Skirting Ullsawater at about 9am, I watched gorgeous sun give way to thick, low cloud. By the time I started to climb up into the Kirtstone pass, I could scarcely see a few feet in front of me. Never having been to Rydal before, the journey began to feel like a bit of an adventure, especially after I took a wrong turn and ended up accidentally discovering a short cut through to Ambleside on a single track road above Lake Windermere (well, I assume the lake was below but I couldn't actually see it!) On the way back - lo and behold, glorious sunshine again with just a dusting of cloud on the hills! I wound my way up an aptly named road called The Struggle (20% gradient most of the way) and dropped down the Kirkstone pass, this time enjoying the wonderful vistas, getting into Glendinning just in time for tea and a scone before the cafes shut! And this is work?!
The purpose of the journey was to attend the regional conference for Self Supporting Ministers (clergy who give their time in order to minister in parishes and many other settings.) The main speaker was Revd Dr Teresa Morgan who has recently published the results of a national survey of SSM clergy. As well as telling us about her findings, she also gave a key note lecture about faith as it's understood in Paul's letters in the New Testament. Faith encompasses many things; if you look at the uses of the word in Greek and Latin, you begin to see how the original NT writers and later theologians invested a whole range of meanings in the word - trust, faithfulness, hope, confidence, a binding relationship in a legal sense. Stories where faith is exercised and spoken about show that in the NT the opposite of 'faith' is not generally 'no faith' or 'unbelief', but 'little faith'. Doubt and wavering faith seem to be on the same spectrum as enormous leaps of faith or indeed the faithfulness of Christ Himself to God and to us. Faith can be intellectual and propositional; it can also be emotional and invested in intuitive action. (The woman who touched Jesus' garment is a good example of how propositional belief and intuitive action can both be part of a single demonstration of faith - she thought, 'If I can only touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed' and she instinctively reached out and touched Him.)
Dr Morgan, who is a fellow in Ancient History at Oriel College Oxford, showed her versatility in both inspiring us as to how we go about our ministry and giving us an analysis of the facts and figures about the shape(s) of Self Supporting Ministry in the Church of England. I'm going to need some more time to digest the implications of some of the things we discussed. However for those of you who are particularly interested in the findings of her research, she suggested some directions for future development. I was moderately cheered to find that we have indeed been trying to work towards some of these things (or are currently doing so) in Ripon and Leeds Diocese.
- Audit SSM skills and interests in the diocese.
- Plan and describe posts needed by Deaneries (we're just starting to do that.)
- Think about distributing SSM posts across the diocese so that we use SSM more in places where there are a good number of SSMs and liberate stipendiary time where there is less ministry.
- SSMs running parishes as a team or group (and before anyone says that isn't legally possible - that's exactly what we did in Nottingham in 1994!)
- SSMs choosing to specialize in managing vacancies.
- Functional working agreements (lots of discussion about how to achieve these in MSE situations.)
- CME and MDR offered to all SSMs (we do that already.)
- Encouragement for SSMs to develop their ministry and move posts from time to time.
- Senior posts could be open to SSMs.
- An SSM's ministry may change over time - the focus shifting from parish to workplace to diocesan life and back again.
- Think about vocations - especially among younger people.
- Survey employers of MSEs.