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.