Mike Harrison, Director of Mission and Ministry: In 2010 we attended a Fresh Expressions conference in Lincoln, led by Rowan Williams, and much inspired by that, a number of us were reflecting on how we were already noticing God at work in fresh expressions that were flourishing without any trellis or support provided by the Diocese. And Rowan's vision for a mixed economy was something that really captured our imagination so we thought if we're going to join in with this vision and if we are really noticing something that God is up to on the ground how can we not only join in with it but really stretch it and take it further?
If we were going to realise a genuinely mixed economy it would mean as many fresh expressions of church as inherited versions of church – and given that there are about 320 inherited versions of church in the diocese at the present time we imagined generating about 320 fresh expressions. In order to realise that many fresh expressions we would need leaders of those fresh expressions.
The research suggests that voluntary, lay pioneer teams were as effective as full-time, ordained pioneers and therefore our emphasis has been on providing the support and the training and the nurturing of 320 fresh expressions through 640 pioneers and that's our target and our goal by 2030.
Fortunately, or perhaps providentially more to the point, the Strategic Development Unit of the Church of England were looking for ambitious projects to develop mission in different ways across the country and we applied to the Strategic Development Unit for a grant to employ three Pioneer Development Workers whose primary role wasn't actually pioneering but enabling pioneers, training and coaching and mentoring them as well as providing some research on what was proving to be successful, what was seasonal and what was not successful.
So our rationale was to provide a trellis to develop fresh expressions and pioneers through those three Pioneer Development Workers – and we're now towards the end of the first year of that.
Barry Hill, Mission Enabler: It's been a really good and wonderfully challenging year. We spent a year trying to understand and respond to more of what God is already doing amongst us; we've spent a lot of time on team formation, about how we work together, about how we work within wider diocesan structures and – most of all – how we relate to and support the caucus of pioneers who are doing this on the front line.
As we felt called to see 320 fresh expressions of church; at the same time we felt God was calling us to take the model and to turn it slightly on its head so to start not with one paid, ordained, housed, budgeted pioneer going into a new area as a gold standard but to start with teams of volunteers, people who probably haven't got a formal theological education, people who haven't led churches before, who aren't ordained and that we would put all of our resources into supporting and encouraging them. And as their ministries, as God grows their churches, so we would put more resources – hopefully some would grow into needing payment and some might grow into a calling towards ordination and we've seen both of those things happen already. But actually it's been quite a 'resource-lite' strategy in terms of diocesan finances; it's taken a lot of energy, it's taken a lot of time and we have put money where our mouth is and where we think God is calling us but far less than one might imagine.
Mads Morgan, Pioneer Development Worker (Developing Practice): What we discovered in the last 12 months is that there is quite a lot of pioneers who don't realise that what they're doing is pioneering. So it's actually finding who's doing what and then it's finding out what help they're looking for.
For a lot of pioneers they really appreciate the opportunity to sit down, to explain their work, to talk through their work and that's your coffee shop kind of conversation but of course there's a lot more practical stuff than that. So what we tend to do is we will go along to fresh expressions that are being run; we will work alongside a pioneer, we'll also work alongside the church that they tend to be connected with because quite often that's where we can be of most help but honestly the most practical help as more and more people are becoming pioneers, and being licensed, are the networks group that we run. So getting like-minded people together, probably four times a year, facilitated by someone outside of the diocese so they know they're in a really safe place where they can just share their stories, share their experiences and through that they start meeting people doing similar things and they start to visit each other, they start to support each other because ultimately I'm one person and I can't be everywhere all of the time.
Matt Pitt, Pioneer Development Worker (Research): It's really important to do proper research because then we're able to find out what God is saying to us, we are able to ask questions and without us asking those questions it's really hard to get the answers. The project as a whole, we're using what we call the Transformational Index so that's picking out different values that we hold about the projects, so there are eight different values and they're things like inspiration – we want to be inspiring, we want to be hospitable – and a load of other sort of values that we hold to and so we can ask questions of our licensed pioneers and also of the fresh expressions of church as a whole to find out how they're meeting those values. And that's one of the really big qualitative pieces of research that we're doing.
The quantitative stuff is based around an ongoing piece of research, the fresh expressions' piece of research that was done by George Lings. We're using the same questionnaire, the same survey to go back to those fresh expressions of church and ask the same questions to find out how they've developed and how they've changed.
Jonathan Dowman, Pioneer Development Worker (Learning and Teaching): So the training, and the ongoing training, for pioneers is really important as our experience has often been that the church is quite good at releasing people into a new project and new opportunities but then people get abandoned to them and left there rather than invested in the long term. So what we'd like to see is a church that recognises people's call and recognise the opportunities that are in our local communities and then for the church to continue to invest in people's training and development as leaders.
We as a team can go to them, work with them and help them to ask the right questions and also help them to discern what the answers may be because we are aware that in every church, in every context the answers will look slightly different and the questions will be slightly different as well. So as we do that we can draw alongside individuals and communities, help ask the questions, help discern the answers and then really tailor any training opportunities to those individuals and those communities.
Barry Hill: Some have said we can't afford to fail and on one level that's right, the calling to offer and connect each person in Leicestershire with God's redeeming love in Jesus is high, is critical, and is urgent. At the same time though we live very much in Walter Brueggemann's words, his book The Prophetic Imagination, where he says that the highest calling of a prophet is to keep the scent of death alive in the institution, is not be those who say 'peace, peace, all is well' and they're critical words for us because fear and shame and concern for the future could be what drives us to make the coffers a little heavier, to make the rotas a little fuller, and instead we want to live in the joy, the hope, the promise of the resurrection that says if Jesus has risen from the dead it will affect everything we do, it will affect every one, and hopefully within fresh expressions of church and in renewed parish churches across Leicestershire we can live greater into that calling.