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/ 8 August 2016

Listening Response: Edmonton Revisited

Bishop Rob Wickham

This article is taken from a talk given to clergy in the Edmonton Area in July 2016.

Between October 2015 and July 2016, I carried out a nine month listening exercise, to meet, pray, listen and discern, primarily to God, and also to the Area, which covers Enfield, Haringey, Barnet and Camden. That’s 1.2 million people!

This journey has not been a disappointment!

Those who were intentionally met included:

All deanery synods, all deanery chapters, lay chairs of synods, readers, youth providers and young people, Bishop’s Mission Order clergy, traditional catholic clergy, classical evangelical clergy, BAME clergy, women clergy, Mothers’ Union, WATCH, head teachers (mostly Barnet), leaders / CEOs of borough councils, MPs, and other civic leaders, deputy lieutenants, most Common Fund Meetings. It has been a busy time!

My reflections on the past nine months will take the form of three parts. Most importantly, firstly, I want to share some creative and excellent ways in which our churches and our communities are working together for the common good.

Secondly, I have reflected upon a number of challenges that we face together. Then finally, I would like to share some thoughts on our direction of travel as the Church within the Hampstead Archdeaconry.

Part 1: Good News Stories

The Growing Healthy Churches model speaks of doing a small number of things, and doing them well, and here are some good news stories where together we have intentionally made a tangible difference within our communities:

  1. Bias to the Poor. Celebrating our work within the credit unions, foodbanks, night shelters, work with Citizens UK, and Housing Justice.
  2. Working together across traditions. Celebrating our diversity and partnership: in Kentish Town.
  3. Making disciples. Ambassadors, and how the Pilot churches have changed and developed.
  4. Children and young people. Interviewing the exceptional youth workers in St Mary’s Primrose Hill, and also the work of Compassion at Christ Church, Cockfosters.
  5. Regeneration. How we are actively responding to new housing in the Area, especially within West Barnet.
  6. Training. Celebrating our new training courses with the appointment of the Revd Nigel Taylor as Area Director of Training and Development and Dr Steve Griffiths, Principal of the St Edmund Course.

As, I hope you can see, here are some clear examples of excellent and creative work, making Christ known. I know that these projects are not unique, and there are many other examples of our intentional focus upon growth, and upon service – both fundamental to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, ultimately leading people into a developing relationship with Jesus Christ. Once again, thank you.

Part 2: Challenges:

1. The flourishing of our clergy

We have excellent clergy in Edmonton, working in difficult circumstances, places and contexts.

We want all clergy to flourish, therefore as an Area, each of us now has HR support and instant access to counselling when required. The Archdeacon continues to be a great support and our appointment of Nigel Taylor as the Area Director of Training and Development will add to this sense of flourishing. Clergy support and development is key to this. Part of our flourishing, it seems to me, comes from a commitment to being accountable, and working in collaboration – Ministerial Development Review and then Continuing Ministerial Education are being reinvigorated on the basis of this. Teachers, doctors – indeed most other professions – have a hunger for training and learning new things. In many ways we do not, and with Nigel, we are looking to boost our confidence by investing in our training.

Deanery Chapters must be places of support. I have given a clear mandate to new area deans to imagine deaneries differently as they share in our parish ministry, but also our episcopal ministry, appointing sub deans and beyond.

We also need to intentionally work across our diversity, I’m also determined to support the work of the Society, and vouchsafe sacramental assurance and the flourishing of difference in the Area.

But, my brothers and sisters, to enable us to flourish, some things do have to change about our behaviour, because we are not always as supporting of each other as we might be. Cynicism and a lack of generosity, at times, are experienced, and this is not edifying when it takes place. This has even been recognised by some of our most senior civic leaders.

I know that we are united in Jesus Christ in the Archdeaconry, but there are some very deep fault lines. Some of these take the form of a difference of theology concerning gender, sexual orientation, Church tradition and so on, but these will exist, it seems to me until Jesus returns. However, we are all on the same team: all ordained to further the Great Commission, and pray for the return of Jesus Christ, and we need to view each other as colleagues, or indeed, as Jesus reminds us, as his friends.

Our task needs to be an outward task, not against what the next door parish might be doing. We are to make Christ known, and to build koinonia in the midst of our very fragile and fractured communities- both rich and poor.

Our outward, missional focus, and a collaborative focus is so necessary. Let’s look at the figures.

The average Church of England church in Edmonton is 1.3% of the population. The diocesan average is 1.8%. Here we are, in some cases, being threatened by each other, yet in much of the Area, why are we not intentionally focussing upon the other 98.7% of the population. Is this the right approach? Traditionally, occasional offices constitute our mission field, but our figures of occasional offices are in significant decline; we know that from our own experiences. We are in new territory, and we have to work in collaboration as a response.

2. Supporting our lay people

It is clear from the listening exercise, from being with the licensed lay ministers, Mothers’ Union and lay chairs of the deanery synods that God has called an extraordinary group of lay people to our churches. Thank you for your dedication and support for the building up of the body of Christ. But, the listening exercise has also highlighted that we need to develop a deeper sense of religious literacy and confidence in the Gospel, as we serve our communities.

The listening exercise does highlight a lack of confidence in why we are and what we do. This, it seems to me, puts a great deal of emphasis upon our need to develop a confident laity. Confident in our knowledge of the Bible, sharing our faith with our children, supporting parents, and confident in their desire for others to come to know Jesus for their salvation. For some, however, it literally is about just getting more bums on pews, in order to pay the parish “quota”!

Many churches have fantastic courses which take place, and many churches work in partnership in the development of discipleship programmes, as we have witnessed in Kentish Town. But, could this be strengthened. If Church X is putting on a training course, why cannot people from Church Y attend? Well usually because they do not know about it, or they think it is the “wrong” kind of church. Might each deanery create collaborative resource churches, which others might look to, as the place to offer marriage preparation, Bible study, leadership training or youth and children’s work training. Resource churches which are not a threat, but literally a resource for supporting confident disciples. We don’t need to double up, we don’t need to compete. We can share God’s resources for an intention mission across the whole area

3. Vocations

We are at a difficult moment, and we do need to foster new vocations from across each Church tradition. We also must foster, especially in Edmonton, greater numbers of women’s vocations, and those from a BAME background. We must support and develop our excellent home-grown initiatives such as the North London Pastoral Assistants Scheme, and it is incumbent upon each of us to pray for new leaders in our churches, from a variety of different settings: from the Inner City Estate to the guarded and gated community, if we are to continue in the mission of Jesus Christ. A leadership which reflects the people that we are serving. Nationally, we need to increase vocations by 50% year on year, otherwise we will have significantly less clergy from 2030. This figure is just for us to stand still. If we want to grow the numbers of clergy, we effectively need to double our numbers.

I pray that Edmonton is an Area where people can respond to God’s call. Whether they be gay, black or a woman, whether they be Classical Evangelical, Traditional Catholic or hands down for coffee charismatic, in Edmonton, we are striving for a place of belonging and inclusion.

4. Children and young people

I have met, borough by borough, with groups of young people. They have been a fascinating group to meet with, both young people and their leaders. They are hungry for faith, and they are desperate to fit in and conform. I’m no expert, but, as we know, many of our young people seem to leave church when they hit a certain age, and in many cases, we watch this take place.

My reflections from our young people is that their experiences are very varied. Some are frightened to leave the front door, for fear of gang activity and threat. Others have no money to go anywhere and hang out with their friends and then they get moaned at.

Many are both gripped by their digital space, but also bullied or coerced within their digital space as part of a need to fit in and conform in terms of looks, relationships, work etc. Many of our young people too are stressed, and this was shared in our small groups. It is great that the Children’s Society are here, as their reports on the increasing levels of mental health problems are alarming. One in five children living in poverty feels like a failure. One in seven of more affluent children feel like a failure. This is alarming, and one which we can speak directly into, if we think that human flourishing is essential for all. There are some great examples in the Area and beyond of churches coming together to put on specific youth services and youth events, from Soul Survivor and the work of N:Flame

Young people also like to be discipled by young people, with mentoring from older people, and this needs coordination. The Jubilee Church and other large Pentecostal churches have thriving youth programmes – where young people disciple each other – and young people flock to attend and thrive. Why is it sometimes that the best that we offer is six sessions with the Vicar before Confirmation? How are we learning, how are we supporting our young people in their discipleship, when all the research states that a conversion as a young person is more likely to sustain an adult throughout their lives?

5. Reaching new people

I spoke earlier on about the challenge of our mission. There are great swathes of areas of the Episcopal Area which have no base for Christian worship. Again this requires a deep sense of unthreatened intentional mission. From the listening process, there is a threat of communities changing, and in many cases becoming more and more affluent, or some estates becoming more and more run down. As we have heard, the programme for West Barnet is a next step, building upon our experiences in Kings Cross and Tottenham Hale. Each area of regeneration is a reminder to us of the great commission, and it is a joy to be within the Diocese of London, which has dared to plan for a greater capacity to reach now Londoners.

We also have the great track record in Tottenham (St Ann’s and St Mary’s) and Woodside Park (St Barnabas) where churches have now been planted into our forgotten estates – the places where many fear to tread – and what creative and exciting places they are too, building on the exciting work of Fr Moore many decades ago on Graham Park.

It does mean, however, that our shape will look different. We must think imaginatively at our missional living, missional communities, estate churches and Bishop’s Mission orders. We must not be threatened by areas of regeneration, or areas of significant estate poverty but embrace them, learning from “the other” as we go.

In speaking with the borough council leaders, despite some negative comments, there is a desire to work with us, if we can join up our thinking. Recently I, with the Director of Strategic Development, met with David Lunts, the head of housing at the GLA. Our now track record in West Barnet, Strawberry Vale, Tottenham, Kings Cross, Stonegrove, and other areas of London has led to all sorts of doors opening. Our approach, and our desire for places where people can thrive – places of liveability – has been described as “timely” in terms of Sadiq Khan’s priorities. It is great to be building upon the principles of Basil Jellicoe and others from our past. But we are just scratching the surface, which is why our mapping is crucial. Where are the gaps, and how can we plant in the most creative of ways?

To reiterate, no one church will reach everyone in the parish. Those days are over, such is the complexity of London life. But with gentle cooperation, we must create an environment of welcome for new mission initiatives, and not be threatened by them. They are not a pointer that a parish church is failing in their mission. It is a fact of our ministry that we must work in partnership. Once again, we are all servants of Jesus Christ, and colleagues in the Gospel, living out the Trinity. Let’s not hear of the ridiculous “that’s not taking place on my patch”!

This is about partnership and as the Bishop of London regularly reminds us, we need to “give thanks for our partnership in the Gospel”. Partnership with each other, partnership with others.

Part 3: Where are we going now? Priorities and Imagination

Pray and collaborate

Year 1 2016-17. Discipleship and ambassadors. Jon March will chair a steering group, which will bring together people from each borough. This steering group will oversee the implementation of Ambassadors across the Episcopal Area as a mechanism for growing a confident laity.

Vocations focus

Year 2 2017-18. A new team of ADOs and borough vocation roadshows. Pray for Seven now. A steering group will be set up in the New Year, and the year of focus will begin with the Study Summit on 10 October 2017.

New worshipping communities

Year 3/4 2018-2020. Mapping exercises of our estates and other places will continue, and we try and meet the needs of our churches supporting specific groups, for example the IGBO church, or the new Turkish church. Two years of planning will lead to a year of opening new churches, in conjunction with Bishop Ric.

Undergirding the lot: children and young people

2016-2020. Steve and Jo Griffiths will chair a steering group of developing an Edmonton strategy. Again as from today, we will pull a task group from each borough to form the strategy, alongside Sam Donoghue, Head of Children and Youth Support, at Diocesan House.

Finally, I want to end where I began. Thank you.

About Rob Wickham

Robert Wickham became Bishop of Edmonton in September 2015. He is responsible for the four north London Boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield and Haringey. Bishop Rob is also lead bishop for ALMA, our partnership with the Anglican Church in Angola and Mozambique.

Read more from Rob Wickham

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