Parish Mission and Evangelism

The PCC has begun to look afresh at our mission as a church and how we go about bringing new people to our church which takes me back to the very basic question of asking What are we here for?' For answering that question will very much define what we do about mission and evangelism

Our mission statement created quite a few years ago now, states that we are here:‑

'To bring people to a personal love and knowledge of Jesus Christ through the sacramental life and daily witness of the Church.' (1999) - a statement that equally applies to those who already come to St. Augustine's as to those who don't.

Our missionary endeavor as a Church is to somehow reach those who don't!

Looking back 10 years ago we did quite a lot of thinking in the wake of the Church of England report 'Mission Shaped Church' (2004). The report asked all of us to think about the 5 marks or values that were identified as characterising a mission shaped church. I won't detail those values now but basically we were tasked with asking which of these values most characterised the Church we belong to ie St. Augustine's.

We were also asked to think about which of these values most challenged the Church we belong to? And finally how might the riches of our tradition be better used in the mission of our church? Taking up the challenge, we entered into a process with the Diocese's Mission and Development Department to look at what we are here for and what the mission of our church might be.

Looking back at summaries of that process, we were initially spurred on by the challenge to find the money to keep our church going. And so in the Autumn of 2005 we first met with Tony Hennessy - Brown.

Before the process began, I had clearly outlined my own vision of what we are here for, ( Reaching out 59 1999) a vision I said that focused on us being 'a mission church,…the mission being to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to the local community and reach out and touch people's lives.’  I also wrote at this time that this might mean looking at ourselves to see if we were in fact a mission shaped church and whether we deliver the goods!' Something that would mean not just talking but action.

The workshops conducted in 2006 looked at a number of aspects of church life to build up an answer to the question ‘what are we here for?'.  Broadly they were, the nurture and growth of our community (i.e. church), our worship and prayer, outreach and witness and our purpose and resources.  Basically the outcome was that we didn't think we were doing too bad as a church but the conclusion was that we needed a ‘clear vision of our future direction and priorities for action.’ Although the workshops proved very useful revealing a lot about what was actually going on, the dynamic if you like, we did get bogged down with too much navel gazing and too many conflicting views which eventually turned into something quite negative and really got in the way of finding a useful way to translate our deliberations into actions!

Now fast forward to 2014—well some of us are still here and I suppose some of us are still asking the same questions about ourselves and the future, especially as we reassess our position in the light of recent developments in the life of the church. As a Director of Mission and Development put it to me a few weeks ago there are now only two traditionalist churches in the diocese, you and Hawley. Yes I said but even we are two very different parishes! I actually spent a very positive couple of hours with him mindful of the Diocese's ongoing mission policy at present which is basically focused on growth, because if the church doesn't grow and particularly draw in new and younger members it will go on shrinking until there is nothing left!

The Diocese sets out our common purpose as

'Growing Communities of Faith and Engagement'

Defined in terms of:-

Growth in Numbers

Growth in Spiritual Maturity

Growth in Community Engagement

I personally think we rate pretty well in this, bearing in mind the nature of this parish and that we are not just a parish church, but an associational church, meaning quite a proportion of the people here chose to come to St. Augustine’s because of the tradition it offers and tries to maintain.

In terms of numbers, despite losses and a few refugees arriving from elsewhere there has been 10% new growth this year (though trying to encourage those newcomers to be a regular part of the faith community is not without difficulty and I suspect there has already been shrinkage and falling by the wayside) yet people still come through the door!

In terms of spiritual maturity— well that's a work in progress but we do offer the opportunity for people to grow and develop spiritually through our worship and corporate life together, including definite teaching and serious preaching. In terms of community engagement, although we are partly an eclectic gathering, we do actively engage with the local community and parish across a wide spectrum, from working with and supporting local charities and organisations, the schools, the Community partnership chaired by myself, the coffee mornings, the parent and toddler group and preschool, to name but a few—doing what the diocese describes as 'resisting isolation and self-preserving attitudes, and encouraging a practical concern for justice, right living and respect for all in the wider community.'

But there is that difficult question lurking there when the Diocese and Alan are asking 'are there people or groups who we are not reaching at the moment with the good news of Jesus, who we could reach if we had a missional congregation at a different time or place or style.' (Alan asked what all age café style worship might look like in the Catholic tradition, I discussed this with Bishop Lindsay at Walsingham, we agreed it is always going to lead back to the Eucharist, not coffee and croissants!

While the Diocese admits 'there is no single recipe to enable church growth, there are key factors, a willingness to change, involving the laity and having a clear vision and purpose', developing a Mission Action Plan!

The latest C of E Report 'From Anecdote to evidence says much the same' outlining urgent priorities as good leadership, clear mission and purpose, willingness to self-reflect, a clear chosen style of worship, an emphasis on catechisis and nurturing disciples. No specific ecclesial tradition was seen as a factor for growth and decline one way or another (good news for us) However it was important to have consistency and clarity and whole hearted support for the chosen style and tradition. Two kinds of church are identified and this is important for us to consider for it effects how we tackle mission etc.

There is the missional church which is one that goes out boldly and proactively proclaiming, and bringing teaching and healing to those who don't have it and will perish without it and there is the attractional church which has a come to us mentality, 'we have what you need and it's located right here. Come and see and you will find out, whether from the beauty of our liturgy, the power and authenticity of our preaching, the quality of our relationships and pastoral care.'

Well I know which one sounds like us and that is bound to be the case for a church that has developed not just as a parish church serving North Town but as an associational church that people choose to come to and belong to.

The report tells us a genuine theology of mission contains elements of both 'simultaneously drawing people in through our community life, through invitation, through forming... life giving relationships and moving out through our witness and service and through the opportunities to listen and speak which are afforded us—each should energise the other.

Central to any mission dynamic must be the CROSS, which is if you think about it the supreme example of attraction, yet we know too that Jesus went out to where people are and he sends us out to draw people to him as he drew them.. And so we must also be apostolic in our mission. If we are apostolic in our mission we will not, as recently described by Damian Feeney (New Directions) see the 'drawing of people through the church door, sat in a pew and clutching a gift aid form, as the end of our striving, our work somehow done.

So what about us, are we being apostolic in our mission? Certainly we have always been an outward rather than an inward looking church. I wrote nearly the same as Fr. Feeney in that 1999 edition of Reaching Out, the same year we formulated our mission statement.

At the time I wrote, and still believe, that mission is 'not going out and dragging people off the street and into church or cold door knocking— it's about each of us living out our Christian vocation and living it out there in the context of the culture/s of the community of which we are part and at the same time seeking to draw people into membership of the Body of Christ. Writing about us being traditional or traditionalist, I said we needed to be more traditional, not less, with the ministry and mission of our church continuing to be firmly focused on the sacraments and teaching the faith as we have received it from the Apostles and Saints, adding that being traditional didn't mean the priest doing all the ministry and mission, it meant priest and people together looking for Jesus out there together and drawing other people into the life of the Church, so that they too might experience his saving grace.

Churches like ours, rooted in the catholic revival of the 19th century, have always been missionary, seeking to save souls YES but engaging in social action too, working to bring in the Kingdom of God, proclaiming the Good news of the Gospel, teaching the faith, celebrating the sacraments and staying close to people, just like Our Lord, through pastoral ministry

As we move forward and think about the future and ongoing mission of this church we must do so conscious of why we actually think we are here in the first place. It was Bishop John Gladwin who years ago said we needed to 'reconnect with ordinary people,' that's something I've always tried to do— of course it doesn't mean having a full church on Sunday, but then Jesus didn't come to fill churches but to build a kingdom, a kingdom open and welcoming.

People still talk about St. Augustine's being their church, certainly we are always baptising their children and conducting their funerals, marriages well their rarity has been part of the social make-up of the place!. Of course we could do what other parishes and their priests do, make it hard to get your kids christened or say I'm unavailable for a funeral, but these are some of the best opportunities to reach people and proclaim the good news of the kingdom. A good parish church will be one that gives of its ministry freely and expect nothing in return, after Our Lord's own pattern! A parish church that follows a traditional model of ministry and mission will not assess the effectiveness of its ministry and mission by the number of people in church on a Sunday— the church is God's universal sacrament of salvation, she does not depend on numbers for her life and that life comes from God. If we keep faithful then I am sure God will continue to bless our work even if in the context of a rich and prosperous Diocese we don't seem to achieve much, but who can judge, only God. The harvest out there is rich, and we are well aware that the laborers here are few, but that has not stopped us in the past and it shouldn't hinder us in the future if we remain not only faithful but true to the ministry and mission enshrined in our mission statement.

'To bring people to a personal love and knowledge of Jesus Christ through the sacramental life and daily witness of the church.' Are we still being effective in this, are we committed to this statement?

What are we here for? Whatever new ideas we might have about mission or parish evangelism, whatever else we are engaged upon,, we need to remind ourselves that 'the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed is also the fount from which all her power flows' in the words of the 2nd Vatican Council, (Vatican II -Const. on the Sacred Liturgy Chl.10) 'for the goal of apostolic endeavor is that all should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the sacrifice and to eat the Lord's supper, the life of the one Body of Christ is perfected in the Holy Eucharist.' This has always been at the heart of and fundamental to my understanding of my ministry as a parish priest and fundamental to my understanding of our mission together as church in this place and I have no reason to change my understanding which has basically remained unchanged in 34 years of ministry.

There will be more on Mission later in 2014 and into 2015