The Church of England is ‘coming back’ to the estates, reversing a trend where over decades, services like shops and children’s centres have withdrawn, the Bishop of Burnley Rt Rev Philip North, said this week.
The plans have been prepared by the Church of England’s national Estates Evangelism Task Group, which is chaired by Bishop Philip and is part of the Church of England’s Renewal and Reform programme.
In that national role, and in a speech delivered at the National Estate Churches Network in London, Bishop Philip spoke of how outer estates, with significant numbers of social housing properties, are to be a key priority with the publication of a new Commitment to Action to share the Christian faith on some of the country’s most deprived estates.
Bishop Philip also launched a new film outlining the work, which features people from churches from around the country.
Addressing the conference in Tottenham Hale, London, Bishop Philip said: “We want to have a thriving, growing, loving church on every significant estate in the country.”
The Church of England is also committing to training estates’ residents to become future church leaders and to support existing Christian communities on estates, which may involve collaboration with other denominations.
The Church of England in Lancashire (Blackburn Diocese) is leading the work of growing leaders for estates after an announcement in late 2017 of funding from the Church of England’s Strategic Development Fund for a six-year programme.
The programme is based on two estates in Blackpool; Freedom Church in Mereside (which features in the national launch video) and the new Church Army Centre of Mission on Grange Park Estate plus, in East Lancashire, an outer estates ministry ‘leadership hub’ for both lay and ordained training based in the parishes of Lower/Over Darwen near Blackburn, and led by St James’ Church.
A total of £1.54 million was allocated for the local programme in our Diocese to fund training new leaders, both lay and ordained; with a view to providing a model for other dioceses while also strengthening mission in the areas where the work is located.
Speaking about the work of existing estate churches across dioceses nationally Bishop Philip said: “The Church is coming back. The Holy Spirit is doing amazing things on the estates of this nation.
“Jesus began a movement that transformed what it means to be human and he did so from the edges. And today, it is on the edges amongst the marginalised that renewal will come.
“If we are serious about the renewal of Christian life in our nation, we need to do what Jesus did. It’s so important that the Church re-commits itself to presence, to service and to proclamation of the Good News about Jesus and to the ministry of love on our big outer estates.”
Speaking in the new film, Rev Linda Tomkinson, from Freedom Church, added: “God’s call on me to come to this estate was strong. I had conversations with the Bishop and the Archdeacons and we came up with the idea to try a ‘pioneer church’.
“People who have never been to church at all have a very set idea of what a vicar is and, indeed, of what a Christian is.
“We’re just there; we are being normal and we are letting people see that having a relationship with Jesus can be a normal part of your life.”
Debbie Clinton, Director of Renewal and Reform for The Church of England, also commented: “Estates ministry is vital to the growth of the Church. So I am delighted that as well as encapsulating the vision for estates evangelism, these new plans build on the wonderful work already being undertaken on estates churches by clergy and lay people, who are committed to meeting the spiritual and social needs of estate residents.”
Some recent local developments in Blackpool and Darwen
The work on estates in Lancashire, following the award of the national church funding, continues apace.
The Blackpool Ministry Experience Scheme at Freedom Church in Mereside; giving three young people a chance to live and work in the area for a year and experience estates ministry at first hand, is now in its second year.
The latest cohort of three young people were commissioned this week at a service in the town attended by Bishop Philip. They are Eden Worrall, from Accrington, who has been a ministry trainee at Leyland St John’s for the last 18 months; Amy Bland, from Cambridge and Rebecca Burmiston from South London.
Meanwhile at St James, Lower Darwen, the new ‘M:Power’ project will, over the next 10 months, encourage 15 people from estates parishes to develop their skills and confidence in leadership through teaching and 1-1 mentoring.
It recently held its first formal teaching session in advance of a more official launch of the training centre in the new year. This teaching event was attended by the Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Dr Jill Duff, who led a service of Communion for the trainees before they shared food together and then the teaching began, led by Rev Tim Horobin.
The other part of the Lancashire estates programme is at Grange Park in Blackpool and recently a new Lead Evangelist, Captain Matt Rowley, was appointed for the new Church Army Centre of Mission on the estate, working with St Mark’s, Layton and St Luke’s, Staining. Matt is pictured (right) with Vicar Rev. Peter Lillicrap. Read more about this work here.