Exploring growth in Birmingham

Birmingham was my second visit during my sabbatical looking at some of the places that had received funding from the Archbishops Council to grow the church in areas of deprivation.

Birmingham has a very different setup from my visit to Worcester the previous day. The key idea that Birmingham is exploring is the use of Mission Apprentices. These are people working in a parish on, mostly, a part-time basis to help grow the church there. There are seven Mission Apprentices in Birmingham working in very different parishes.

There were three overall areas that they looked at – Outer estates, other faith majority parishes and inner city multi-cultural parishes. Within this they then looked for examples where growth was already happening and other examples where there wasn’t a record of growth but where new leadership had or was just being appointed. Four of the Mission Apprentices came from the parishes that they would serve in and the others came from within the wider area of Birmingham and so all were familiar with living on estates. There is also a mixture of church backgrounds, although most of them have an evangelical flavour to them. The initial grant period was for two years.

Each of the Mission Apprentices was asked to look at a particular area of mission that they could be involved in – e.g. parent/toddler or outreach to those of an African background. This was to ensure that there was a focus on outcomes in the training and that it wasn’t too diffuse. Each of them was paid (mostly out of the Archbishop’s grant) to work for 20 hours a week and then any additional money they need was to be gained either from the parish or working etc. In fact all of them have been funded enough so that they don’t need to work externally to the church.

One other important feature has been the training and support for these Mission Apprentices. Instead of just giving these people to the parish they also have two hours a fortnight training (I attended their one on theological reflection led by Sally Nash – who I believe that some at Springfield know from Cheam fellowship days! she said to say hi!). They also have appointed Sam Miller, who works with Urban Devotion, to act as a co-ordinator and mentor for the MA’s. They have found him to be a huge help (especially with his experience at Urban Devotion) in doing 1-1 mentoring, developing a learning programme and providing structural and strategic support. In fact they see this part-time co-ordinating role to be crucial to help create good outcomes for the project.

The group of churches involved have a commitment to provide a small amount of finance and to meet three times a year to discuss progress. Ongoing discussion about churchmanship and Anglican identity appear to be hot topics of conversation at the moment! Some have also had to grapple with a more outcomes approach to the funding and having Mission Apprentices. All of the churches have been offered training with the Natural Church Development model (although not all have accepted it) which helps churches look at themselves in an organic way (we’ve used it a couple of times in Springfield and it has had some good value in addressing areas of the church – addressing weaknesses and building on strengths). I was told that if they did this again that they would look at a church’s mission strategy and ask how a Mission Apprentice would fit in with it.

So how is it all going? Well I think that there will be some really useful information and understanding that comes out of it all. One of the key insights that seems to be coming out is that those where there is someone new and gifted in post has shown itself to be really beneficial and shown real creativity – seems to be very much a Luke 10 style of model (why should we not be surprised at that!). It seems to have brought a real spark and sense of creativity in these places.

The Mission Apprentices have also grown in their own faith through all that they do and they have loved the opportunity to have a go.

It has been interesting to see that so many of them have been home-grown from the estate that they are serving on. Sam commented that in Urban Devotion (a non-Anglican organisation working to transform deprived estates) that the ones that were growing in their situation were those where the leader was living on the estate and committed to the transformation of the estate. He also reflected that those Eden projects that worked best were those where people were committed to see the community transformed in which they lived and not through a romanticised view of coming to live on an estate and then finding it was harder slog than they expected.

It may well prove to be a cost-effective model with funding being cheaper (when allied to someone with the heart and vision and energy for regeneration) given that the central costs were much cheaper than a full time clergy person.

There was a lot more that I would have loved to find out but unfortunately there wasn’t the time. The model that Birmingham are running may well prove to be a useful model within the wider context of a diocese as being a cost-effective way of seeing regeneration and growth in deprived areas.

One of their challenges will be to see the long term sustainability of this. The diocese is looking for additional funding as are the churches but it may well be that some go for ordination (though this must mean that the cost base may go up for the church as a whole) and others may have to close. Like with Tolladine, long-term funding is a key issue for them.

It will be really interesting to see how this develops over the next year. Huge thanks to Rhiannon Jones (Transforming Church Co-ordinator) and Sam Miller for putting up with all my questions!

Tomorrow I’m off North to Bradford, Liverpool and Manchester areas to visit a number of projects there. Watch for more reports……

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2 comments on “Exploring growth in Birmingham

  1. Sue
    July 10, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Hi Will
    Great to hear about the different projects you are visiting. I was interested in the work that is going on for school children in Tolladine and the Urban Devotion kidsclub could work really well as an after school club too….got me thinking!

  2. Will Cookson
    July 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    That’s great! Keep the thinking coming

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