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Blackburn Diocese (The Church of England in Lancashire) is embarking on a fresh and exciting missional strategy supported by a substantial new grant from the national church.

The new work will build on huge steps already taken as part of our ‘Vision 2026’ work.

Targeted investment was announced today by the CofE’s Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment Board (SMMIB), to further enhance our declared aim (as part of our Vision 2026) of having ‘healthy churches transforming communities’ across the County.

It will support the Diocese in continuing to grow the church across Lancashire in depth and number while simultaneously shaping a younger, more socio-economically and culturally diverse church.

In bidding for this new investment, people in our parishes were carefully consulted over an extended period. There were multiple discussions at other key gatherings including with our Area Deans and at the Bishop’s Council before our Diocesan Synod signed off the bid and it was submitted.

Since its inception, Vision 2026 has seen us starting more than 200 new congregations and taking steps to renew parish life all while making a full commitment to maintaining stipendiary clergy numbers.

Building on this, the new funding from the national church will make a ‘massive difference to our common life’ across the County but ‘also comes with a challenge’ according to Rt Rev. Philip North, Bishop of Blackburn.

The SMMIB has backed plans for a £25.5 million investment for a programme of renewal in the Diocese over nine years, with £12 million in the first phase and £13.5 million (agreed in principle) for two more stages of work and subject to evaluation of progress. 

This award, alongside two other large awards for Southwark and London Dioceses, will help fund parish renewal; lay pioneer ministry and ministry to children and young people.

And a freshly designed programme of ‘Continuous Ministerial Education’ (CME) will support clergy wellbeing and development.

These programmes will build on nationally-funded work already ongoing in Blackburn, Blackpool and Preston which has supported youth ministry, parish revitalisation, and outer estate leadership. 

In a new video message, released for parishes today to coincide with the announcement, Bishop Philip says: “In the past few years in the Diocese we have set a bold path for ourselves. We do this because we long for people across our County to find life in relationship with Jesus.

“This new investment will make a massive difference to our common life. It will enable us, for example, to expand our ministry to the young; strengthen church life in urban areas; offer enhanced support to clergy and sustain pioneering programmes of work such as M:Power and our ‘Parish Renewal Programme’.”

Bishop Philip adds: “The money also comes with a challenge. The church nationally has invested in a strategy that we have agreed together as a Diocesan family. Now we need to deliver on it while focusing on several key areas things: prayer (first and last), evangelism, generosity and encouraging vocations.”

In Lancashire, the SMMI programme will deliver in key areas including enhancing our work to be a church that reflects the communities it serves. In this context and as part of the initial work with the money allocated today …

  • …we want to be a younger church and will recruit 30 new parish-based posts to form the ‘Ignite Team’ across Lancashire, all working to reach young people and increasing the numbers attending church regularly.
  • …we want to be a socially-diverse church and will recruit 18 parish-based lay-pioneers over a phased period. These people will support mission in our churches; enabling greater outreach. The work to train these pioneers will be achieved by expanding our existing ‘M:Power’ team while it is likely some of those applying for the new roles would be M:Power graduates.
  • …we want to be a culturally diverse church and will seek to appoint a Canon for Presence and Engagement (to be based in Blackburn Cathedral) plus an Inter-Cultural Mission Enabler in Burnley. These roles will work to increase diversity.

Through the development of these roles across the Diocese, we will seek to create a further 250 new local congregations by 2030 to extend our reach into local communities.

Alongside this growth, we aim to have a parish system revitalised for mission.

This will involve …

  • … expansion of the Diocesan ‘Parish Renewal Programme’ with two additional roles in the Diocesan Parish Renewal Team. 
  • … administrator provision, with two administrators to be appointed and allocated in a phased way to key renewal parishes.
  • …support to develop plans for investment into Accrington and Burnley. This work will lead to a further application to the national church at a later date.

We will also seek to have a transformed leadership pipeline calling out more diverse and younger vocations and sustaining curious, flourishing ministry for the long-term with …

  • … an enhanced continued ministry education programme to provide a pattern of clergy sabbaticals and retreats.
  • … a consultant to be appointed to develop a feasibility study on the potential provision of a Young Leaders’ Academy. This work will lead to a further application to the national church at a later date.
  • … continued provision of 10 curacies each year (five funded by the Diocese, five by the national church) which will support the pipeline of ordained leaders for the future.

To support all this work there will also be a small number of essential central roles in the Diocese, including additional HR and finance support and a funding officer working with parishes to identify and secure additional funding locally.

Bishop Philip continued: “We are grateful to everyone in our parishes across Lancashire who contributed to the discussions about and development of our successful bid to the national church. Today is your day, so let’s celebrate the good news together.

“But this is also a time to dedicate ourselves afresh to living the Gospel joyfully in the parishes, schools and chaplaincies of our Diocese. For it is the love of Christ that compels us.”

Responding to today’s announcement, Carl Hughes, Chairman of the SMMIB, added: “We are grateful to the Church Commissioners and Archbishops’ Council for their generous funding of these very significant long term programmes, working in partnership with the Dioceses and the Board to ensure that parish churches from all traditions are renewed and revitalised in their mission to share the good news of the Gospel.

“I am pleased to see the strong focus on working with children and young people and the emphasis on low-income areas. We are investing in the future, while building on the successes and learning of the past.”

Captions for above pictures, top to bottom:

Pics 1 and 2: Young people from parishes on our annual Diocesan holiday for 11-17 year-olds including hearing from our diocesan Bishop, Rt Rev. Philip North. As we strive to become a younger church we will recruit 30 new parish-based posts to form our new ‘Ignite Team’ across Lancashire

Pic 3: Through a freshly designed programme of ‘Continuous Ministerial Education’ the national church award will build on nationally-funded work already ongoing in Blackpool and other parts of the County

Pic 4: Training taking place in Blackburn as part of our M:Power work. We will recruit 18 parish-based lay-pioneers over a phased period by expanding our existing ‘M:Power’ team

Pic 5: Delegates came from across the County to our most recent Youth Leaders’ Conference at St Thomas Church in Lancaster. The new award from the national church will allow the Diocese to do a feasibility study on the idea of a Young Leaders’ Academy

Pic 6: Towneley Park in Burnley … looking to the future, the successful bid will support the development of plans for investment into urban areas like Burnley in East Lancashire

Pic 7: The new award will allow continued provision of 10 curacies each year (five funded by the Diocese, five by the national church)







Ronnie Semley, July 13, 2024