Saturday, July 28, 2018

On Tearing Things Up

The late, great Douglas Adams once described the day of a writer as 'Writing a really good sentence first thing in the morning and then tearing it up later that day.' (Younger readers should note he was working with paper.) He also described deadlines as things that made a lovely whooshing sound as they went by so budding writers wishing to earn money maybe don't copy him unless you can write extraordinarily good sentences.

But the important lesson, hiding in that convoluted opening paragraph, is that scrapping work that isn't good enough and starting again is not always a disaster. A case study:

The Diocese of Bath and Wells has received enough money from central church funds to make nine pioneer appointments. That sounded good and I wrote a quite brilliant account of why Portishead Deanery should have one of them. It ran to two sides of A4 because, as you know, if you can't say it on two sides of A4 it isn't worth saying. 

I showed it to two people. One (probably someone who gets me) thought it was astonishing the other (who doesn't, but is working on it) not so much.

So it wasn't enough. I was asked if I was aware of the guidelines for those wishing to apply for such posts. I was, of course, although that awareness didn't extend to having read them so I did. I say 'read' but if the truth be told I lost the will to live by about page 26 of 78.

Nevertheless I redrafted, aware of the critique that our proposal didn't necessarily need more detail but it needed more scenery. In the back of my head I knew that all that meant was that it needed to be longer. I put up stage flats around my document and added geographical, historical, pastoral, supervisory and theological context. Actor folk will know that stage flats add scenery and hide crap.

I added the comments of the Deanery Mission and Pastoral group as an appendix along with our Deanery Mission Action Plan (regularly cited as an example of succinctness), Deanery Prayer, links to our sources and Diocesan Papers plus my original A4 document, which still rocks. Yes it does. Trust me; I know when I writ good.

In discussing this latest document with the diocese we discovered, as early as their introduction, that the posts needed to be spread about and so, because we had the misfortune to be in the most missional archdeaconry in the diocese, it was unlikely that we would succeed in our bid. The Diocese is taking the view that these posts need to be hubbed together and also distributed widely. Good luck with that.

As this 'discussion' was taking place (I use parenthesis because we were told that our simple opening question required a half hour answer) I felt increasingly uneasy. Instead of working out what we wanted and how to fund it we were working out how to word a successful funding application.

We have now decided that we would do better to model a deanery that values and hotspots (apologies for new verb) many different pioneer-type ministries. This excites us.

So I append my two sides of A4 (which I wrote in 45 minutes before breakfast one day) and if you fancy coming and setting up camp with us, do pitch up. We'll have to be a bit cool to find the money from other sources but thankfully being a bit cool is not beyond the grasp of Portishead Deanery. You may want to apply for a vacancy in our Deanery as it is advertised (watch the relevant space) and come and be a pioneery type in a traditional setting. Again, unconditional love from the Deanery Leadership is all we can offer.

I think it needed the Diocesan Staff to be the Assyrians in this story of our deanery's salvation history.

Original 2 Sides of A4

A Vacancy for a Pioneer 
(A Discussion Starter) 

I am prompted to write this following a conversation with someone yesterday.

He asked me if I thought Portishead Deanery had a vision for one of the possible pioneer appointments for which funding has been procured.

The train of thought took me back to 2008 when the Diocese announced it was selling the Holy Trinity Rectory. 'I think we ought to buy it' I said to the PCC. There then followed a period of time where fund-providers wanted a clear vision for how their money would be used whilst the obvious thing to me was that we couldn't do anything if we didn't buy the house.

There followed a series of passionate and exciting meetings where a bunch of us (who all got it) tried to write a vision sufficiently specific to satisfy the money-givers but sufficiently vague that we might not be tied to any particular outcome.

It worked.

And once we had the building saved for the parish we were able to plan a wide and flexible use and refurbish it to that end. But that was part of the contribution to a wider vision (reaching Nailsea for Christ) not the vision itself.

Now to pioneering. I was ordained in 1984 and was charged with preaching the gospel afresh to each new generation. Pioneering words they. My ministry has survived a Decade of Evangelism, an outbreak of Fresh Expressions and now has discovered the church embracing pioneer language. Throughout, and I don't mean to sound more arrogant even than usual, I have made no change whatsoever to my basic philosophy of ministry which is to work out how to proclaim the gospel afresh in each new generation.

In the middle of the 1990s Kevin Ford's 'Jesus for a New Generation' was seminal for me.

He asked how we might preach commitment to Christ to a generation that was becoming suspicious of commitment – parent's marriage vows, and government electioneering had both showed up as phony. If everyone else campaigns in poetry and governs in prose how do we know you're not, preacher?

It used to be that painting a positive view of Jesus trumped all the negative views people had collected. But now we have to paint a different view of commitment.

Go figure. (I still am.)

So what might a pioneer post in Portishead Deanery look like? The top line needs to be 'We don't know'. We don't know because pioneers, by definition, get out into the hills and look for gold in response to rumours. If they find none, they move on. If they find something, settlers follow. When it all gets settled the pioneers get itchy prospecting fingers.

The question is therefore not whether we have a post for a pioneer but whether we have the network to support a pioneer. To this I answer absolutely, yes.

In myself and my questioner we have two experienced missional practitioners who would love to support, encourage and define some new ministries. In Portishead the idea of someone engaged as a parish pilgrim, to work in the community and outside traditional church structure is established. In Nailsea Local Ministry Group my own appointment was to be one of the first mission enablers in the diocese and as such the Mission Enablers group and Pioneer community have both embraced my presence and (I think) acknowledged that I know some stuff. The Deanery employs a creative youth worker who operates in local schools.

There are some distinct areas of duty that a pioneer could be invited to pick up and run with – Andy's Congregation in Backwell, Cafe Create to name but two. But these would not be more than 50% of a job. The other 50% might be, in the words of management guru Tom Peters when asked by a competent employee what he should do next:

'Something great. Do me something great.'

Portishead Deanery would be a wonderful place for a pioneering self-starter to do something great. We would love them. We have not got a great job for the right person; we would be a great place for the right person to do a great job.

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