Our diocese has the mindset and opportunity to be trailblazers in Interim Ministry

On Tuesday 10th November Chris Jones was licensed as Interim Minister by Bishop Paul at St Stephens’s church, Banks. We spoke to Chris as he embarks on this new challenge

Chris has been ordained for 32 years, serving first in the Chelmsford Diocese and then in Bootle and Ormskirk.

Chris will be working as a minister across the North Meols Team but with particular responsibility for Churchtown and Banks.

Bishop Paul said "as we continue to look to become fit for mission the church must find new leadership models. As a pioneering diocese Liverpool is always keen to try new methods of ministry. Chris is an excellent, experienced priest and ideally suited to minister in a parish who have been without a presence for a while. Under his guidance I believe this benefice will move forward looking to make a bigger difference to their community."

We spoke to Chris as he embarks on this new challenge.

What is interim ministry and what marks it out?
Interim Ministry is a limited term appointment which was made possible under Common Tenure by the July 2015 General Synod and came into effect from 1st November.

Such short term appointments may be made in a number of circumstances such as:
  • To enable the parish to equip itself more effectively for mission
  • To determine what kind of minister is required in the longer term
  • When there has been pastoral breakdown
  • When there is an element of uncertainty about the future , perhaps with pasture reorganisation in mind
  • Following a long incumbency

Why is it important for our Diocese?
Liverpool Diocese has a reputation for being in the forefront of new ideas and new forms of ministry, for example Pioneers and Local Missional Leaders. We have the mindset and opportunity to be trailblazers in Interim Ministry too. Whatever our own reference for the type of church we would like, the future church will inevitably look more and more different as time goes on.  We are committed to a ‘mixed economy’ approach so that as many people as possible may hear the message of Christ’s love in a way that makes them want to be His disciples.

Although I am the first interim under the new scheme there are a number of people in the Diocese who do similar work and meet together regularly to compare notes and encourage one another.

What lessons did you learn from Virginia and other places?
My study leave last year led me first to the USA where the work of the ‘Alban Institute’ in particular had created firstly a culture of interim and then a training programme for this type of ministry. It has developed into something far more than a temporary minister ‘holding the fort’ between incumbencies and become much more a time for congregations to reflect on their life and what kind of minister they need for the future. They have identified five development tasks or focus points for the congregations to work together in the interim period (usually on Interregnum):
  • Heritage and History of the local church – what needs celebrating and building on for the future and what needs leaving behind.
  • Lay leadership – identifying the extent of current lay leadership and what can be developed.
  • Connections – how we connect with our Diocese and our local community.
  • Identity and mission – what are the unique characteristics of the church that gives direction to its mission.
  • What is wanted of future ministry leadership – what are the key characteristics needed of a vicar for future mission and ministry in that place after the interim period.
I saw much of this in operation in our link Diocese of Virginia and also in a visit to the Toronto and Niagra Diocese in Canada. I also saw and heard of examples in England of people who wanted to go down this route.

Why do you feel called to this ministry and what do you think you will bring to it?
For me there has been a growing calling to do this work offering my experiences and skills to situations where they are needed. I feel the release from being ‘vicar’ and the limited timescale of the post will enable me to challenge people to step out openly and make necessary changes to the way they do things as church. Although I will attempt to be loving and collaborative I don’t need to be popular and can say some hard things when necessary to hopefully help pave the way for the next vicar.

What do you hope to achieve in North Meols?
I have a role description which allows me to be an Interim Group Minister across the team, with particular responsibility for St Cuthbert, Churchtown and St Stephens in Banks. I will be a ‘priest among them’, as the Ordinal says, conducting church services and occasional offices and dealing with most of the duties which a clergy person does. However, my overriding priority will be to help the team appoint an excellent Team Vicar through re-imaging the Parish Profile and future requirements for the team vicar post. To do this l will help the parish in some self reflection in the following 5 development tasks:
  1. Reflecting on the heritage and history of the churches in the team to see what needs to be left behind and what needs celebrating and building on for the future.
  2. Identifying the extent of lay leadership and involvment and seeing what can be developed.
  3. Seeing how we can better connect with our Diocese and local community.
  4. Looking at the unique characteristics of the churches that give direction to their mission.
  5. Seeing what are the key characteristics needed of a Team Vicar for future mission and ministry.
At my licensing service the congregation promised their support on behalf of the churches in the team and l promised to love and serve and lead them in witnessing to God in the power of the Spirit.

Chris Jones