Being a part of a denomination has benefits and disadvantages for pioneers and those who don’t quite fit the mold. Others elsewhere have blogged about some of the disadvantages: that sometimes pioneer ministers are expected to do the pioneering alongside a more traditional role to which they often don’t feel called or inclined to (that’s why they’re pioneers, right!), and that there often aren’t the right sort of roles around for many pioneers when they come out of training. It seems that many Dioceses have something to learn in making the most of those whom have been called into ministry.
But when supportive dioceses make money available for full-time pioneers, the pioneer can feel very well supported by having others of the same denomination behind.
Although I didn’t train as a pioneer – I did a 3-year residential training at an established theological college followed by a curacy in a busy city-centre church – I do feel very blessed to have the support of the Diocese behind what I am doing. They thought through how to use the money and the position. For example, I am not connected to the local church, which, whilst it is supportive, would have taken much of my attention away from the pioneering on the new build development. The diocese thought through giving me a line manager to oversee my work – someone doing similar work on a more established new-build village nearby, and a mentor who has new build experience but who I am not directly accountable to. As with every ordained minister in the Church of England, I’m also part of a local clergy chapter and ministers cluster. And my local area has a fairly active and supportive Churches Together group.
The diocese also thought through giving me a budget for set up costs of ministries and events, realising that when people come to faith there is usually a lag between their faith and their giving. And I have not been given any targets for my work here – recognising that fresh expressions appear in all shapes and sizes so that one target may not fit what is best for the area. Instead I’ve been giving milestones, to ensure that I am following the right processes for engaging with a community and starting fresh expressions. In addition to that there are many other networks springing out of Fresh Expressions that I can plug into for support.
Recently, we had a good break in the USA visiting my in-laws. Whilst there, in addition to enjoying free babysitting from the grandparents, I met a church planter from the Acts 29 network who was trying to plant in the small university town of Plymouth, NH. He and his wife were currently living in Concord, NH, about an hour away and travelling up each weekend to lead a bible study for a few Christians in Plymouth. They were trying to move but the planter also needs to work full time to support his wife and family (and to make sure he has medical insurance!). Acts 29 is a network, not a denomination. They are offering him valuable support and people to talk to, but no money or help on the ground. It made me thankful that a) I live in a country with national health service, and b) that this Diocese here has thought through the roles of pioneering and has tried to put in the best possible structures in order for the pioneer to be equipped and supported.
Other Diocese’s and denominations, please come and talk to the good people in Peterborough to find out how they have done it.