Shaped by God together



     There is no doubt that the pandemic is bringing change, and rapid change, in our country and world. The church is not exempt from it effects, nor should it be as we do live in the real world. The Church of England was facing big time decisions before the pandemic and these are now highlighted. We’ve known this for a long time: many historic buildings that cost a lot to keep going yet are important as places of prayer and quiet for all; in many places faithful yet aging congregations who can’t see the way ahead; finances; fewer clergy; and yet God still alive and active. Questions arise such as ‘is the parish system still the way to be organised?’ The pandemic has hastened crunch time but these are questions which would have had to be wrestled with. Not just in Leicester Diocese but across the church.

    As I write this, I long for us not to react in a downhearted way for God is faithful. I pray we can face change with confidence in Him. All is far from lost but a difficult time lies ahead as much that we hold dear may be challenged and yet we need to be open to new possibilities. So to explain where we are:

  Bishops Martyn and Guli are initiating a diocesan- wide process in September and so September sees a call to all of us to be in prayer. They write:

  “ We are starting a new process across the diocese to learn from the experiences of recent months as we seek to be Shaped by God Together. Please be praying ahead of this. This process will include a general invitation in coming weeks to everyone in the diocese – people of all backgrounds, all ages, all circumstances – to share stories of what they have been learning about everyday prayer, everyday witness and everyday action. The stories may take the form of written reflections, pictures, Bible passages, social media posts or other creative ideas. We will then collate these stories and use them to help generate insights about the future of the church – knowing that, while our core remains the same, the way we express our church life may need to look quite different in the future.  We will be inviting everyone in our faith communities to participate in this process.

    Influenced by these stories and experiences, we will consider together how we care for our buildings, share financial resources and reshape our models of ministry. We anticipate that much of this wider work of discernment will happen in spring 2021, leading to final decisions at Diocesan Synod in May.

  Have a look at their video here

The Background

    We are at the moment, facing both exciting opportunities and significant constraints upon us as a Church as we continue to seek to be ‘Shaped by God Together.' We have constraints of finance, including the use of our historical assets as well as our current patterns of giving, of ministry, including the developments of pioneers, the retirement and recruitment patterns of clergy and lay ministers, and the development of the whole people of God, and of buildings, including our churches, our halls and facilities. However, our planning for the future cannot be solely dominated by these constraints. God is a God of movement, who calls us to growth and change – and so we need to notice and be open and attentive to the new and exciting things God is doing amongst us and through us - how can we be ‘Shaped by God Together’?

     We are therefore seeking to gather information about our experiences of everyday faith in order to better discern the way ahead. To do this ‘together’ we need to understand the complex dynamics at play amongst the 19,000 people, 320 churches, 80 fresh expressions of Church and other worshipping communities who make up our diocesan family. We are seeking to be faithful to the past, the present, and to our future, and want everyone’s story to be a part of the process.

     These stories will help us to discern emerging patterns and will inform our future. We have learnt much recently, about our Everyday Faith and our 3 Key Questions. We have noted values of creativity, generosity and attentiveness that we seek to further develop. We know the way ahead contains a number of difficult questions and hard decisions.

Gathering Stories, Generating Insight

    Your story is important and is part of the process.  Here is where you can go to add your story/stories:  It's not as diffcult as you may think and you and your stories are importnat. Don't let other voices be heard at the expense of yours.

    Participatory Narrative Inquiry is a process that works with complex situations and the stories people tell about their experiences. It invites people to share small anecdotes of their experience, and to answer some questions about their story. Within this process we will gather hundreds of stories and begin to examine patterns in the stories that can help shape responses at many levels. This will reveal our diocesan learning and will in turn feed into our future planning.

     The process is Participatory in that it includes a diverse group of people as designers of the project, and hundreds of people to tell their stories. The process is Narrative in that we are gathering stories and allowing story tellers to interpret those stories. And it is Inquiry based in that the stories and the patterns that are revealed provide material to stoke the curiosity of people and groups who may wish to learn and support promising emerging practices.”

   Let’s all play our part to the full – in prayer and in sharing stories when that comes to be done. A suggested prayer for this time:

Faithful one, whose word is life:

come with saving power to free our praise, inspire our prayer and shape our lives

for the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.