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The Church of England in Lancashire (Blackburn Diocese) is set to renew ministry across the generations thanks to a huge new investment from the national church of £3.5m.

The money comes from the Church Commissioners’ Strategic Investment Board which recently gave the thumbs up to the latest exciting application from the Diocese entitled ‘Lighting Up New Generations’.

The application had been in preparation for many years and now the first major milestone of the project has occured in Blackburn with the licensing of Rev Jason Gardner as Resourcing Church Leader (Assistant Curate) at St Luke’s and Rachel Gardner as Youth Innovation Lead for the parish by the Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Dr Jill Duff, who is chair of the ‘Lighting Up New Generations’ project.

Jason and Rachel and their family are pictured left and above centre with Bishop Jill, Rt Rev. Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn; Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Venerable Mark Ireland, Rt Rev. Philip North, Bishop of Burnley and Catherine Huddleston, Principal of St Wilfrid’s Church of England Academy in Blackburn. 

All this encouraging news comes at a time when the entire Diocese is looking ahead to a period of ‘unlocking following an immensely challenging year.

The plans also tie closely with a recent refresh of our Diocesan Vision 2026, Healthy Churches Transforming Communities, which has seen a renewed emphasis being placed on inspiring children and young people; alongside making disciples, being witnesses and growing leaders for Jesus Christ in Lancashire.

The Strategic Investment Board recently gave ‘strategic development fund’ (SDF) money to a number of Dioceses for a variety of projects this year with the contribution of £3.5m to Blackburn Diocese being the highest.

The money awarded to the Diocese will fund the ‘planting’ and development of two new ‘resourcing churches’, both emerging out of Preston Resourcing Parish, which itself has been revitalised over the past two years following a previous successful SDF application.

At the centre of ‘Lighting Up New Generations’ are the towns of Blackburn and Blackpool.

Young people will be at the forefront of St Luke’s, Blackburn which is to become a multi-generational resourcing church that works to support mission with and investment in youth ministry across the Diocese. Meanwhile St John’s Blackpool will develop into a multi-generational resourcing church with a strong focus on social outreach.

Both resourcing churches are in areas of urban deprivation. They will have a mandate to grow leaders, both lay and ordained, and to catalyse renewal of churches in Blackburn, along the East Lancashire corridor; in Blackpool and along the Fylde Coast.

As new resourcing churches with a remit to generate future leaders, ripples from the initial £3.5m investment in St Luke’s and St John’s will also eventually fan out across the whole of Lancashire in a variety of ways.

In Blackburn this offers opportunity to innovate with a Youth Resourcing Church at St Luke’s, located next door to one of the Diocese’s vibrant Church of England Academies at St Wilfrid’s.

In Blackpool meanwhile the Diocese aims to grow a multi-generational town centre resourcing church at St John’s smack bang in the centre of a town with a unique national profile.

Rev Andy Dykes will be the new St John’s Resourcing Church Leader. He is originally from just up the coast in Cumbria.

Andy and his wife Nic have spent most of their lives in the North West, pioneering planting of Christian communities in Carlisle and Liverpool. They will be moving from Holy Trinity Brompton to be licensed in early October this year.

Meanwhile work on ‘Lighting Up New Generations’ moved ahead at pace this week with the first milestone taking place on Thursday (July 1) with the licensing of Rev Jason Gardner as Resourcing Church Leader (Assistant Curate) at St Luke’s and Rachel Gardner as Youth Innovation Lead for the parish by the Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Dr Jill Duff.

A symbolic torch beacon was lit during the service and passed across by all the speakers and a further larger beacon was lit outside after the service as well 

Jason, who will be St Luke’s Resourcing Church Leader, is originally from Lancashire and brings with him youth, evangelism and church planting expertise, particularly in multi-cultural areas.

He is joined by his wife Rachel Gardner who has a national profile through her work as Director of Partnerships at Youthscape, an organisation dedicated to serving the emotional, social and spiritual development of young people in schools, churches and local communities across the country.

Rev Cath Brooks, who first had a vision for St Luke’s as a Youth Resourcing Church back in 2014, continues as the Vicar of the whole Benefice of Blackburn St Aiden and Blackburn St Luke, St Mark and St Philip.

Jason said today: “We’re so looking forward to launching a resourcing Church that will equip all ages to reach young people with the good news of Jesus. We want to build on the strong relationship that St Luke’s has with its community and its schools in order to be a real blessing to the area.”

Rachel added: “Global youth culture is the largest culture to ever exist. At a time when every Christian denomination is asking huge questions about how to engage and disciple emerging generations, it’s a privilege to be serving alongside leaders in Blackburn Diocese who take this really seriously.”

Meanwhile, Rev. Cath Brooks commented: “This is a really exciting moment for us here in Blackburn and for the whole Diocese too. From very early on in my time here it seemed that St Luke’s was ripe to become a Youth Resourcing Church. It has taken several years for that vision to be realised but I am delighted to have reached this point.

“We hope to inspire and encourage other churches across the Diocese and are looking forward to warmly welcoming Jason and Rachel. We are excited for all that God has in store for them and for the people we serve in God’s name in the months and years to come.” 

Welcoming the national support for ‘Lighting Up New Generations’, Bishop Jill said: “We are convinced in this Diocese of the importance of frontline parish ministry for reaching Lancashire with the Gospel.

“This project is just a small part of our wider Vision 2026 strategy. We aim to normalise the growth of churches through church renewal and planting, aiming for 200 new local congregations and 10 Strategic Church Plants by 2026 across all church traditions, demographics and locations.

“It has been encouraging to work in partnership with the Strategic Development Board – the generous support is a testimony to this relationship. But the main investment needed now is a visitation of the Holy Spirit on the people of Blackburn, Blackpool and the whole of Lancashire.”

Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, who is Chair of the wider Diocesan SDF Programme Board, said: “The ‘Lighting Up New Generations’ project will build on and weave in the fruit of our earlier Strategic Development Funded projects – Preston Resourcing Parish the money for which arrived in 2018 and Outer Estates Leadership from 2017.

“All these projects will now feed into leadership development and youth innovation across the Diocese. ‘Lighting Up New Generations’ and the plans for St Luke’s particularly also build on the excellent work of our Youth Ministry team in the Board of Education.

"I am also delighted that this announcement enables the employment of Rachel Gardner. Rachel has a national profile and expertise in youth work and as a conference speaker and author.

“My hope and prayer now is we will reach across the generations, leading to the flourishing of healthy churches transforming communities across Lancashire.”

The Church of England defines a resourcing church as a church which:

  • Is designated by the Bishop
  • Works strategically across a city or town
  • Plants and revitalises, and is resourced to do so
  • Develops leaders for mission, particularly vocations
  • Develops resources for the wider church

Different kinds of resource churches include:

  • New city/town centre resource church – a freshly started church for an urban area
  • Large church to resource church – an existing church is resourced to plant
  • Rural resource church – a hub from which new congregations can be formed
  • Market town resource church – focuses mission, including in surrounding villages
  • Mission areas resource church – given a specific group of parishes to resource



Ronnie Semley, July 2021