From the Rectory
In addition to my duties as Associate priest at St Margaret’s and St Michael’s, I also work for the Diocese of Chelmsford. My role is Turnaround ministry: i.e. I work with parishes that have run into problems, and help them sort things out. It’s a new role within the diocese, and pretty unique within the Church of England. It’s intensely rewarding and very enjoyable. So what does this role comprise?
I mainly work for the Archdeacon of Chelmsford, Elizabeth Snowden. We identify a parish or group of parishes which is in need of help. Perhaps their parish priest has had to leave suddenly, through ill health, or there has been conflict within the church which needs healing, or there is pastoral reorganisation to be negotiated.
The Archdeacon suggests to the parish priest (if there is one) and to the Churchwardens, that I might be able to help and we set up a meeting. In the mean time I do a bit of research. I’ll visit the parish, have a look at the church, and take a walk round the area. I also do on-line research collating a variety of statistics, trying to get an initial picture of the place.
At the first meeting, the Archdeacon outlines the sort of work I’ll be able to do and gets the agreement of all involved. I then set up a series of meetings with key people: the parish priest, church wardens, any licensed lay minister, PCC members, including the officers. I ask people to be as open and frank as possible, within a confidential setting. It’s important that all issues are aired, and no skeletons left in closets (they have a habit of coming back to bite).
I also read PCC minutes and sets of accounts, to get an overview of events over the past few years, and attend worship and PCC meetings, to get a feel for what life is like in the parish. I draft a working agreement to be agreed by the Archdeacon in which I outline the scope of the work and the proposed time frame, usually six to nine months.
I invariably undertake some form of governance review, sometimes it’s a written report for consideration by the PCC, on other occasions it’s a verbal report. The PCC doesn’t have to accept my recommendations, but it’s a good basis for discussion, and I always encourage PCCs to try out new ideas to see if they are appropriate and if they work. I’m usually asked to lead worship on a number of occasions. If the parish is in vacancy I’ll help write a parish profile and get the recruitment process started.
Truth telling, is a very important part of the process. Giving people safe space to reflect on what’s good and what’s gone wrong. Encouraging forgiveness, and also if necessary repentance. And this work all takes place within an atmosphere of prayer.
It’s a role where you have to think on your feet. No two parishes are the same, and the situations are endlessly varied. I have regular supervision with the Archdeacon, talking over what I’ve learned, what I propose to do next and reflecting on how things are settling down.
At the end of the process, so far, things have indeed settled down. A fresh pair of eyes, a listening ear and the ability to say ‘have you tried’ or ‘what about?’ all enable parishes to heal and to move on, serving God and their communities better than before.