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Pressing towards the Goal

Updated: Mar 10

It was nearly four years ago that I was interviewed for the post of Team Rector in Ashford Town Parish. It was the first time I’d been interviewed for a job online – and I have to say I hope it will be the last, which is no reflection on the care and professionalism of the panel. But so many things were new and strange in the pandemic, especially those early months.

I remember one of the questions being something like: what kind of structures do you think the parish needs to support effective team working? My response was that you can’t answer a question like that unless you know what you want the team to do. In thinking about communities and institutions, you need to know what their purpose is, what their aims are. Everything else follows from that. Without it, you’re just floundering around.

I’ve spent quite a bit of my time in management roles thinking about that interplay between purpose and structure, goals and relationships. And I’ve dedicated quite a bit of the time I give to theological study to exploring how that interplay works out in the life of the church. That’s what I’m hoping to take further during my sabbatical leave in April, May and June.

The purpose of the church is sharing in God’s mission. That’s the basis of the Mission Action Planning process to which we are committed as a parish, and it reflects a significant convergence in global theology. It’s a statement with some powerful implications. Once we know how we are to share in God’s mission, it looks like we can shape everything else in the church to fit with that. Everything we do can be evaluated by how well it supports this overriding purpose. PCC meetings. Diocesan structures. Forms of worship. Budget priorities. Pastoral care. Can’t see how it fits? Cut it out!

But is it that simple? There are some big questions here too. What counts as the church ‘sharing in God’s mission’? If it’s some things we do as the church but not others, how do we decide which ones? How far is it about types of activity (e.g. evangelism but not visiting church members, social outreach but not church social events), and how far about the way we do anything at all, whether we are seeking God’s kingdom in and through it?

Why assume, though, that mission is all about what we do? What about our relationships and the structures that sustain them – not just within our church communities, but in our parish, our deanery, our diocese, our national church, our global Anglican Communion? Is participating in them also part of how we share in God’s mission, or is that just an optional extra that we can junk if it seems to be getting in the way?

I’m looking forward to giving some extended time to reading, thinking and writing about these and other related questions while I’m on sabbatical. I’ve got an article to finish for an academic journal, a chapter to write for a book with contributions from lots of other people as well, a paper to give at the Society for the Study of Theology annual conference – and then I’ll see what else!

I’m going to be spending some time at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, and towards the end of June I'll be heading to St Beuno’s in north Wales for an Individually Guided Retreat.

Three and a half years in the parish here has given me a great deal to ponder. I hope to come back in July with some fresh perspectives on mission and the church, and strength renewed for the joyful work of ministry as Team Rector in Ashford Town Parish.

The Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen


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