Pushing out into open water…

Thank you for visiting the EDMP’s web page. The ‘about’ button (under ‘Menu’) will tell you a little about the two central aims of the project. It is early days for the EDMP (we are just 8 months old!) but what we have started is the result of years of thinking and praying about possible futures for the church in this part of God’s kingdom. Please pray for us as we seek God’s hopeful future for the churches and communities in the project area in the months and years to come.

The project is a collaboration between a group of 9 Anglican parishes, the Diocese of Durham and Cranmer Hall Theological College. By praying and working more closely together we hope to combat isolation, encourage one another, plan collaboratively, share resources and witness spiritual and numerical growth. As we partner with God and each other we expect to see churches and communities transformed. We believe that God has good plans and purposes for his church in East Durham and for the thousands of people living in the villages and towns in the project area.

A further aim of the EDMP is to provide an exciting and challenging place for the church leaders of the future to undertake their pre-ordination training. From autumn 2015 Anglican ordinands will live, worship and serve in a ‘Hub’ in the project area. Students will travel into Cranmer Hall for 2 days of lectures each week in term time. Taking this route through ordination training will be known as the ‘Cranmer Urban Track’ or CUT. The CUT Hub will begin with 2 students in 2015. A further 2 will join them in 2016 and a further 2 in 2017 making a total of 6. Another CUT Hub will start in Middlesbrough at the same time. Further CUT Hub locations will be added in the coming years.


Appetite for worship in the EDMP

In one of the villages in the EDMP we have been thinking, praying, talking and planning for some time about moving regular worship from the 18th century church building to the village hall. By historical accident the church is a long way from the village centre and has no running water, parking or disabled access. The village hall, by contrast, is situated in the middle of things. The hall is well used in the week and it seemed obvious to experiment with hosting acts of worship there. We started with a great Mothering Sunday event and after debriefing decided to trial a monthly praise service. The first one was yesterday. We tried to keep it simple. Songs, a short talk (on Jesus being with us in the boat, based on Mark 4), prayers and hospitality (hog roast!). A band came along from Cranmer Hall. As the event drew closer I was praying but confess my faith was small. I hoped that 20 people would come along – more for the band’s sake than anything else. As 4pm arrived we counted in 75 people! Praise God. It was a fantastic time of praising God in sung worship and encouraging one another. Oh, and the food went down pretty well too! Lots to build on going into the future. The next one is in September. More on that in due course…

Progress on the EDMP as we come to the end of Phase 1

From the outset it was envisaged that the EDMP would have two distinct phases. Phase 1, a research year (Sept 14 – Aug 15), is almost complete. It is fair to say that in this year far more has been accomplished than we could have imagined at the beginning.

By August 2015 we will have moved from 3 clergy working separately to 5 clergy, 2 curates and 2 ordinands working collaboratively. Clergy have developed the habit of meeting, sharing, praying together and thinking about the future in terms of one another’s thriving.

Congregations in the EDMP appear to be in better heart than they were a year ago, energy levels are creeping up, there are clear signs of the growth of faith, hope and love. A Deanery-wide discipleship programme with 30-40 attendees drawn from across the churches is up and running (we are on our second Pilgrim course). We have been experimenting with moving this course towards being ordinand/lay led and arrangements are already in place for this to continue in the autumn.

I have been working closely with a lay team in one of the parishes to create a new worship service in the village hall. This is in process and, although I have played a role in it, the team is in place to take this forward and will do so well.

During Phase 1 I have taken on the role of Acting Area Dean and have used this position to promote the aims of the mission project (i.e. prayerful attention to spiritual and numerical growth) across the deanery. Work on the Deanery Plan is progressing positively, the clergy Chapter is functioning well and a deanery website is under construction.

In sum, much has been accomplished in terms of laying solid foundations upon which to build. As we move towards phase 2 with morale raised, faith growing and clergy staffing at good levels, there is a good opportunity to build on the work that God is doing and in which we are privileged to participate.

Praying disciples

If the EDMP is to be a worthwhile venture it must be steeped in prayer. So we’ve been praying and asking others to pray. To this end we sent out 1000 prayer cards inviting people to join with us in prayer for Easington deanery and the EDMP. We have committed to meet regularly to pray as clergy and churches and to maintain an individual discipline of daily prayer for the EDMP. Prayer was at the heart of the Pilgrim Lent Course and prayer has led us to offer a further 6 week Pilgrim course, this time using the Lord’s Prayer as a focus. We begin this evening. Over 60 people from churches across Easington Deanery are signed up. The venue will change each week so that a number of churches have the chance to host but, more importantly, so that those who attend have the opportunity to step into spaces belonging to others. In the Church we are often reasonably good at hosting and offering hospitality but there is something important about being able to receive it too. Attending this course will mean that most people on most weeks are welcomed into an unfamiliar place as a ‘stranger’. This will be a rare experience because we all develop habits and patterns and tend to stick to them. It is my prayer that those who make the effort to come along to a different venue each week are able to encounter God in surprising ways precisely because they have stepped out of familiar territory. So, we are trusting that, week by week, we become people who are praying more. Please pray for us.

Resurrection photo project

As Lent began I had an idea for piloting a very simple photographic project in Easington. I met with the vicar and a church warden and together we decided to give it a go. I purchased 30 disposable cameras and these were given to a range of people in the church and wider community. They were asked to take photos on the theme of ‘resurrection’. The amateur photographers were local residents of all ages and included school children, young adults, those in middle age and retired folks. The cameras were gathered in last week and the pictures are being developed as I write this blog post! On Sunday 19th April from 4pm all of the photographs will be on show at the Church of the Ascension in Easington Colliery. The photographers, their families and friends and anyone who is interested from the wider community will have the opportunity to be welcomed into the church, to drink tea, eat cake and see how people have responded to the theme of ‘resurrection’ in Easington in 2015. The project has already generated lots of fascinating discussion on what resurrection means for Christians and for a community facing a significant challenges. My hope is that the project and exhibition provoke further thought and questioning about Jesus Christ and contribute to deepening links between church and community. As we reflect on the project in the coming weeks we will be asking ourselves how we can build on what has begun and whether a project like this might be fruitful in other communities. If, having read this post, you decide to try something similar, do get in touch – I would love to hear how it goes!

Lent Course; cross-fertilisation, vulnerability and rising energy…

On Thursday evening I will drive over to Blackhall Colliery to run the last in a series of 6 sessions in our EDMP ‘Lent Course’. Each week the 45-50 participants have travelled to a different church in our 9 parishes to join in. We have used the ‘Beatitudes’ booklet of the new ‘Pilgrim‘ resource. The whole thing was a bit of an experiment and at first I had a number of anxieties: Would people come along to something that was not in their own church? How would participants respond to the discussion-based sessions? What would they make of the Pilgrim material? It turns out that I need not have worried. The course has been a surprising success. It turns out that not only were people prepared to go along to churches that were not their own, they were also energised and inspired by doing so, and by praying and studying with those they had not met before. Participants have begun to make new friends and to grow in confidence at sharing responses to Bible passages. They are also seeing Christian faith and its outworking in their own lives in new ways. Spiritual energy levels are rising. Some have shared difficult and deep things in front of others and this has led to a fresh openness to the presence of God. As I have reflected on how things have turned out, the need for an ongoing space like this has become obvious; a space where people can meet those from other churches, study the bible, pray with each other and grow in confidence in their faith and in awareness of what God is doing in their lives. So, I put it to my ‘prayer and vision group’ (9 lay people who meet in a pub once a month to pray for the EDMP and listen to God) and they agreed that we needed to retain the momentum and continue well beyond lent. So, at the start of May we will begin another 6 week course aimed at giving people the chance to gather to study, pray and grow in faith, hope and love. When the 6 weeks are done, we will review and hopefully start another one. This is too important to only make available to the 9 churches in the EDMP so we have extended the invitation to all the churches in the deanery. My hope is that this contributes to an emerging culture of spiritual growth and expectation among those who have been faithfully attending our churches for decades. As they demonstrate unity by making the effort to gather with others each week, and as they study and pray and grow in confidence and energy in their faith in Jesus, my expectation is that we will become more than the sum of our parts. I perceive this to be part of a move of the Spirit of God to which we are responding and through which we will be reenergised for mission and ministry. It will be exciting to see what our gatherings lead to in the months to come…

Like a virus or not at all…

The mission project is a way of thinking, talking and acting towards a shared future in which we recognise that God often works in apparently barren places and that unless God helps us we have no future at all. Establishing the mission project is a way of placing the idea of new growth and change on the agenda in East Durham and keeping it there. It is a way of enabling local clergy to support one another and it is a reason to bring together diverse groups of local Christians and not-yet-Christians to dream dreams, energise one another and act in new (and perhaps apparently risky) ways. On that note, the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, recently told a church packed with clergy to ‘take more risks’! The mission project is not my project or the diocese’s initiative. It is an idea rooted in faith, hope and love and it needs to be caught like a virus and acted on all over the place in ways that will surprise us all. For the time being part of my role is to champion the East Durham Mission Project in and beyond the churches; to say ‘God is here, he has not forgotten us, there can be a hopeful future if we pray and act and take risks and serve others and reach out and try things!’ It is also part of my role to set an example, to do some of the acting, to suggest things, to connect people, to pray and to get others praying too. But in the end, the hope underpinning the project (a hope for spiritual and numerical growth and for new people to come to faith) must be ‘caught’ understood and owned by many, many others. It must spill out and overflow beyond any chance of ownership or control so that a thousand new possibilities for the activity of God open up. As the mission project begins to be understood in this way we will start to see signs of hope and eventually a fruitful harvest!