Our annual School of Leadership (SoL), which encourages clergy in leading churches to grow spiritually and numerically, gathered for another successful course at Whalley Abbey last month to hear from two former students from different church traditions
We spoke to SoL alumni Steve McGanity and Simon Fisher about how the course has benefitted them and their churches, and how they approached working together from different churchmanship perspectives.
Revd Canon Steve McGanity is Area Dean of West Derby and Vicar of St Andrew's Clubmoor. He was one of the first graduates of the School of Leadership in 2003.
Revd Simon Fisher is Vicar of St John's Tuebrook, and Chaplain for the Readers in Walton and West Derby Deaneries. He graduated from the School of Leadership in 2014.
Pictured right: The SoL class of 2016.
Q. How did the School of Leadership experience benefit you and your parish?
SM: It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I was leading St Andrew's at that time. I think I became far more focussed on the things that I needed to make a priority for my ministry and for the development of St Andrew's. It helped me avoid the usual mistake of getting caught up with the immediate needs of the parish and to step back and look at the bigger picture of what we were doing and where we were going.
SF: The life and programme in a busy parish can be fairly inexorable, and sometimes there’s not much opportunity or incentive to ask what we are trying to do, what’s working, what isn’t, what we might want to do differently in the future. The SoL provides that opportunity to reflect with others who are experiencing the same questions, and with leaders who have also reflected on the same process of church leadership, and to bring back our minds to focus on what we are trying to do in the parish. Once I’d refreshed my reflective faculties, we then found ourselves reflecting more effectively on the parish’s work and focussing better on the things we think are important.
Q. How did you feel about being asked to return as a training leader?
SM: I have been back a couple of times to lead sessions. The residential was a real privilege though. I really enjoyed the interaction between ourselves as facilitators and the course participants. They were great to spend time with and the way they questioned some of the ideas we were bringing to them gave me a lot to reflect on when I got home. I always think I get more out of the opportunities to lead something like that than the participants do!
SF: It’s an exciting opportunity – to help others in that process of reflection but also to return to it again myself. It’s also encouraging to hear others’ joys and struggles and to realise we are all part of this together, and to share in the desire to learn together across the diocese.
Q. You each have very different styles of churchmanship – how did you experience working together for the School of Leadership?
SM: Simon and I have been able to work together for a number of years. He is actively involved in West Derby Deanery, where I am Area Dean. I have learned to really value his input and perception. I think that in lots of ways we compliment each other very well, not just in terms of churchmanship but also in terms of leadership style.
SF: Yes, we’re very different, and probably have quite a lot of fundamental disagreements! But we are used to working together quite closely (in neighbouring parishes and the same deanery) and our way of thinking, of communication, and of approaching problems is actually quite similar. Quite a lot of difference between Christians is often personality-based, or culturally driven; in fact the unspoken influence of culture on church life was the theme of our residential. But if we have an honest understanding of where we differ we can find the things to work together on.
Q. What were the areas of common ground you shared?
SM: From the moment I met Simon I recognised that we shared a common desire to see mission and discipleship given a greater priority in the church. We have a lot in common in terms of how we see the local church being a transformative presence in local communities. It was fun to work with him in a different context and for us to actually think through what we could say together about what we are trying to do in our respective churches. I hope that having the two of us share from our experience and knowledge made it a richer experience for the participants.
SF: Steve and I are in neighbouring parishes and serve broadly the same community, and we’re both passionate about the mission of local churches to make an impact on people locally, and about understanding the real needs, wants and drives of a local community so that we can serve them better. That’s what enables us to work together in this area, and I hope we were able to help participants on the SoL to reflect on their own people’s and community’s ways of thinking, desires, and fears, so as to serve them better.
Q. Were there significant differences in your experience?
SM: I am convinced that when we make the people outside the four walls of a church building the utmost priority then our internal differences no longer matter. Simon and I clearly have differences in style of worship and ecclesiology but to be honest I am never really aware of them because for me what we have in common, in terms of making mission and discipleship a priority, is significantly more important.
SF: I have been in this parish for five years and Steve in his for 17. There are ways in which parish leaders can make an impact in the early years (and sometimes only in the early years) and there are ways of making an impact that need patience and a long obedience in the same community.