Monday, 23 May 2011

Residentiary to Non Stipendiary

I have a new job! No, I haven't given up being Archdeacon of Richmond, but I have taken on the role of Adviser for Non Stipendiary Ministers in the diocese of Ripon and Leeds. (NSM's are ordained people who give their time and do not receive financial remuneration for their ministry.)  In order to create the space to do this, I've laid down my role as a residentiary canon at Ripon cathedral. I rather like the symbolism of moving from one of the oldest and most traditional roles in the church to one of the newest and unformed! As the diocesan newsletter states, there are an increasing number of non stipendiary clergy and the exciting thing about these ministeries is that no two are quite the same.

I have long been an enthusiast for what I have always thought of as Self-Supporting Ministry. (I don't much like anything, including ministry, to be defined by a negative! Surely the concept of ministry freely given in response to a call is more inspiring than the tag 'unpaid'?) I am very much looking forward to meeting all the clergy who exercise this kind of ministry. It will take me some months to do this, no doubt, but it is going to be important to hear the stories of the different kinds of ministry they are engaged in and their experience of the church and its mission.

So perhaps I ought to tell my own story. I was a Self Supporting Minister, myself, for a short time while I was a lecturer at St John's College, Nottingham. My 'day job' was teaching a hundred and twenty ordinands and theological students and a much larger group of distance learners liturgy and pastoral theology and overseeing an MA course in Mission and Ministry. My other ministry was exercised through St Michael's and All Angels, a large church in Bramcote, Nottingham. St Michael's had an SSM team who, together with the church wardens and Readers and under the leadership the Revd David Edinbrough, himself an SSM, headed up ministry in the parish. The idea was that the parish would generate its own leadership, freeing up stipendiary ordained ministry to be used elsewhere in the diocese. My role mainly involved planning and leading worship, youth work and pastoral care. The church seemed to take to the 'experiment', as it was called, very well and lay led initiatives and leadership blossomed. A large number of people took responsibiilty very effectively for many aspects of the life of the church. It was, however, quite difficult when the church eventually returned to a more traditional form of ministry under a single incumbent because people had got used to thinking in a new way about the life of the church. And that points to one of the challenges thrown up by self supporting ministry. It asks us to think about ministry in different ways - as something more collaborative, more flexible, more rooted in being present to one another in creative ways and very conscious of life beyond the church. These things have been and are features of good ministry all down the ages, but non stipendiary ministry is raising questions for the church about how we reinterpret some of the more narrowly ecclesiologically focused understandings of ministry that have appeared over the centuries. St Paul and, indeed, all the apostles were SSMs! It is interesting that as the churches in the West emerge from Christendom to a more uncertain, less confident relationship with society, we are seeing a return to forms of ministry that have their roots in a missionary church. Flexibility, the willingness to be known as a Christian and to speak from wherever one is placed in society, and the ability to resource oneself for ministry or share the resources one has with others to enable ministry are key concepts, I believe. 

As an incumbent, I also trained and ministered with an SSM curate and learned a huge amount about utilising gifts, especially the gift of time, effectively. I think we both came to see that the key to blending different kinds of ministry in a parish is to spend time and care on communication and trust building. Once there is real honesty of relationship, it becomes much easier to respond to the needs of an area in mission and ministry by using the distinct gifts and perspectives of different kinds of minister, welcoming the differing degrees of time, availability and experience that each person brings.

Many SSMs and NSMs minister mostly in their place of work and that is an area of ministry that I look forward to learning more about. Some SSMs have developed a ministry that is more to do with vision for an innovative project (for example an e church and an internet service offering friendship and pastoral care for the business community.) I hope we can listen to the creative and innovative among our ministers and see what can be developed - God has called us to reach into every corner of society and NSMs and SSMs are sometimes a lone voice, trying to draw the church's attention to important possibilities for mission, ministry and Christian presence. 

These are some of the things that excite me about this new role! If you are interested in finding out more about this kind of ministry, see also my post dated 11th April The Gift of Ministry.             

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