LOCAL MINISTRY AREAS
Plans are currently being formulated in the Diocese of St Davids to change the organisational structure of parishes, benefices, deaneries and archdeaconries. In 2013, the Diocesan Conference endorsed the introduction of Local Ministry Areas to provide mission and ministry for the present and into the future. Its vision is for a church which is vibrant and growing. It recognised that paid clergy will decline in number over the coming years and simply amalgamating parishes into ever larger benefices is more likely to contribute to decline than to fulfil its vision for growth. Diocesan Conference saw Local Ministry Areas as the best available way to bring about new life for our churches.
The reasons for changing the present pattern include the needs of mission and overcoming the present practical difficulties and financial challenges. With fewer paid, ordained clergy coming into ministry than those who will be retiring in the next few years, to continue to base ministry on one paid Vicar in a group of parishes will mean that the groups of parishes will just get larger until they are well beyond the capacity of one person to serve effectively. This will build inevitable decline into the system.
Financially, since 90% of the Ministry Share paid by each parish currently goes to support the clergy, the only way to reduce this is to reduce the number of clergy. Fewer clergy cannot be stretched to do the same work that clergy are doing now. In terms of mission, the Diocese has not only been using the resources of its paid clergy but also the gifts of lay people in the most effective way. Even if there were enough potential ordained people to place a Vicar in every parish, and even if there was sufficient money coming in to make that possible, it would still be right to develop the gifts and ministries of lay people. Local Ministry Areas will achieve this.
A Local Ministry Area will be a group of parishes, every one of which has agreed to co-operate together for mission and ministry, each of which will be served by a Focal Minister, who will provide day-to-day ministry in a particular church, and all of which will be overseen as a group by stipendiary (paid) ordained clergy. Research proves that churches grow and flourish best when they have someone who leads them regularly in worship, and who has a care for the effectiveness and wellbeing of the local church and community. This key person might be ordained or might not and might be stipendiary or not. This key person will be the Focal Minister, and therefore an essential member of the Local Ministry Area team.
The Focal Minister will be someone to whom a congregation naturally looks for leadership, ideally someone already within that congregation whose gifts have been recognised by the people, but equally possibly someone from elsewhere who can serve that church. The Focal Minister will lead worship and contribute to most of the main church services and other church events. Their role will be to enable and lead the ministry of all the people of the church, energising them for mission and pastoral ministry from a position at the heart of the church community. Together with the other Focal Ministers within the Local Ministry Area, they will form the Local Ministry Area Team and under the oversight of the Team Leader, they will receive support and encouragement.
There will still be paid ordained clergy, and the diocesan strategy envisages a number of around 70 (about 25 fewer than the current staffing level). Each Local Ministry Area will ideally have at least two paid clergy; one of these will act as the Team Leader. Each of them will also serve as a Focal Minister in at least one congregation, but much of their ministry will be the oversight and care of the Focal Ministers and of the work of the Local Ministry Area as a whole. This is quite a change from the kind of tasks most clergy are used to, and will call for some adjustment on their part.
Strategically, the Bishop’s Staff has taken a view on the number of paid clergy the Diocese can expect to maintain and on the overall number of Local Ministry Areas the Diocese needs – both mission and financial considerations point to around 35 Local Ministry Areas. Archdeacons, consulting with Area Deans, Deanery Conferences and clergy Chapters, are attempting to identify where natural groupings of parishes might be to create these 35 Areas. At the same time the important task of identifying Focal Ministers needs to go on. It is on these people that the future life of the Local Ministry Area will depend.
When all concerned have identified the most natural shape of a Local Ministry Area, PCCs within that Area will be asked to discuss entering the Local Ministry Area and to agree to a Compact Agreement by which they will formally become part of their Local Ministry Area. Following that decision from all the participating parishes, the Archdeacon and Area Dean will help the parishes to set up their Ministry Team, to identify their Focal Ministers, initiate any required training and generally evaluate the life of the new Area at a local level.
Each parish will retain its identity and integrity, being responsible for its own life. With its Focal Minister it can decide what is the best pattern of worship (service times and so on), and how it can best reach out to its community. The Local Ministry Area is intended to free individual churches for service, not to bind them into administrative units which stifle their individuality and initiative.
All parishes will remain under the authority of the Bishop. Focal Ministers will be licensed or authorised by him. The Bishop’s oversight of each parish will be exercised day-to-day by the Team Leader of the Local Ministry Area. He or she will convene meetings of the Ministry Area Team, will ensure Focal Ministers are adequately trained and resourced and will oversee such things as record-keeping and other administrative matters. In most cases the Team Leader will be joined by a second paid cleric, who will also serve as a Focal Minister, and take other responsibilities in the Ministry Area depending on their gifts.
Local Ministry Areas will be grouped into Deaneries, as parishes are now. There will be nine Deaneries, three in each Archdeaconry. To the greatest extent possible, decisions about church life will be made by the Local Ministry Area. Responsibilities for such things as identifying possible church plant, or considering possible church closures will lie with the Local Ministry Area. In order to fulfil this kind of task, the Local Ministry Area will need an agreed and written framework for its life and work. They will also require some paid administrative assistance.