The initial attraction of this position when, about nine months ago, I saw the advertisement for this post in the Church Times was this phrase 'Mission Community' that appeared on the top of the ad. I then found out that these five parishes were the first commissioned 'Mission Community' - called the Five Alive Mission Community - in the Diocese. Since that time one more benefice has been commissioned and many others are thinking about what this might mean for them and are working towards the point of being a 'Mission Community'.
But this is more than just re-branding (this group of parishes could have constituted themselves as a 'Team Ministry' or 'Group Ministry' rather than as this Mission Community). This is an attempt, here in the South West of England at least, at redefining the Church of England's response to the changing world in which God has placed us. Though we still work with the established church constraints - and liberations - of the parish system, though there is a weight of history and tradition upon the shoulders of the local church, though we are in a transitional state of being and becoming Church, we are seeking to create a new identity, a new way of doing and being Church.
This is more than just propping up a fading institution. This is an attempt at a new vision, working both within and beyond the old parish system, drawing us towards a fuller expression of 'every member ministry' where all recognise their part in the proclamation of the kingdom of God.
In practical terms it means building up ministry teams comprised of lay and ordained members, of meeting together more often as well as continuing a pattern of worship for each church fellowship, it means reconsidering the way we meet the needs of young, old and everyone in our worship on Sundays and through the week. It means pooling our resources to do youth work, adult teaching and training, children's ministry, outreach, social action and engagement. This has been a feature of the life of these parishes, and of many within Team and Group ministries, for many years, but now there is the new edge of being Mission oriented, and of asking hard questions along the lines of 'if this isn't for the advancement of God's kingdom, why are we doing it?'
Our day in the Sheldon Centre gave a number of representatives, both Clergy and laity, the opportunity to share some thoughts about change and the management of change, of the difficulties and joys in working together. There was a very good Bible study/talk from our local Bishop, Bishop Bob and for Clergy an update about our new Professional Development, Appraisal and Accountability scheme. As you can tell, the consideration of Mission Communities is still a thought in process, for me and for the Anglican churches generally in Devon. Probably too many words and too little action at present, watch this space for practical applications and progress in the future, hopefully.