Monthly Archives: July 2021

Team Ministry Model – Where’s The Evidence?

I can clearly remember a question that was asked of our acting Archdeacon at a zoom meeting of local clergy and churchwardens in early May this year. The opening question was simply ‘Why Teams?’ Why did the senior leadership of our diocese believe that Team Ministry was the model for parish organisation that was the best to produce future growth?

A short, and important, diversion about language and the use of technical terms. We all work in teams, whether that is our PCC, ministry team, worship team etc. etc. All clergy today are used to working in teams and for virtually all it is welcomed and the norm for ministry today. However whenever you see the word ‘team’ in any document that Portsmouth Diocese releases today they mean something very specific. A Church of England Team Ministry is where two or more parishes have combined to become a single parish. Clergy are no longer the vicar of a particular church or parish, they are now either the Team Rector (the visionary leader of the team) or they are Team Vicars (licensed to the entire team covering all churches in the new parish).

It is this technical context that the question ‘Why Teams?’ was asked. The question wasn’t answered, instead the response was ‘Why are we still asking that question, I thought we’d moved beyond that because we’ve been discussing this for the past year.’ The reality is that the leadership of our diocese may have been discussing legal Team Ministry for over a year but for the vast majority of clergy, churchwardens, PCCs and laity the conversations were only just starting.

That question ‘Why Teams?’ has never been answered despite multiple opportunities to do so. The question remains, where is the research and evidence that legal Team Ministry is the very best structure for future growth in depth, impact and numbers into the future?

It has been suggested that the new legal Team Ministries in North and South Gosport could be a pattern to be reflected in other parts of our diocese. On the surface this sounds great, and I hope and pray that both of these new Team Ministries grows and prospers and brings many to a living faith in Christ. However there are a number of problems with using this model for other parts of our diocese.

Firstly the parishes and churches that have been combined into these two new Team Ministries weren’t strong thriving parishes. You can’t take a model of church amalgamations where churches that have experienced decline and are struggling and apply that same model to churches that are strong, may be growing and have paid their parish share in full even in the teeth of the pandemic.

It is notable that there has been no overall reduction in stipendiary clergy posts in these two new Team Ministries. We understand that will not be the case elsewhere where there will need to be a reduction in clergy stipends in order to balance the diocesan budget.

It is also notable that in the Gosport Deanery there are two large, effective and strong churches that are not part of these new Team Ministries. Both these churches continue to be led by full time stipendiary ministers. This is interesting against a statement from the diocese that all churches in the diocese would be expected to become part of new legal Team Ministries with only one or two exceptions. Are both those exceptions in Gosport?

If we are embark on the largest change in the structure of Portsmouth Diocese in living memory with almost all churches becoming part of legal Team Ministries we need to see evidence that in other places this has led to sustained growth in depth, impact and numbers over 5-10 years. We also need to see evidence that this growth has continued through periods where there has been a change in both the Team Rector and the Team Vicars. North and South Gosport, the benefice of Newport Minster, St John and Carisbrooke and the Isle of Wight Deanery feasibility study are all too new to provide such evidence for many years to come.

Having had ample opportunities to provide evidence and persuade clergy, churchwardens and PCCs that legal Team Ministry is the way to go, and having very sadly failed to produce such evidence, it was rather galling to read in the latest paper from Portsmouth Diocese that amendments to the model of legal Team Ministries might be considered ‘based on evidence.’ We can only hope that any evidence to support the model proposed by the diocese is shared in the coming weeks and months before any decisions are made. Without this any changes are massive experiments that put at risk the livelihood and ministries of individual clergy and the mission of the churches they serve for many years to come.

Why Are There Upset, Stressed And Angry Clergy In Portsmouth Diocese?

A job for life is something of a bygone era. Many in our society today know the pain and anguish that can come from redundancy. Sadly more paid clergy are discovering that same pain within the Church of England today. Back in October 2020 Portsmouth Diocese started a process that will lead to changes in way that many of the churches in the diocese are led. There are good reasons behind this process that we understand and accept.

  • There is a need to reassess how churches are best structured and led to address a steady and prolonged decline in numbers with many of our churches.
  • We are also well aware of the impact of Covid on our own church finances and the knock on impact on the finances of our diocese as a whole.

Sadly the way this has happened has resulted in many clergy spending the last nine months not knowing whether they would lose their jobs through this process or not? And if their present role is to go will they be offered a new role in the revised structure or not, and what would that role be?

It is really important to bear in mind that when a stipendiary clergy person loses their job it has far more impact than others in our society being made redundant. Yes our job and role will be lost, our whole lives, the entire focus of our time and energy are invested in the parish we serve. We will lose our homes as we are legally required to live in the vicarage. Some of us are fortunate to have our own home to move to, but by no means all clergy have this option. We are also expected to cut all ties and relationships within the parish that we will be asked to leave. For some this will mean leaving and moving away from their entire friendship network.

But the change doesn’t just impact on clergy, it also has a massive impact on their families. Not only will clergy lose their homes and friends but wives and children are massively impacted as well. Some, or maybe many, clergy spouses today work. What will happen to their jobs? How far will they have to move and can they still retain their existing jobs? Children may have to move schools as well as moving homes, so their friendship network will be radically changed.

But there are more reasons why clergy are upset, stressed and angry.

One of the most significant areas of upset is that churches, clergy and laity together, were hoodwinked into thinking that the changes would be locally rooted and plans would be developed from the bottom up. We spent many, many hours in meetings and conversations, some of which were not easy. Through this we started to make progress towards planning for the future shape of churches within our deaneries. We bought in to these plans because we were deeply involved in producing them. However in March this year it emerged that the senior leadership of our diocese had different ideas. They had done their work and research in the background without our involvement, they had also paid an unspecified amount to a consultancy firm to help with their research and planning. The result was a strong recommendation, if not a directive, that, with only one or two exceptions across the whole diocese, all churches are to be reorganised into groups within what the Church of England calls Team Ministries. Now none of us have a problem with teams, indeed many of us are already leading teams. But legal Team Ministries are a different thing altogether and an option that many clergy are strongly opposed to either because they have been part of legal Team Ministries elsewhere that have been dysfunctional, haven’t worked or have led to decline rather than growth. Or they know friends or colleagues who have these experiences.

Whilst there is indeed a general and overall decline in church membership this isn’t true in every church. But the present approach from Portsmouth Diocese is talking about this narrative of decline, even in settings where there is growth, and tarring every church with the same brush of decline. The official statistics that the Church of England produces would show that the church that I lead is in decline because they are based on our main morning service. But these statistics don’t show the growth in our ministry to families which, pre-pandemic, was leading us into overall growth. Churches with visionary leaders, who are bucking the trend will, at present, be expected to undergo significant structural change that may well negatively impact on their future capacity to grow.

Some weeks ago I was a signatory to an open letter addressed to our Commissary Bishop and others in the leadership team in Portsmouth Diocese. This was signed by fourteen people, both clergy and laity. There are many more who would have signed the letter had they not feared for the impact that step might have on their future prospects. It is a really sad situation where Bishops hold such sway over clergy that they cannot speak openly and honestly for fear of the repercussions.

Sadly today Portsmouth Diocese is not a positive place to live and minister as a stipendiary clergy person. My local church community is great, however the wider context is incredibly stressful. Remember that all of this is in the context of one of the most stressful times to be a church leader in living memory.

On a personal basis I have accepted that my role will disappear through this reorganisation process. It hasn’t been easy to accept that likely outcome but I am almost certain it will happen. One of the real stresses for me now is not knowing when. Will I still be the Vicar of St Paul’s Sarisbury Green in six months, twelve months or eighteen months time? I don’t know and the not knowing is really stressful and difficult.