A major Lancashire-wide church leadership training initiative has been highlighted and praised in a new report, launched at a fringe meeting of The Church of England’s ‘parliament’ (General Synod) which is meeting this week in London.
On Wednesday, the National Estate Churches Network (NECN)1 and the Church of England’s Estates Evangelism Task Group (EETG)2 launched the report ‘Growing Leaders on Urban Estates (available to download from www.churcharmy.org/urbanleaders).
Written by the Church Army Research Unit, the report reviews leadership formation and development pathways piloted in four dioceses (including ‘M:Power’ in Blackburn Diocese) since 2017.
Due in part to impetus and energy for urban evangelism, galvanised by the EETG since its inception in 2015, each of the Dioceses has established leadership training and formation schemes/pathways with national funding.
The EETG was previously chaired by Rt Rev Philip North, Bishop of Blackburn-designate, who remains a member of the Group.
Laying out a broad vision for the EETG’s work at a previous General Synod meeting, Bishop Philip said: “We want to have a joyful, loving, worshipping and serving Christian community on every significant social housing estate in England.
"Our conviction is that, if our approaches to mission accidentally or deliberately exclude the poor, we will never see the renewal for which we pray. Every significant renewal movement in Christian history has begun on the margins, and it is our firm belief that the same can happen in our own day.”
So it is in Lancashire that M:Power (alongside the other schemes in York, Birmingham and London Dioceses) now seeks to identify, recognise, resource and enable leaders from and for urban estates and other low income communities.
The Church Army’s Research Unit (Research - Church Army), led by Dr Andy Wier, has provided an external evaluation along with insights from Church Army’s own work resourcing and enabling evangelism on urban social housing estates.
M:Power forms part of the Diocese of Blackburn’s Outer Estates Leadership Programme, which has been funded through a grant from the Strategic Development Fund (SDF) of The Church Commissioners.
From an original base at St James’ Church in Lower Darwen on the outskirts of Blackburn, M:Power is now based in locations across the County in addition to St James’ … namely Blackpool, Accrington, Over Darwen and Preston.
The national report praises M:Power’s nine-month training programme which takes place one evening or daytime per week.
Rev Canon Dr Michael Leyden, Dean of Emmanuel Theological College in the North West, writes in the foreword: “When the church is willing to take off the structural blinkers and to invest resources into our estates, we begin to see more clearly what the Lord is already doing in the renewal of lay and ordained leadership within those communities.”
Flexibility and responsiveness are highlighted as a key factor in the success of M:Power as part of the report; especially in relation to the pandemic and the training offered during that period when meeting face-to-face wasn’t possible. It was also noted that the M:Power training was now also being offered to people from neighbouring Dioceses, such as Manchester, as its reputation grows.
The report also highlights a total of 70 people have completed M:Power so far, with a further 34 signed up for the 2022-23 sessions. Most of these sessions are informal and discussion-based and delivered in the main by lay urban evangelists (providing credibility and lived experience). There are three units; on ‘personal transformation’, ‘evangelism’ and ‘leadership’ with a different focus each term.
There are no formal entry requirements. There is also no formal assessment, although course leaders are aware of the progress of those taking part and participants can elect to undertake optional activities of which maintaining a spiritual journal is strongly encouraged.
Responding to the report this week, Rev Rebecca Roberts, M:Power Project Lead who also attended the report’s launch event at General Synod on Wednesday said: “M:Power remains a refreshing and creative example of the church releasing and equipping people to make a difference in their local communities. I am encouraged by, and grateful for, the positive comments in this national report.
"I’m delighted to see one of our M:Power cohort, Rosie, profiled in the report. Rosie was incredibly shy and it’s wonderful to read her describe how the M:Power programme has ‘changed her life’ in such a way that she is now leading a creative service in her church once per month and is enthusiastically exploring vocation!”
Bishop Philip concluded saying: “I’m grateful to see the hard work of all those who have made M:Power a reality recognised in this new report. The church can play an important role in enabling people from our estates to find a pathway into training and formation. It has been a joy to see many people who have completed M:Power going on to be wonderful beacons in our parishes across Lancashire.
“Some have returned to lead community projects; others have been actively making disciples; while still more have gone on to explore vocation and ordination. We are excited to continue see further growth in so many ways as M:Power continues to expand.”
Captions for photos, top and bottom:
Ronnie Semley, February 2023