Like all other institutions, the Church finds itself in a time of tumultuous shifts and change, magnified by the COVID 19 Pandemic. Otto Scarmers contends that “the turbulent challenges of our time force all institutions and communities to renew and reinvent themselves
Change is, of course, at the core of the gospel. Christian theology incorporates such instruction as, “unless a grain of wheat fall in the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12.24).
Regrettably, the Church has not always been great at adapting to its radically changing context. And this failure to adjust to its precipitously moving context is evident in the resulting statistics of decline.
This same type of decline has been evident in the Northampton Methodist Circuit for some years now. The Property Resources Audit (PRAG) report confirmed that we had too many buildings and insufficient resources to maintain them. Along with an ageing and declining membership, the leadership across the Circuit is “tired” and worried about the lack of human resources.
Coupled with this, the Circuit had to make the difficult decision to reduce staff and reassign responsibilities. It was particularly challenging because we could not replace someone who would be responsible for Youth and Family Work. Instead, ministers will now be responsible for (with the local lay leaders) this work within the churches for which they have pastoral oversight.
The PRAG report clearly showed that we should have faced the daunting challenge of change ten years ago, and it further revealed that we had no choice but to effect successful organisational change to both thrive and survive as a circuit.
Helping people to see the bigger picture, the circuit leadership team (CLT) developed a booklet called “Casting the Net”. The latter allowed all members in the Circuit to engage with the facts, creating awareness of the issues at stake and getting an initial idea of people’s early reactions. Some people wanted to do things quickly since their perception was that time was against us. Others viewed the discussion as an emotive one that called for enough time and deep listening and respect. Challenging as this was at the time, it was essential for the CLT to help people listen with empathy and create a space conducive to generative listening.
As we enter this next step on this journey, I appeal to all of us to surrender our ego and seize the moment as we grab hold of our potential. We cannot afford just to remember and review our past – we must re-envision what we can be for the sake of those who come after us. We have to leave a positive legacy.
As we consult with each other and listen with empathy, prayerfully discerning where God is leading us, we also welcome the Rev’d David Speirs as part of the Team. He also holds responsibility as Circuit Mission Enabler. We hope that David will help us plan for the future – so that together we can share the good news of God’s love incarnate, through Jesus Christ, in our witness to the community and the wider world.
Your brother in Christ