nurture to proclamation and service”. Sound familiar? It went on to acknowledge that “such a call presents a challenge to congregational and diocesan structures, and to existing patterns of worship and ministry. In other words, if the Church is to fulfil the missionary mandate, it must make sure that its structures and procedures are not inimical to mission”.
But we don’t have to go to Brazil or Lambeth for such a view. The same opinion was expressed at our own 2014 General Synod. A Joint Statement from The Council for Mission, The Commission on Ministry and The Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures noted: “… the desire to see the structures, administration and finances of the Church shaped by a clear understanding of the mission of the Church, particularly as it is expressed in the statement from the House of Bishops in 2008 which set the aims of Growth, Unity and Service”.
Don’t run for the hills as I consider a business term – execution. Essentially, it is the ability to say this is what we should do, how we are going to do it and when it is going to be. It is the ability to do what we said we were going to do.
Mission has been clearly identified as a key priority within the Church of Ireland. The evidence for this is to be found not just in speeches at General Synod. The commitment is in a thread that goes through our most seminal documents – in what we say about ourselves as
It is one thing to decide that something ought to be a priority. A good intention without the means to deliver it will usually remain just that – a good intention. Structures are important. They won’t do mission for any of us locally, so we should not be disappointed that they don’t. But getting the right structures that support mission is vital.
In the Church of Ireland we are good at thoroughly considering the theological ‘why’ of any priority. Yet, having decided on a priority requires provision of the means to deliver it. Having the structures and resources in place to execute it is another. If these mechanisms are absent any priority set will remain as no more than a good intention or wishful thinking. How do we know what our priorities are? By looking at where we allocate our money or personnel.
There are two interesting developments in this regard. One is the Long-term Church project, referenced on our front page. It combines a number of projects that are about developing and re-organising the central Church in order that it can better support the missional and pastoral strategy of the whole Church of Ireland. It has grouped its ambitions around four objectives:
• Church in the community and the world;
• Outreach and presence;
• Accountability and professionalism;
• Resources and resource utilisation.
Secondly, there is a sense that some of our key boards in recent years have been asking fundamental questions about our ability to ‘do’ mission and to ask what needs to change. Surely a vital part of any process of self-reflection.
There are two reasons why structures matter. One is that they can help things to happen. Perhaps, more importantly, they are a signal of intent. It is a way of indicating that we don’t just say that mission is important. When money and personnel are allocated to the task it is evidence that the intent is genuine.
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