I hope that you’ve had a chance to read the Diocesan plan. I was heartened to hear someone at the briefing that we ran for Synod members saying that, while she usually ignores emails with long documents from the diocese, when this one arrived, she immediately downloaded and read it all! I hope that it’s arrival in your inbox has been equally as thrilling.

I want to introduce the headlines of the plan to you now.

‘There are more Christians off every age and background, worshipping God and serving the people of Cornwall, especially the poorest’
Why this? Because we know that the good news of Jesus Christ changes lives and changes communities, and so we want more people to know his love and his grace, and more communities to taste ‘life in all its fulness’.

The plan, which is the next stage of On the Way, has been written in the context of a long term and consistent decline in the size of the church and engagement our engagement with the people we are called to love and serve; Fewer people worshipping in our churches; fewer children; fewer clergy.

Of course these are crude ways of measuring the fruitfulness and sustainability of the church – and there are more important things like faith, hope and love which cannot be measured and plotted on a graph. And we know that and we honour and give thanks for it.
And we know we need to be careful about the things that we measure, because simply focussing on decline and loss can make things worse by convincing us that there’s nothing that can be done, or that this is inevitable – which it isn’t.

And measuring numbers like this can also distort our view of what matters – and can unbalance the call to life in all its fulness.
But equally, those lines on the graph do tell us something important about how things are, and in doing so they ask to us to be honest and realistic about the context in which we are called to be faithful, hopeful and loving.

A reminder of the story so far

The Saints Way gave us a story of a Christ-like church for Cornwall, rooted in the ancient Pioneering Christian past, and renewed for a future which is changing, and changing fast.

On the Way made that practical and real, asking every deanery to plan for a fruitful and sustainable future, which has resulted in 12 deanery plans.

Working with all that, we now have a single diocesan plan for change and renewal.

This is not a plan for everything going on in the church in Cornwall – which ‘If they were all written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.’

This plan aims to do a specific thing – it describes the ways we are working, praying and investing in change and renewal – it does not describe everything that we are doing in the diocese – only the interventions in change and renewal.

And because there is no quick fix for these challenges, we think this will take 10 years – and we are now at the start of year 3, the first 2 years being the work of planning through On the Way.

That doesn’t mean that nothing will happen until the end of 10 years, but that we need sustained focus on the challenges, and on bringing in these changes.

It is built up of three elements:

The 12 deanery plans

  • How diocesan resources (people, money, structures, policies and systems) will be used to support the implementation of these plans.
  • Priorities that are beyond the scope or reach of deaneries on their own.

It has been written in consultation with this Synod, where we’ve discussed it at our last two meetings, with Rural Deans, the Board for Change & Renewal and BDC, as well as being influenced by lots of conversations, including those that +Philip and I have had during our recent Deanery visits.

The plan has three purposes or audiences:

  • Gives us a diocesan level of overview of the scale and scope of the change, and therefore gives a diocesan perspective on the questions and priorities raised by deanery plans. Producing it has helped us to understand the key issues and challenges.
  • Gives us a clear framework within to make decisions about the use of resources – financial, people, prayer and time.
  • Will be part of our application for national church funding.

Let me give some of the detail, at least of the headlines.

The plan has three top level priorities:

  • Significant changes in the patterns of parish ministry
  • Plans to reverse the decline run engagement with children and young people
  • Focus on using resources with people and communities experiencing deprivation

The biggest section of the plan is about ministry and the changes in the patterns of parish ministry that we will see.

First of all the move to a pattern of Oversight and local ministry. Over the last 30 years we have added more and more to our parish priests, and we know we can’t just continue doing that.

Plans tell us we want to sustain and grow the inherited pattern of church. Also want to do new things to connect with people.

Model so far is to add more and more churches to clergy and say – keep doing the same job please – not working. Oversight is how we propose doing this.

Bible word (1 Peter) – ordination word, (Priests share with the Bishop in the oversight of the Church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being).

Priestly leadership of a community of communities

Now we’re ready to move to a new model. Oversight ministry takes seriously the call to every baptised Christian to join Jesus’ kingdom work and the focus of the oversight minister can be summarised as giving priestly leadership (or oversight) to a community of communities – rather than being the leader of lots of communities. There’s lots more to say, and we may want to come back to that later on.

Oversight ministry also needs locally recognised leaders of churches, fresh expressions and pioneering projects, and we expect to see lots more people in those roles as deanery plans and this diocesan plan come into being.

We all know that parish ministry can be fantastically good at connecting with the communities we are called to serve, but the evidence is that we need other ways to do that and Pioneers and chaplains are called to this mission work well beyond the boundaries of the church and the parish, connecting with people, organisations, communities and culture and seeing what God is already up to there.

If we’re serious about connecting with young people, we need more people who are called, equipped and paid to do that.

We also need to respond to the feedback from Rural Deans that their roles have become impossible and to find new ways to support ordained and lay leaders to respond to the changing world we find ourselves in, and the plan includes a way to do that

And of course, in everything we do, Safeguarding remains a top priority.

There five other subsidiary themes

Church buildings – recognising that they are a great blessing and a significant burden – can’t put money into every building, but can invest in people with expertise to help:

  • Access funding
  • Generate new income streams
  • Access cheaper inputs for maintenance and utilities

Small churches
200 of our churches are small (under 30 people) and that will remain the case, even if they grow significantly.
Small churches are not failed big churches any more than a satsuma is a failed orange – and they need particular kinds of support to be fruitful and sustainable.

We will consult on how best to support small churches in a coherent way

Governance and leadership

That refers to the new way of carrying the Rural Dean role, and also new governance patterns for PCCs and that want to work in different, and more creative ways.

Sustainable finance – Continue to support churches to generate sustainable income streams and increase giving

Carbon Net Zero – Invest in making our commitment to NZ by 2030 real.

Practical plans are important, but there’s also the way the things we think matter in the way we relate to each other, the way we do things and the kind of culture we share.

That’s quite difficult to define in something as complex and diverse as a diocese, but these three words; faithfulness, mutuality and curiosity describe three aspects of the diocesan culture that we – by which I mean episcopal college – will pay attention to, including in the way we work and behave.

By faithfulness we need that we will put Jesus Christ at the heart of all we do; that we will pray, worship and open scripture together; that we will be open to wonder and expect the miraculous; that we will leave space for the Holy Spirit.
By curiosity we mean we will be ready to listen and learn, recognising that the world we are in is changing fast, and that none of us have all the answers. We will be curious about the world, about God and about the insights and wisdom of people whose voices we hear from less often.

By mutuality, we mean that we recognise that we all carry responsibility in different ways and for different things, and that we need to carry these responsibilities, which are rightly ours, in mutual accountability with each other – like the image of the body that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians – some of us are hands, others feet and others again eyes, and each has its own role and purpose, but we only function fully when all work together as a whole body.

Faithfulness, curiosity and mutuality

It’s (relatively) easy to write plans. It’s another thing to turn them into reality.

So to make this all happen we need to provide support to deaneries to implement plans; we need to make sure we are communicating as well as we possibly can – which means both sharing information and listening carefully; and we need to make sure our financial resources are being used to do what we want to do – and over this summer we will be consulting on a plan for the use of our assets which we hope will provide the right levels of financial support for the work described in deanery plans and now in the this diocesan plan – and that work will come back to Synod in November.

Sometimes, both in scripture and in the history of the church, God’s people are blessed to live in settled times, with the confidence that comes from knowing the future will be much like the past.

At other times, God’s people are blessed to live in times that are unsettled and full of change; without any great clarity about what lies ahead.

It may be that we are being called from the former to the latter. And we might well prefer the former to the latter, and wish that things were not changing. But they are; they are changing in the world, and they are changing for us in the church.

The point of our faith in Christ though, is that God isn’t present in one and absent in the other. The point is that everything we do and whatever’s going on, is done in Christ who, with the Father and the Spirit, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

This is a plan which helps us step forward into an unsettled future, confident in God’s provision and secure in his presence, and ready to share the good news of his love and presence in a needy world, and I commend it to you.