Water Eaton sounds like a chocolate box village, but mostly it is in fact “The Lakes” — a large 60’s London overspill housing estate in Milton Keynes. A Church was started on the estate way back, in what would at one time have been caled an Urban Priority Area, inhabiting a building shared for much of that time with Spurgeon Baptist Church. When Mandy Marriott left as vicar in 2005, the usual procedure for discerning future ministry needs kicked in. It came to some rather surprising conclusions, which all of us are following up as best we can.
Some wondered whether a closer relationship with older or larger parishes round about might be a good idea. There was a clear decision that the Church didn’t want to to do anything that might compromise its local ministry, and relationships with the Baptists. The crown jewels of the local Church are its networks and relationships in the area it serves. This thought led in more radical directions.
Trying to match clergy available to ministry was both fruitless and fruitful. No new vicar, but a new way of dong ministry. Having started the vacancy looking for a priest in charge, and met a few good people, it became increasingly plain that various people at St Frideswide’s, including the previous vicar, were right! The Church needed a priest, but not primarily as administrator-in-charge, so much as to serve and resource its sacramental life. There was considerable scope to share ministry locally, rather than centralising it into something teetering on the edge of a depdnency thing.
With enthusiastic help and support from various clergy, and an ecumenical group led by Tim Norwood, area dean, a scheme was put together for re-jiggering parish geometry around this vision. Legal and technical functions would be taken care of pragmatically, and the centre of gravity for ministry shifted from priest to people. Ironically, there are now, actually and provisionally, more clergy involved than ever, locally available, but in a different kind of role.
The Local Shared Minstry project is moving forwards, and is now in a position to work out a relationship with a prospective parish priest on a basis. Unusually, for a church after (technically) almost 3 years in a vacancy, numbers are now rising. I don‘t want to give a misleading impression of that fact, or the significance of it, but it shows the depth and quality of local engagement in the parish with everybody logged on.
Sharing their worship on Sunday, it struck me that the keys are faith, connectedness to God and each other, and a certain audacity. It's been a joy to be in and out of this church over the past couple of years, and see it grow organically to a point where it can make sense of having new clergy, but on a different set of assumtions.
The outlook reminds me of a lesson we were taught by our trip to Marrakech this year — If you get lost in the Suq, whatever you do, for Pete’s sake don’t stop and look lost: keep going and enjoy the journey. It’s the only way.