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Learning from SDF: Interim ministry and supporting parishes through change

The Diocese of Chelmsford was one of the first dioceses to receive an SDF grant. They are now three years into their project and the intended outcomes of the project are beginning to be realised.  We asked John Ball, Chelmsford’s Chief Executive to reflect on the advice they would give to other dioceses who are considering developing or expanding interim ministry.

The goal of Chelmsford’s SDF project was to support parishes in addressing barriers to mission, through exploring and developing practices in Interim Ministry. This largely focused on the work of interim ministers, complemented by assistance to parishes to improve governance, providing a parish accounts service and encouraging the use of the Parish Giving Scheme.  This article focuses on the role of the interim minister but, in passing, it is worth noting that sorting out basic issues of parish organisation and governance can have transformative effects.  Chelmsford’s parish accounts service is now providing book-keeping support to 53 PCCs, well over 10% of the diocese and far beyond expectations when the project was established. Two ‘PCC for Beginners’ training events covering multiple disciplines were so successful and the feedback so positive that they are planning two large scale training events for over 700 PCC members in 2018.

‘Interim ministry is not the answer to every situation, but it can be very useful’ says John Ball, Chelmsford Diocese’s Chief Executive.  ‘We now have evidence that the project’s concept has merit and validity. Structured and targeted help through interim ministry, alongside other support to parishes, can overcome barriers to mission and as a result can benefit the whole diocese.’

 John and his colleagues offer 5 specific learning points based on their experience:

1.        Create a clear ‘contract’ or ‘covenant’ between the parish, the interim minister and the Bishop/Archdeacon, and have this agreed by the Mission and Pastoral Committee.

2.        So far, it has proved difficult to recruit interim ministers via advert: head hunting is more likely to be successful than normal advertising channels.

3.        If you can’t get local engagement with the project, you won’t achieve much.

4.        Sometimes it is appropriate to find ‘good endings’ where it is mutually discerned that this is right for someone’s ministry in a particular location.  (In these situations it is really important to recognise and respect the nature of both the ecclesiastical office and the calling of the individual.  Don’t fall into thinking that the relationship is one of secular employment).

5.        Plan carefully for transition at the conclusion of a period of interim ministry, including considering whether the interim should work alongside the new incumbent for a period.

The Chelmsford team, strongly encourage others to participate in the national network which they have developed, so that experience, learning and support can continue to be shared.  Chelmsford Diocese has now been awarded Strategic Capacity Funding to facilitate on-going networking and training for Interim Ministers nationally, building on a successful conference last year.  You can find out more about this network on the diocese’s website

John’s final comment is: ‘The SDF grant has been crucial to the success of the project – it is unlikely we would have been able to take forward our ideas to anything like the same extent without this funding.  We are now working out how to translate this into our “business as usual” work as a diocese’.


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