Monday, 13 February 2012

I Am a Pioneer Minister

I am Asparagus
My weekly edition of the Church Times offered me a useful perspective into the lives and future ministries of some younglings who are called by God, apparently, to walk beneath the banner "Pioneer Minister". To my eyes they seem to be funky young people all of whom are younger than me (if such a thing were possible). I wish them every success in their training and in their ministries, and I thank the Lord for their calling as I do for my own.

This is not to say that I came away from that time spend reading without a mite of a niggle in my stone-cold heart. No, dear readers, I had developed something of a low-level temper, a Grade 2 Tantrum (and not one granted by the snarling faces of the ladies on the front cover - and my weren't they snarling).

It's all to do with Fresh Expressions, an initiative of Mother Church to buy up small shops and sell coffee for God.  Don't misunderstand me, I laud the whole idea of 'fresh expressions of Church', even if I can't say it without need of a tissue. It speaks of a real need to re-think what we are and what we do in the light of the cultural changes that ebb and flow. Really, it is a good thing (even though I know you think I am being sarcastic, which I am not). 

Well the article in the Church Times, under the Big Blue Banner of 'How to Blaze a Trail', tells the story of some nice people becoming equipped for this work of Pioneering Ministry. The thing is, it makes two statements either deliberately or not, without stating either:

1. Given that the entire country exists within a parish boundary of some sort, it speaks badly of many church communities who have foundered for economic reasons among other temporal ones. These pioneer ministers will be working in someone's parish - this invites a wealth of commentary and discussion, and quite possibly judgement - which I will avoid here. 
2. That only pioneer ministers have the gift of pioneering ministry. If a pioneer minister is called to exercise a ministry in a new context, with those yet to be exposed to the Gospel (anyone says "un-churched" and I will geld you), what about those who already do? I minister in new contexts and with such people every day of my working life without exception. Yet I am not billed a pioneer minister, just Vicar. 

Summed up, my view is that many (if not all) parish clergy are pioneer ministers by very definition. What we do daily is pioneer ministry - just within existing frameworks - as well as tending Christ's existing and much loved flock. I don't have this badge. I don't work out of a coffee shop. What I do every day is proclaim the Good News of Christ to my parish, walking with them afresh daily. 

I am a pioneer minister. I blaze a trail. My expression of church is fresh. 


  1. If you keep saying what we're all thinking but are too nervous to say ourselves, we'll have to make you a bishop (a fresh, pioneering one, obviously).

  2. There there. Now put your toys back in your pram.

    Of course you are a pioneer. Anyone who has seen you in action could never doubt it.

    Who needs titles anyway?

  3. Amen to that, David! There's a lot of slopping thinking going around under these various titles as well as a lot of good, if sometimes ephemeral, work.

  4. "Given that the entire country exists within a parish boundary of some sort..."

    Actually, there are a few small pockets of land within this fair country which do NOT fall within a parish boundary. They are called extra-parochial places and may receive ministry (e.g. for baptisms, wedddings and funerals) from ANY of the surrounding parishes that take the residents' fancy. I know because I have a couple that border my benefice.

  5. I agree with you. Anglican vicars and chaplains work with huge numbers of people who do not attend church. Funeral ministry being an important case in point.

    I know very little about pioneer ministry (am just about to read the Church Times article). As a fairly new Christian I have tended to prefer traditional forms of church and vicar because with them you know what you are getting.

    I have a slight fear that pioneer ministers might want to do strangely unpredictable things. Do they have church wardens and PCCs to keep them under control?

  6. I just read the Church Times article. If it works for people, good luck to them. It struck me that a lot of this is what laity should be doing anyway. Aren't all lay folk pioneers?

  7. agree with you that all ministers 'can' be pioneering but not that they they all 'are'...(and I am sure you are!) The whole pioneer ministy thing is an interesting one, and in going through the discernment process myself I did look at this path. I feel called to the more 'forward thinking' or contemporary ways of church and yet I was actively discouraged from taking the pioneer path. For a number of reasons but partly because the CofE whilst giving this as an option to follow, does not provide enough pioneering positions, facilities, resources or even encouragement for those that do choose actively to take this path over 'normal' ordination training.
    However I firmly believe that anything that encourages ministers to think outside of the box, or the church building, is to be applauded. Should that kind of encouragement/resources/facilites be rolled out across the church and not just in coffee shop initiatives? yes absolutely. is it being encouraged across the church? not as far as I can see! unless you happen to be one of the lucky ones, in the right palce at the right time (or prepared to work for little or no pay...)
    Ultimately I suppose it depends on what you view as 'pioneering'. One friend said to me this week, when I was bemaoning the lack of positions and resources, that simply being Gods love in the community is pioneering (this from a non-christian), and she is abosultely right.
    blessings David

  8. The only difference is that you don't vanish when the funding runs out :-)

  9. I sometimes wonder if this type of statement is to do with building envy. You have a nice big building, solid, with services and if the pews were taken out, really suited to nice group activities such as messy church, and all of the other initiatives. You could get a 400 seat coffee shop into our church, and we even have a loo and running water. What more could you want? A Post office, a Pub, a Farmers Market?
    Well, we've already got them, in one form or another. Starbucks have nothing on our "Fish Scheme" coffee mornings. Our youth work run by volunteers is acknowledged as a deanery and diocesan leader (recently ran a deanery youth day from their own resources). I could witter on so much more.

    Mission is the Vicar or Curate being present in their community , walking down the high street and stopping and talking to everybody and anybody. It's about building community through personal relationships and providing the space and times for those who have or haven't been exposed to the Gospel to glimpse a little of the humanity of Jesus Christ through his local agent. the Vicar.

  10. By the way, the picture above would have been better with your face superimposed to show the rippling muscles that your recent visit to the Gym has developed. :)

  11. First, my apologies for the late publication of your comments: The God of Pioneer Ministry turned my computer into a Luddite device for a few moments!

    Second, thanks for reading and commenting so fulsomely.

    Third, thanks to Simmy (as always) for his generous clarifications - I confess to have learned something new through his words.

    When I am feeling least charitable, I reflect on the fact that sapling pioneer ministers seem not to be called by God from traditions of my own. The whole initiative appears (and I lean on 'appears' for I know not how it actually is) to be seated in the gracious care of our charismatic brothers and sisters and less in that of the sacramental. Imbalance is always a curse to any venture. That said, I would far sooner the entire initiative opened out for the consumption of all priests in post, not just the 'chosen few'. In my parish I don't need a pioneer minister - but a brother or sister in Christ to share the immense and endlessly unmanageable work would be a joy.

    Show me the money, give me the training, respect my gifts as a pioneer in situ together with most other vicars and curates, and I think perhaps we will have a broad seat for growth, not just one that has the danger of appearing to be a fashionable fad

  12. I thought it WAS a picture of you. I was under the happy impression that this is how you are kitted out when you turn up on an average Sunday to serve coffee and pioneer in general. It seems not, I am disappointed. Clearly more effort is required! ;)

  13. 1. YOU were a sapling pioneer minister called by God from our tradition.

    2. To add to what UK Viewer says, mission is indeed a Vicar or Curate walking down the High Street etc... but especially whan he/she is wearing clericals so that the community can recognise who sent him/her. (As I am sure you are!)

    3. I always thought RevSimmy was female - sorry!



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