The topic of Local Ministry made for an engaging discussion at Diocesan Synod.

Local Ministry, or Focal Ministry as it is called in some places, involves an identified local minister, lay or ordained, rooted within their local congregation, and encouraging and enabling the mission to, and ministry within, their local community.

Following a presentation on changing patterns of ministry by Sally Piper, Head of Ministry, representatives from two deaneries spoke about their experiences before members were asked to discuss and feedback.

Revd Douglas Wren, Oversight Minister for the Roseland and Revd Penny Leach, Assistant Curate in St Just in Roseland and St Mawes Benefice spoke on the situation in their deanery.

Douglas said: “Kay is the Local Minister in Philleigh. Kay is also the churchwarden, worship leader, and parish safeguarding officer. One local, occasional church attender expressed delight at Kay being Local Minister saying, ‘It feels like our church now, not the vicar’s church’.”

Douglas did note that there is a big difference between communities that ‘get’ Local Ministry and those that don’t. “The model that informs my thinking about my role in this situation can be likened to an equilateral triangle: if it is presented with a point at the top, it represents church focused on the Rector/Vicar who is supported (or otherwise) by those lower down the triangle. I aspire to a model with the point at the bottom in which I support, encourage, and enable the local community. The reception given to Local Ministers probably depends on the amount of responsibility the local community are prepared to take for the growth of the church in their community.”

Penny found herself working as an assistant curate Local Minister in a parish in vacancy. “Our long-term congregation is well aware of what that means. What that has meant for me is that all I do is done with the permission of Churchwardens and the PCC. It has brought a sense of co-operation and collegiality to the parish. Since covid a few have joined as regulars and some who left previously have returned. There is a sense of working together collaboratively. Our PCC has grown its capacity, someone has become churchwarden for the first time, and we now have a pastoral care co-ordinator.”

Penny highlighted that during the period in vacancy there had been positive changes. Four new parishioners had joined the PCC and five young people had joined a group aimed at working towards confirmation, most of whom came via the work of the Local Minister.

Speaking after the synod, Bishop Hugh Nelson, said: “There is growing evidence both nationally and in this diocese that churches with a named local leader, whether lay or ordained, are more likely to flourish and grow. Training and learning with future local leaders at Sens Kernewek has been a great privilege, and I hope we will have more and more people called into these important roles.”

“Leader of Community of Communities”

Father Jeff Risbridger, Dean of Self-Supporting Clergy and Focal Priest for St Hilary Church then spoke.

Jeff said: “At its heart Focal Ministry offers a parish a local minister, lay or ordained, in a local place to do what parish priests used to be able to do in the long-gone days of one parish-one priest: know the people, work with the people, and encourage and support the people. However, the difference is it no longer relies on just one person – the omnicompetent hero vicar or rector, who – if we’re really honest – was rarely if ever omnicompetent, and often barely able to keep her or his head above water!

“Oversight Ministry offers the opportunity for clergy and lay people to work together as part of a team, sharing in ministry, and offering mutual encouragement and support to each other.”

He went on to say: “The Church of God is a priesthood of all believers, and whilst there are specific roles for those especially called to them, the local church works best when it works as a team. That is why I say that the Oversight Minister is the leader of a community of communities. Each of the churches in a benefice or ministry team is its own community, and where there is a Focal Priest or Focal Minister, she or he is the local leader. However, this does not mean that the local leader has to do everything. It is the job of the local leader to build a team of lay people around her or him to work together to advance the Kingdom of God.”

Jeff finished by saying: “I am delighted to say that when I was on sabbatical from January – April this year, St Hilary Church functioned perfectly well without me. And that’s just how it should be!”

The meeting then went to a breakout session where groups of members were asked to consider and discuss three points: what encourages or excites them about Local Ministry, what concerns or worries them about it and to bring a question back on Local Ministry.

There was a lot of positive feedback from the exercise along with some concerns. Synod members were also keen to hear from lay local ministers as those presenting had all been ordained. This promoted a number of diocesan synod members to share their experiences.

Charlotte Irwin from St Agnes, a Sens Kernewek graduate and Local Lay Leader, said: “We have had oversight ministry for about eight years. It has transformed our church. It has empowered people to feel it’s their church and their responsibility. It is up to them to do things. The PCC makes decisions for themselves and stands by those decisions. I think it’s changed the mindset of who we are, how we operate and why we are there. Having a PCC empowered and enabled is a huge difference.”

Mary Cooper-Brown, a Local Lay Leader from Kerrier, said: “I joined Sens Kernewek and it is the best training I have ever received.

“Being like this feels like it’s our church, not the vicar’s church. It is teamwork. We have a pioneer priest. As local ministers, it isn’t just about what we do in our church, it’s about what we do in our community as well.”