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Parish Support Conversation

A conversation about how our churches can be well supported

Introduction from Archdeacon Ruth Patten

In Autumn 2023 we started a conversation about how parishes and worshipping communities across Chelmsford Diocese can be well supported in future. This conversation is an important next step in Travelling Well Together.

Travelling Well Together is not a top-down initiative or a diocesan strategy. It is, rather, an invitation to engage with an approach and a set of shared values that seek to empower churches and worshipping communities to discern for themselves how they are to be God’s people in their own very different local contexts and as part of one diocesan family. 

The move towards empowering and enabling local discernment and decision making, will also require a different approach to supporting parishes and worshipping communities. What's more, in keeping with the values of Travelling Well Together holding a diocesan wide conversation will help us to collectively shape this approach to supporting parishes and worshipping communities, rather than impose a top-down solution.

As is the case with Travelling Well Together, this is not a short-term project. It is important we take the time to get this right. We are particularly aware that those who serve in our parishes and in support roles, continue to feel stretched and under significant pressure. The conversation will be organised so that participation doesn’t become an additional burden.  

The Venerable Ruth Patten

Chair of the Advisory Group and Archdeacon of Colchester

Parish Support Conversation Stage 1, Autumn 2023 Advisory Group

An advisory group consisting of people from different roles and contexts across the diocese was brought together for 3 meetings between September and November 2023 to help shape and design the conversation and to explore its scope. Chaired by the Archdeacon of Colchester, the Advisory Group consists of 19 people including clergy and licensed lay ministers from every episcopal area, deanery lay chairs from every episcopal area, a minister who serves in a chaplaincy role and a minister from a new worshipping community as well as members of diocesan staff. 

The advisory group has helped to shape what we hope to learn and achieve from the conversation as we seek to ensure churches are supported well in the future. 

What we learned from the advisory group

  • Building trust and relationships

    A conversation rather than a consultation. This continues to be a challenging time for those who serve in our parishes, worshipping communities and in support roles. People and relationships have been strained. This conversation is an opportunity to build trust and relationships which is as important as learning about the practical needs and priorities of parishes and worshipping communities.

  • A conversation that is accessible and reaches new participants
    • Given the continued pressures on people in parishes and worshipping communities, it is important that the conversation isn't a new burden for those who want to participate. People should therefore be able to engage with it, in their own time, through existing networks and meetings rather than new ones.
    • We must also reach out to those whose voices haven't previously been heard in diocesan consultation exercises, providing a variety of easily accessible ways to participate, and by going to people rather than expecting them to come to us.
  • A sequenced approach which helps to develop a deep understanding of needs and priorities
    • By starting with a conversational approach, asking open questions, listening to each other and praying together, we can develop a deeper understanding of the needs and priorities of parishes and worshipping communities than if we begin with questionnaires and surveys.
    • There may, however, be a role for questionnaires and surveys at a later stage as we begin to ask more detailed questions about possible solutions to the needs that have been identified. 
  • Communication and learning
    • To be informed in our conversations, it will be important for participants to understand the support services that are currently provided and how they are resourced. We will also need to understand those things we don't have control of as a diocese because they are outside our auspices or because of financial or legal parameters. There is also a risk that the conversation could generate false expectations about what support might be possible with the resources that are available. A programme of communication will be required to support this work.
    • To support each other well, it will be important for those who participate to understand each other and the challenges and resources we each work with in our own roles and ministry.
    • We are aware that there are untapped resources across our diocese and people with wisdom, experience and skills that they would be happy to share with others. The conversation will provide an opportunity for people from different roles and contexts to meet with each other, where they might identify ways they can support each other. It is hoped that in some cases this may lead to the development of mutually supportive relationships or networks.

Stage 2, The conversation in 2024

A programme of work will take the conversation forward in 2024.

  1. In line with Travelling Well Together and the learning from the Advisory Group (see above), this programme of work will not be a short-term consultation project with a defined start and end date but will be a long-term and evolving change approach to inform decision making about parish support in the future.
  2. For 2024, this will be achieved through 2 distinct workstreams:

Workstream 1: Introducing the conversation

In the spring and summer. a programme of communications will further introduce the conversation, set out what will happen in 2024, and tell the story of how support is currently provided to parishes and worshipping communities. The purpose of these communications will be to:

  1. Help people in parishes and worshipping communities better understand how to access the support that is currently provided, in particular by highlighting where support services can be accessed via the Diocesan Website and telling the story of how diocesan teams, area teams and networks, support parishes and worshipping communities. This will be delivered through regular diocesan communications, including stories in The View or We Pray
  2. By helping people to understand how support is currently provided, this programme of communications will also help people to take part in conversations in an informed way.
  3. We will work to increase the reach of our diocesan communications, by running a subscription campaign for The View and We Pray, so that more people beyond our clergy, churchwardens, lay ministers and lay chairs can become involved in the conversation.

Workstream 2: Church Building Support Conversation

A consultation had already been planned into how parishes are supported by the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC). This consultation is now being broadened to consider church building support more generally and organised in a conversational way which reflects the change in approach. The main goal will be to discern how resources can be used to ensure parish volunteers are adequately equipped in the care of their buildings. The Advisory Group is working with staff and other stakeholders to design the conversation, which will roll out to parishes and worshipping communities in Autumn 2024. The intention will be to learn from the approach that is taken so that it can be refined and used for conversations about other areas of parish support in 2025 and beyond. Find out more.

Get involved

We’ll be providing more information on this web page in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, if you’d like to be kept in touch and get involved in the Parish Support Conversation please do let us know by clicking here to send us an email.

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