Bishop Stephen speaks about the Changing Market Towns Project. Here’s a summary of his thoughts.
The Vision behind the Project
We realised that about 40% of the Diocese and its population is bound-up in our market towns and it had become clear that our market towns would benefit from support in their thriving, revealed not only in levels of church going, but in our desire to renew our proclamation of the Gospel.
It is also clear that our market towns are growing, with both the opportunities and stresses that comes with. We also have schools in our market towns that we want to grow and develop. So, we took the opportunity of elaborating a vision for the flourishing of our market towns that will fit entirely with our Diocese strategy to be “Fully Alive” and for us to engage, grow and deepen.
We decided that we were going to commit ourselves to this vision, but it would also be very useful if we could get support from the National Church and particularly support from the Strategic Investment Board.
We asked for matched funding and had some very good mapping of the vision by Mike Booker (Bishop’s Officer for Changing Market Towns) and those working with him. The result was that we put together a plan and put it to the Church Commissioners who were so excited about what we planned to do that they matched the funding for us over the next five years.
We are not focusing on all our market towns at once, because that would be foolish, we want to focus our attention and drive. This is mostly about building capacity in those towns with the clergy and churches as they are, as this flourishing will only work if it comes out of these communities themselves. This renewal is vital, but it has to be owned locally.
What is unique about this vision is that it’s about the growth of the church, more people joining the journey of faith, coming to Christ. It is also about transformation, by the church with its partners, and of the communities and of flourishing. This means better child education and health scores, the care of the elderly - all of the things we would want to see in any community.
These are real steps out for us, some may tend to think in our region that education and formation for ministry can only really happen around Cambridge, but in fact the Eastern Region Ministerial Course (ERMC) is acting as a partner with us and training is happening at the Wisbech Learning Community.
People from the north and west of the Diocese are going to be able to have access to Christian learning and formation for ministry in a way we have not been able to offer before.
I understand how vital it is to find every possible way for people to be released to learn, flourish and have new confidence to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and have a deeper capacity to serve other people and the Wisbech Learning Community is a sign of that. A sign that nobody was left out.
We need to be alert to the ways in which it is possible for people to participate, people who in the past would have had no access to the internet. That is now fast changing, so we need to make use of these learning platforms.
The whole point of the Learning Community is to say that that we want to provide access to training and the possibility of Licensed Ministry (Lay and Ordained), and to open that even more broadly across the Diocese and for no-one to feel that there is a “stained-glass-ceiling” they have to break because of their circumstances.
The market towns vision is to give access to every possibility of flourishing for God’s people. Jesus talked a lot about his “little ones” and that was not his children but the people to whom his heart went out completely – those who might otherwise be left out.
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