How have you been settling in?
The first six months have been wonderfully hectic. Wigan deanery seems to have got itself pretty well geared up for the TW movement 2015-22. This has meant that I have been able to hit the ground running and make every effort to catch up with the enthusiasm and anxiety mixed up in the churches! On the personal front, we are still trying to sort out a house and a new job for Sue who is still working in Cumbria as a Project Family Worker with Barnardos. So, life is a little dislocated for us but we are hoping to be settled in wonderful Wigan by the end of the year.
What have been your first impressions of the area, its strengths/weaknesses the people you have met and the scale of the challenge ahead?
I love the passion of the Wiganers and their amazement that everyone in the world doesn’t want to live there! I have made a conscious effort to meet with some of the people who are not connected into church but are definitely connected into Wigan. I am encouraged by their recognition of the importance of the Church in Wigan and their enthusiasm for the TW movement helping to make a bigger difference in the future. At this point from my view I would say that the greatest strengths lie in the schools and colleges where we have good Christian presence especially among staff and assistants and a desire to link well with the local churches. We also have some fabulous leaders in our churches as well as new ones emerging – lay and ordained. The key weaknesses are the ones originally identified in the project bid: ageing congregations, broken buildings and dwindling resources. Overall, I have been interested in the common response by the secular agencies that they identify ‘raising expectations’ as the target for any transformation initiative in Wigan.
One of the first things you've been doing is a morning on deeper discipleship- how has that gone and why is it so important?
The key ‘transformation shift’ for the church members in Wigan is to stop seeing themselves as the people who gather for religious services in religious buildings on a Sunday but rather as people who rediscover their call to be disciples of Jesus in a town that needs to meet with him. The only way that is going to happen is for us to get a renewed understanding of who we are and what we are about as followers of Jesus empowered by His Spirit to do his work. The first of our ‘Deeper Discipleship’ mornings was well received and we hope that the repeat of this in November will have the same effect. Using the passage from the first part of Luke chapter 5 we consider our response to Jesus’ call to us and explore that in the context of transforming Wigan through obedience to and trust in Jesus.
What are the next steps- the first things you are working on?
I have been using some guidelines from John Kotter, one of my leadership gurus, on leading significant change, and have set up a small group of church leaders to form a ‘Guiding Coalition’ to boost the movement forward. This meets weekly and often includes a guest or two who can add impetus to our strategic thinking. I am grateful to ‘Emmaus Leadership’ for providing us with some specific coaching help to assist our key leaders to grasp the change objective and begin to step forward in the new direction.
We now have: One Vision, Two Strands, Three Goals and Four Activities for going forward (see ‘Stepping on’!)
The major focus over the next few months is on taking the critical first steps forward on the journey of transformation. This will see us establishing a ‘Team Wigan’ culture as we develop our four Partnerships into ‘NewParishes’ along the lines set out by the Diocesan ‘Fit for Mission’ growth agenda. This will include every part of how we are being and doing church that will challenge the broken status quo and pioneer some fresh expressions of worship, fellowship and community blessing. Our focus will be on the four activities:
Gathering the Passionate. We are searching out those in our churches who are more passionate about being disciples of Jesus than they are about being members of a church building. These are the people who, together with God and each other, will make the difference.
Germinating Prayer. We are beginning to build a new ‘House of Prayer’ that first of all will become a vibrant network before we think of establishing it any building.
Growing Leaders. ‘Leadership’ is a plural concept and we are seeking out every type of servant-leadership ministry and dedicating time to nurturing and deploying people effectively to grow new and existing things together in the power of the Spirit.
Giving Love and Care. We know that these times of significant change will cause all sorts of anxiety, suspicion and fear as well as relief, hope and joy. We will be compassionate, sympathetic, gracious and loving as we encourage people to walk into the excitingly scary future. Perfect love casts out fear.
We are also setting up some key growth opportunities among children young people. In partnership with Wigan & Leigh College we have appointed a new Chaplain, Paul Sohi, to do the usual chaplaincy work as well as plant a fresh expression of church among students and young people. We are exploring a new internship scheme in partnership with the 'Pais Project’ to place teams of young people into local schools to help children better connect life and faith together.
In the midst of all this we are also looking carefully at our existing congregations and their potential for growth into the future. This is the difficult stuff of considering trends, capacity, resources, money and buildings in terms of future growth and sustainability. We will be carrying out an independent detailed audit that will help us investigate these things to give us an indication of how best to move forward into a healthy future.
We met when you were having a session with clergy - what has their reaction to this been?
I am so encouraged by the attitude of our clergy in Wigan. Obviously there are concerns and anxieties that always come with major change – and we must remember that most of our clergy were not trained to lead such change – but there is a new sense of faith in God for a future church that enables every disciple to use their gift and ministry in a fruitful way. Clergy are tired and worn out trying to keep going with the old model of parish parson – and this goes for most Readers, officers and volunteers! We need a transformed role for lay and ordained disciples and, whilst we will always have a wistful look back to the past, we all know that the future has to be different if we are to keep church at the heart of our community.
How do you think the new archdeaconry areas will alter Transforming Wigan?
Geography and boundaries often seem important but rarely are. People are much more important and we are looking forward to Jennifer McKenzie coming and combining her experience of mission-ministry with ours to make and grow many disciples of Jesus in Liverpool diocese … and maybe beyond?!