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Ministry for Imaging a New World

By Robin Greenwood.


Twenty five years ago at Petertide (June 29) in Lincoln Cathedral, Michael Ramsey, expounding the invitation in the first letter of Peter to let ourselves become living stones, noted how Christianity can itself appear to be identified with its chancels and naves and organs and pews and hassocks. "What is the Church?" he asked and looking 'into the future pondered whether our generation would know how to hold in creative tension the historic institution and the growing phenomenon of "experimental church".2

Before looking to the present and future I believe it is vital we acknowledge the rich inheritance of the practice of Anglican priesthood. Throughout the twentieth century in Britain, this has included six elements:

1. faithfulness, vision, effectiveness and sacrifice;

2. clergy held in affection and respect, not least for their public, neighbourhood roles;

3. clergy as markers of rites of passage, a long folk memory of parish visiting and being freely available to the sick and needy;

4. practising scholarship and holiness;

5. the hard work of the routines of worship and faith community building;

6. stability and integrity in a changing world.3

How to be Church -mapping key ideasThe international, ecumenical map of guiding ideas for the kind of Church we are choosing to become includes the following 10 elements:

First, there are undoubted practical pressures for change difficulties about money and about reducing clergy members. ABM projections of diocesan shares of stipendiary clergy show steadily falling numbers over the next period.4

Second, there is the developing vision of local churches in mission through shared ministry, rooted in a renewed understanding of the New Testament and of baptism as the key more than ordination. The Second Vatican Council rediscovered communion / koinonia as a key to understanding Church. Intellectual texts such as the WCC Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982) and the 1991 Canberra Assembly Declaration, Koinonia becomes a basic ecclesiological category. Unity through difference replaces consensus whicheliminates diversity. The many experiments in Christian response to the event of Jesus -"the background radiation to the Resurrection" (polkinghorne) -gives us permission for a comprehensive range of ways of telling God's story in the Church.5 Gerard Loughlin's recent book Telling God's Story is a strong reminder of the interactive relationship between a church community in any setting and the continuing and various story of Jesus. 6

Third, the thrust of much recent reconsideration of the Church has a thoroughly eschatological approach -the Christian community as an agent of change, subversively becoming - however partially -a sign and foretaste of God's passionate desire for the fulfilment of all creation in justice, reconciliation, andg lobal harmony.7 The work of the Holy Spirit in the Church leading into new truth means that learning and practice can be rooted in God's intended future as well as in the wisdom and mistakes of the past. Rather than merely quarrying the scriptures for justification of present or future plans, the criterion can be "does this expression of local church embody here and now something of the new creation and its vision of love?" This is what Werner Jeanrond describes."participating in God's future now".8 The Church also claims to embody in its corporate life the presence, fruits and work of tile Holy Spirit, to be the visible sign of God's reign, of the divine-human communion, and the communion of all creatures with one another.9

Fourth, it follows that the lofty calling of the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, is to be stewards of God's creation, to serve others, to preach the message of the reign of God, to promote communion as classically expressed for many as the "five marks of mission".

Fifth, in all this worship takes pride of place. 10 In worship the local church opens itself to the refining power of the Spirit, who brings out gifts, shows new ways forward, supports, encourages, enables loving reconciliation. It is also in worship that we are in touch with Christians of all ages historically and of all nations geographically. 11 Churches need to take more risks and dare to be creative, offering many more kinds of worship experience to orchestrate conversation and communion between the triune God and people of many cultures.12 Jeremy Begbie invites worship leaders to use repetition creatively to draw out ever new resolutions and meanings. 13

Sixth, the renewed theology of the local church -relearned partly from dialogue with Eastern Christians -sees the local not as a remote branch of the real thing somewhere else -but as a genuine expression of the apostolic and catholic, clustered with all other local churches. No one church is ever complete in itself and only finds its true identity through interdependence with all the others. Unity is the communion of difference. 14

Seventh, the church is of course part of its context, but how can there be dialogue between the local church and the pains, insights and joys of the whole of creation, of humanity and of the particular neighbourhood in which it is set? And how can there be a proper taking account of the wisdom of voluntary organisations, of educational theory, of management and organisational too1s?15 There is considerable interest at the moment in asking how the Church could become a learning community, notably in terms of the five key principles of learning organisation theory -personal mastery, seeing the whole, a shared vision, team learning and systemic planning. 16

Eighth, clearly some form of leadership is required, but rooted in the ministry of service, not of lordship. Leadership within the Church must be submitted to the power of the Spirit of God. Just as the life of God is distributed between Father, Son and Spirit, and is not one alone, so the grace and power of God are distributed among all the members of the Church. Ministry is never a matter of the dispensing of God's grace by an elite to the many, but one of the outward signs that the life of the Church is constituted by interaction with the Trinitarian God. Hardy speaks of the presence of God as an "interweaving" with the life of all creation and the Church as "raising each person to holiness". So the Church is an ever deepening spiral of God's life in the world, "a Godly form of social life". 17 To be in a position of oversight or to share in presiding within the Church is properly to activate the vocation of every member of the Church to become Christ. Those who stand at the altar have been asked by the bishop and that community to be the distributing focus for the ministry of all. Both holding the values and practice of the church and also attempting to "give permission" to everyone else to be the church in all their gifts and circumstances. Those who preside will be those who can see and work with the vitality at the boundary between that particular community and many others.18 The insights of the biblical wisdom of the desert can be a resource for staying with the "simmering identity crisis of the modern subject" (Foucault) by being prepared to endure ambiguity or liminality - so that eventually God's will may emerge. 19

Ninth, the renaissance of a Trinitarian understanding of God as the basis for all theology provides the critical principle against which to measure the health of relationships in all institutions, rituals, administrative practices. 20 Do they facilitate elitism, discrimination, adversarial competition'? Is the Church is on the way to being God's household: a habitus of inclusiveness, interdependence, and co-operation, structured according to the model of what the 4th century Cappadocian fathers called perichoresis - mutual indwelling between persons? A vital strand of Christian reflection on the being of God can be expressed in the language of a triune community of loving and overflowing community - the image of God to reflected in all creation. A church that contemplates and consciously attempts to mirror the glory of the trinitarian life stands to become a subversive community, nomads; resident aliens, "part of the new polis that has the Gospel as its constitution".21

Finally, there is the Churchs call to call into question pressurising elements of the culture of the 90's. "Work, work, work. Work is our duty, work is our salvation, work is the answer to every question" .22 There is a danger of setting up tasks and goals for churches and leaders that are unsustainable and that betray an ethic of works rather than grace. Instead of an implicit doctrine of progress, churches need one of eschatology and of plenitude. Communities of praise live by receiving the blessings and the overwhelming grace of God.23

Anxiety and resistance

I believe we are in the middle of a hundred year transition moving cautiously from a well tried pattern of Church and ministry to something else about which we have many clues, but as yet no clear picture. It is as though we no longer have quite enough clergy to keep the old system running, but not quite few enough to be thoroughly convinced of the need to change radically.

Although most clergy are committed to varying models of collaborative ministry, there are traditionalist role models that still hold the imagination. There are many signs still of the collusion of dependency on clergy to carry the load.24 Yet, the reality is always complex. 1 know, when 1 walk down the road with the inner city or estate parish priest, how lonely it can feel, how inviting some kind of protection of role, to be recognised as part of the neighbourhood team of police, teachers, doctors, and community workers. Yet still I believe the solo professional model of priest, espoused for so much of the last two centuries has been a false path which, however benignly, has debilitated the work of the whole people of God.25

Anxiety amongst clergy and their families is also rooted in very practical issues like low income and a deteriorating housing stock. To attempt to employ more clergy than we're prepared to fund adequately is dishonest and far from a transformative ecclesiology. _ There are questions for clergy such as: whose expectations am I trying to match? Do I still hear the ringing tones of "to toil and not to heed the wounds" - from inside or outside, making impossible demands?

Am I basically working from my passion as a baptised Christian, longing to be in partnership with laity and ministry teams, but not feeling permission to experiment with new patterns of authority? Am I up against an immature dependency in the congregation, making it very difficult indeed to move towards partnership? How do I balance out the energy I give to five churches; the school, the wider neighbourhood, my family, myself? Who notices when I'm not waving but drowning? If I'm really honest about how I'm coping will I be permanently relegated to the "B" Team?

For how long are we going to throw the sticking plasters of stress counselling at clergy problems rather than recognise their systemic causes? If we added up all that emergency spending and brought it to the other end of the process, what could we have instead? Why can't we begin to develop proper supervision groups for clergy with facilitators who are qualified both in organisational and personal dynamics?

Clergy review is now becoming well established in the Church of England as amature way for clergy to examine their ministry with another person.26 What makes a scheme acceptable most of all is the way in which it is conducted and followed through. Clarity on all sides about the purpose and main focus of the review is essential for the scheme to be trusted. There seems to be more trust of the review process when appraising the past is balanced with a future-orientated review, looking at development needs. It is vital that all reviewers have had relevant and up-to-date training and the listening skills required. Good quality review has the potential to bring many clergy through this difficult transition period, strengthened and will to engage in further learning to implement diocesan strategy for mission and collaborative ministry.27

The development of a reconciling Church demands leaders who choose not to be victims of other people's expectations -and their own. That can be hard wheneverything seems radically unstable -its not the job I thought I'd be doing and there's still 10 years before 1 can get my hands on a pension -in a context where head teachers go at 50 or 55 with a sense of satisfaction after a good career. 1 believe the beginnings of an answer lie in claiming ownership of all the pennanent controversies that result from relating to a constantly changing context. One important element is to take part in learning processes -to read, participate in conferences, talk on the E-mail about the changes and the theories behind them - stay with the argument. Take part in the vital ongoing controversy about the kind of Church and leadership, ordained and lay, we need to be becoming -in the words of Cornel West, "critical organic catalysts".28 Another critical clue lies in the eschatological vision of a Church as sacrament of life in all its fullness for all. The Church at its best is part of the scaffolding for the building of God's reign here on earth and finally in eternity. Religion isn't about religion; its about growing up and helping the world to its fulfilment. If the business of being Church doesn't help me to be grown up, but instead diminishes me, I'm not just going to lie down and take it. What's to be done instead?

To survive and flourish in ministry, requires conscious awareness of the ideas we are living by because actions usually arise out of images. Since Thomas Kuhnand Fritz Capra we often use the term "paradigm" to speak of a constellation ofc oncepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by communities to which we owe allegiance. There is at present a shift away from a paradigm of seeing things as separate, complete in themselves, held in binary opposition, adversarial domination of one over another. instead there is evidence of a paradigm of participation, interdependence, communion, mutuality.

Christian commitment to working for the coming of God's reign involves learning to celebrate life in all its fulless (which Irenaeus indicates as that which glorifies God). The emerging world view arising from interdisciplinary work being done on the frontiers of psychology , science and spirituality radically transforms received views of human Personhood and indeed of all reality. I believe there is a very fruitful connection to be made between Christian spirituality and theology and conceptual changes in social relations and the language of physics.29

At the heart of this dialogue is the recognition that no one now identifies the self or any reality purely in isolation or in terms of the atoms that compose it. If I ask "Who am I?", and answer, "Yes, I'm a reader, a priest, a rural dean, an archdeacon, a school governor, a computer sales representative, a spouse, a parent", I have dozens of roles. Dare I bit by bit lay down those parts of me that are half-alive, phoney defences and come to the deepest realisation that I am one who is loved by Christ, 1 am on my way to glory, but 1 do not define myself alone? The Church's task is to help reconstitute the world with Christ. The Resurrection story and possibility is that despite all the odds, God can call human persons into communion and into unity with one another. In one sense I am properly the sum of many roles and in another I am called to lay down self -protective masks to meet God and my neighbour face to face. Jesus who came to bring life in all its fullness has been pleading for his disciples to model this second, communion paradigm for 2,000 years. In the foot-washing of Maundy Thursday he invites a shift of consciousness. He enacts his own refusal to accept the structures and mentality of domination and subservience. It was a structural invitation for the disciples to reconceive how the world and all relationships might be patterned. "1 call you no longer servants, but friends". Peter's protest "You, Lord washing my feet?", demonstrates the depth of investment the human race has made in the domination paradigm.

As he gave bread and wine to those he loved, Jesus was sharing with them his own abundant life, nourishing them with his own life energy. The point is that his followers are to be found in relation to one another as he has shown himself to be to them. "Love as I have loved you", he says, meaning that each is to give their own life substance and life energy into the lives of others. All ministry in a growing up church will be about not holding on, not clinging to status, and bits and pieces of tradition. Making creative connections between 2,000 years of resurrection story and the dream of a whole creation of restored relationships is the task of the local church. To assist faith communities to live with that imagination requires leadership, ordained and lay in partnership, with three vital purposes:

1. To generate communities of disciples, which take on the interactive pattern given by our Lord to create mutual care and reconciliation;

2. To offer to society a partial portrait of what God has in mind for all human and created relationships; and

3. To make the connection between these transforming patterns of ministry and the fundamental core of our hope for salvation.

The coming Reign of God is not offered to us as individuals in isolation, but as the whole creation in mutual relations which echo indwelling mutuality that is the being of the triune God.


1 This article is a revision of the 1997 Petertide clergy lecture in Lincoln Cathedral.  Return 2 James E Griffiths (ed. ), To Believe is to Pray -Readings from Michael Ramsey. Boston,Massachusetts, Cowley Publications, 1996,   Return 3 See my analysis in Chapter lor Transforming Priesthood: a New Theology of Mission and Ministry. London, SPCK, 1994 (1997)  Return 4 Statistice of Licensed Ministers. Some facts and figures at 31 December 1996, London,Central Board of Finance, 1997.  Return 5 See Raymond E Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, London, Chapman, 1984,and G Ruggieri and M Tomka ( eds. ), The Church in Fragments: Towards what kind of Unity?, Concilium, London, SCM, 1997/3.  Return 6 Gerard Loughlin, Telling God's Story. Bible, Church and Narrative Theology, CUP , 1996  Return 7 See notably, L Boff, Da Bosch, J Moltmann, J Zizioulas.  Return 8 "Community and Authority" in Colin E Gunton and Daniel W Hardy ( eds. ) On Being the Church. Essays on the Christian Community. Edinburgh, T &T Clark, 1989, p.1 05.  Return 9 See Catherine La Cugna, God for us. The Trinity and Christian Life, New York, Harper SanFrancisco, 1991, and John Millbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason.Oxford, Blackwell, 1990.  Return D W Hardy and D F Ford, Jubilate: Theology in Praise, London, DLT, 1984.  Return 11 Stanley Hauerwas "The Liturgical Shape of the Christian Life: Teaching Christian Ethics as Worship" in D F Ford and Dennis L Stamps, Essentials ofChristian Community. Edinburgh,T&T Clark, 1996, pp.35ff.  Return 12 See Kenith A David, Sacraments and Struggle. Signs and Instruments of Grace from the Down trodden, Geneva, WCC, 1994; Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: an Epistlefrom the Ma.\,ai. London, SCM, 1978 and 1982; and M Grey Andree Heaton and Danny Sullivan (Eds.), The Candles are StIll Burning. Directions In Sacramental Spirituality.London, Chapman, 1995.  Return 13 J Begbie "Play it (again): Music, Theology and Divine Communication", Paper given to the Society for the Study of Theology , 1997.  Return 14 John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, New York,St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985.  Return Robin Greenwood, Practising Community: the Task of the Local Church, London, SPCK,1996, pp.34ff  Return 16 See Peter M Senge, The Fifth Discipline. The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, London, Century Business, 1990; and M Pedlar, J Burgoyne and T Boydell, TheLearning Company -a strategv .for sustainable development, McGraw Hill, 1997.  Return 17 D W Hardy, God's Ways with the World. Thinking and Practising Christian Faith,Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1996, ch.13.  Return 18 See Eucharistic Presidency, a Theological Statement by the House of Bishops of the General Synod, London, CHP, 1997  Return 19 "H Ward and J Wild, Guard the Chaos, London, DLT, 1995; and Linda E Thomas "Christian Ministry in the Third Millennium", in Ministerial Formation, Geneva, WCC, 78/July, 1997. Return 20 See Alan J Torrance, Persons in Communion, Trinitarian Description and Human Participation, Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1996. Return 21 Arne Rasmusson, The Church as Pol is, Studia Theologica Ludensia 49, Lund University Press. 1994_ ch. 10. Return 22 Suzanne Moore, The Independent, 11.7.97, p.19. Return 23 John Millbank, The World Made Strange; Theology, Language, Culture, Oxford, Blackwells, 1997.Return 24 Note that in official Roman Catholic understanding (Pres6yterorum Ordinis, Vatican 11), the priest represents Christ personally, in a sacramentally different manner from the laity. See K B Osborne, "Mixed Signals. Priestly Identity and Priestly Spirituality since Vatican II", in Mary Grey (ed.), The Candles are Still Burning: Directions in Sacrament and Spirituality, London, Chapman, 1995. Return 25 See Anthony Russell, The Clerical Profession, London, SPCK, 1980. Return 26 See Michael Jacobs, Holding in Trust, New Library of Pastoral Care, London, SPCK, 1989;and Ministerial Review: its purpose and practice. The report of a working party on clergy appraisal. ABM Ministry Paper No.6, January 1994.  Return 27 Supplement to ABM Ministry Paper No.6, 1997.  Return 28 Comel West, "The New Politics of Cultural Difference" (1990), see L E Thomas, note 19above.  Return 29 Implicit in the work ofHardy and articulated in my Transforming Priesthood, see note 3 above  Return


Canon Dr Robin Greenwood has been Ministry Development Officer in the Diocese of Chelmsford since 1995. He chairs the ABM committee for Continuing Ministerial Training and is Co-Director of the Edward King Institute for Ministerial Development. Previously he has been Vicar of Halton, Leeds and Canon Residentiary at Gloucester.

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