A letter to the congregations of:
St Mary’s Apsley End,
St Benedict’s Bennetts End
Holy Trinity Leverstock Green
For nearly 3 years now our parish and the parish of All Saints, Kings Langley, have been engaged in conversations with a view to the two parishes uniting to form a new team ministry. We are not the only parishes facing such change – it is happening across our diocese and the Church of England as a whole, as the Church at large seeks to ensure appropriate pastoral care in every parish with a reduced number of stipendiary clergy.
Change is never easy to accept in any area of life but change can also present us with new opportunities and this is how I and the ministerial team in our parish view the proposed new team ministry. A joint meeting between our 3 District Church Councils and the PCC of Kings Langley was held on Sunday 18 January at Abbot’s Hill School. Our Archdeacon, Jonathan Smith, opened the meeting encouraging us in this new collaborative enterprise, quoting some wise words of the famous Cardinal John Henry Newman: ‘….to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’
The Revd John Quill facilitated an exercise whereby those present divided into 4 mixed groups to undertake tasks relating to communication, children and young people, ministry and mission. There was feedback from the groups illustrating clearly just how effective we can be in working together, harnessing all the resources of our 4 churches. The question was then posed – what structure would best enable us as a new team ministry to work together in a way we glimpsed through the afternoon’s exercises?
Archdeacon Jonathan then offered us a model which is described as a multi-parish benefice. Each of our districts would become a parish with its own Parochial Church Council dealing with matters pertaining to each parish e.g. maintenance of buildings, finance etc. There would be a Team Council made up of clergy and elected members from each PCC and the Council would be responsible for promoting mission, ministry and pastoral care across the benefice, with PCCs implementing the Council’s policies. The Team Council would also decide on financial matters relating to the benefice as a whole, with all the churches sharing and supporting one another in their financial responsibilities. The clergy would be licensed to the team as a whole and would minister across the benefice, offering all the churches the variety of skills and experience of each priest, ensuring effective priestly ministry in all the churches. Because this is a new benefice a new name needs to be found indicating that this is a fresh start for all the churches.
There was a very positive agreement from the meeting that this was the model that should be adopted. The next stage in the process is to begin drafting a formal document that sets out the details of a new benefice, and I have already been working with Jim May, the Diocesan Pastoral Secretary, on this very task. When the formal draft document has been drawn up there will have to be further consultation with the church councils of both parishes, other interested parties and the Church Commissioners. However, if there are no difficulties or objections along the way the process can run smoothly and hopefully a new formal team ministry will come into being within several months.
The proposed new team ministry means considerable change for all of us, clergy and congregations alike, and as I said at the beginning of this letter change is never easy. Perhaps we need to remember what this change will offer us. We will have as resources 4 church buildings all in good states of repair, communities of people with a very rich diversity of experience and skills, and a strong ministerial team of stipendiary and non-stipendiary clergy and readers – many a parish in the Church of England would be envious of these resources! The new structure being proposed is not an end in itself but rather to enable us to harness all our resources and to work together to share in God’s mission to the world, and the world for us will be our new benefice and the local communities we serve. Collaborative ministry is now well-recognised to be the most effective ministry and we are now offered this opportunity as 4 churches to engage afresh in working together, supporting and encouraging one another and perhaps even daring to be imaginative and creative in the different ways in which we will work together.
Please pray for all involved in the formal process leading towards the creation of a new benefice, and let us all pray for one another, that we may be open to all that lies ahead and be prepared to support one another as we go through a period of considerable change in the life of our respective churches.
Revd David Lawson
25 January 2009