Bishop unveils strategy to take mission to the estates

THE CHURCH of England has launched a strategy to renew its commitment to urban estates.

Speaking at the launch, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev Philip North said that ‘for a time it seemed that the Church of England was complicit’ with making estate dwellers feel ‘marginalised and overlooked’.

“Over the past 20 years we have been guilty of closing down estates churches and withdrawing clergy,” he said.

However he explained, ‘there are massive signs that this re-commitment is already beginning’.

Bishop North pointed to new church plants such as Freedom Church on Mereside, Oldhams Church in Bolton and the St Cuthman’s on the Whitehawk estate in Brighton.

These were alongside the emergence of new leaders, the result of initiatives such as M:Power in Blackburn, a year of focussed formation aimed at people from non-professional backgrounds who have the capacity to lead and plant but the sort of people the church. 

Similar schemes are planned in London and Birmingham. 

Nicky Gumbel has also said he wants every HTB Resource Church to plant as quickly as possible into an estate. 

The Strategy, produced by the Estates Evangelism Task Group, and which forms part of the Church of England’s Renewal and Reform programme, is the result of almost two years of work, which has included input from estates residents. 

“Our aim is simple. We want to have a thriving, growing, loving Church on every significant estate in the country. That means we want to help existing estates churches to grow and we want to see new churches planted in those estates we have left behind or never been present,” Bishop North told The Church of England Newspaper.

“And when I say church, I don’t necessarily mean a building. I mean a joyful, Christ-centred community of people who exist to serve and proclaim,” he added.

The strategy comes in four sections. Bishop North described the first, ‘Championing Estates Ministry’, as ‘a challenge to the Church to commit itself anew to loving presence on our urban estates’. 

The second section, ‘Theology and the public voice’, he said: “Invites us to ask together the question ‘What is the good news on our estates’ and so ensure we are answering the questions people are asking.”

The third section is about leadership and calls on the Church to form new leaders from and for the estates churches. “It challenges clergy to listen out to see if God is calling them to estates ministry and suggests ways in which such clergy can be better supported and it asks questions about the ways we select and train priests,” Bishop North explained.

The fourth and final section will look at the financial resource the Church needs in order to be present on estates, exploring the best use of buildings as well as written and online resources needed to support evangelism, discipleship and ministry to the young. 

“The strategy lays out endless plans, ideas and timetables. But behind it, what we really want to do is enthuse. I spent most of my ministry as a Parish Priest on large estates and I did so not because I am some hair-shirted hero but because I loved every second of it,” said Bishop North.

“Jesus came to proclaim Good News to the poor. If we are serious about recapturing the imaginations of this nation with the person of Jesus Christ, that’s where we need to start. 

“If we can grow a loving, joyful church on every estate, if we can share the good news of Jesus on the estates through our service and our compassion, then the whole nation will sit up and notice,” he added.