Have just returned from a 'conversation morning' with the 2 Diocesan bishops about the diocesan strategy (if that's the right word) 'Changing Lives'. Such things are given more edge by the fact that half of my job is as a facilitator of said strategy in the Yeovil area, so I tried hard to pay attention to what was going on.
In the days when I didn't know how to make curry, I'd buy some mince or some sort of meat, put it in a frying pan, and start to add spoonfuls of whatever powder was to hand, perhaps with a bit of tomato ketchup, in the vain hope that if enough flavours were added and fried at a high enough temperature, what resulted might end up tasting like a curry. It never did.
The 'Changing Lives' strategy strikes me as similar - there are a number of different elements: dealing with the drop in clergy numbers, trying to promote and enable the ministry of the whole church, mission, engaging with changes in culture, a philosophy of ministy in teams rather than as individuals, restructuring of parishes, and Bishop Peters vision of a 'Jesus society' which is expounded by a recently released 'Changing Lives' DVD. Changing Lives comes across as an attempt to flavour the chewy meat of clergy reductions with a mixture of spices, in order to create something spicey and edible.
There is a spectrum of opinion within the diocese, which at one extreme sees Changing Lives as window dressing on the unpalatable facts of clergy reductions, and at the other extreme..... well, to be honest I've not come across anyone yet at the other extreme, of seeing it as an exciting re-orientation of the Diocese towards mission and the gospel. There is certainly the potential to do that, but it's not going to happen overnight. The conversation morning was a good event, some vision and values material from the Bishops, some good conversations around tables, and an interesting array of post-itted comments at the end of the morning. Most striking was the number which pleaded for a more mission-focused DAC.
The DAC is the planning authority for the diocese, which decides which plans for church alterations should be approved. I discovered recently that, despite mission being the 'driving force of this diocese' to use the Bishops words from this morning, and despite that fact that for many parishes the church building is their primary resource for mission, there isn't a single mission specialist on this body. There is a strong grassroots voice for this to change, it remains to be seen if that will happen. Speaking as a missioner, I would hope that we have mission specialists involved in every part of the church's ministry - buildings, finance, training, vocations, youth and childrens work, the Cathedral, and so on. One good thing about this morning was the sense that the mission perspective is heard and taken seriously, rather than brushed off as the preserve of a few enthusiasts.