Some people may think I am being cynical about the present 'Deanery Vision' exercise aimed at developing a 'mission strategy' for the Diocese of Chelmsford. On the contrary, I simply have a memory! Here is a list of similar 'strategies' from 1992-2007:
1992 The Bishop of Chelmsford’s Strategy for Ministry paper is published, intended "to stimulate discussion and to suggest new directions for the development of ministry" and urging the development of a diocesan-wide ministerial strategy.
1994 An update to the previous paper is presented to the Diocesan Synod. This acknowledges that paper's failure to present a strategy for mission and evangelism! The Diocesan Resources Team is established as a direct result. Attempts are made to offset the continuing reduction in stipendiary ministerial posts with other forms of ministry.
1995 The Challenges and Opportunities consultation process (cheerfully dubbed CHOPs) begins, intended to form the basis for the Ministry Plan for the next decade alongside the ‘Bishop’s Vocations Initiative’.
1996 Deanery responses to CHOPs are produced, including a commitment to look at the effective use of church buildings and the ecumenical dimension.
1996 The Local Ministry Teams strategy emerges as a further outcome of the 1992 Strategy for Ministrypaper. This aims to appoint ‘Team Facilitators’ in each Deanery. Deaneries are asked to collect and collate information about parishes, benefices and neighbourhoods, identifying strengths and needs in relation to the local context.
1997 Practical Implications of the Local Ministry Strategy and Robin Greenwood's Ministry as Partnership concept are presented in parallel. Deanery Pastoral Committees are encouraged to develop ministry and mission in the parishes, especially through the concepts of Building Missionary Congregations and Local Ministry Leadership Teams.
1998 The Grace of Giving — from Red to Black is put forward by the Bishop of Chelmsford, aimed at tackling the problem of income shortfall.
1999 The report on the Bishop’s Visitation to the Diocese is published. This includes data on ministries going on across the Diocese, local communities, changes in those communities and in service patterns and spiritual life, details of the condition of buildings, the main needs and priorities in the community and practical responses by the churches.
2000 The Diocesan Resources Team established in 1994 is replaced by local Area Teams (Chelmsford being administered in three distinct Episcopal Areas). The composition of these Teams is to be determined by the Pastoral Committee on the basis of an agreed Area strategy.
2002 Representatives from across the whole diocese gather in Braintree for a meeting titled New Century — New Church? Reshaping the Church for Mission. Subjects covered include church schools, interfaith relations, changing the church in response to our culture, environment matters, missionary spirituality, etc.
2003 John Perry retires as Bishop of Chelmsford
2004 John Gladwin takes up office as Bishop of Chelmsford
2006 Deanery Vision exercise is launched.
As can easily be seen from the above, what has happened in the diocese is not a lack of strategic exercises but a lack of any coherent follow-through on numerous exercises stretching back fifteen years. All the information-collection we are currently being asked to undertake has been done before and the data must be sitting somewhere unused. It can also be seen that we are already supposed to have a local strategy in place, on which is based the formation of the Area Teams, several of whose officers are stipendiary posts.
Unfortunately, I can remember doing just the same sort of exercise in Newham in the 1990s as we are now doing in Saffron Walden in 2007. All that has changed is the scenery!
Since nothing else has changed, I am therefore (sadly) confident that the present exercise will be just as fruitless as previous exercises and that if I'm still here when we get a new Bishop of Chelmsford we'll probably do the whole thing again, just with less staff.