Growin’Faith: a deanery-based discipleship course
An example of an annual 8-week course run within a very rural deanery, aiming to grow the faith of congregation members, develop individual parish mission & ministry, and reinforce a coherent vision for the life of the church collectively across a local rural area.
Ross & Archenfield deanery is predominantly rural, set in the south west of Hereford Diocese and bordering Wales. Historically its geographical setting made it a buffer zone between the Welsh and the English, and many of the villages reflect the culture of both countries. The largest settlement is Ross-on-Wye, a market town with a population of 10,000; the smaller villages have a traditional look. Agriculture is still a dominating industry in the deanery. There are 38 parishes clustered in 7 benefices. The ministry of the seven incumbents is supported by retired clergy, readers and a network of collaborative team ministries.
A few years ago a decision was taken in Chapter to strengthen the focus of the deanery, and a deanery training programme was proposed which would both contribute to that strategic vision of a deanery focus, help develop the faith and commitment of individual Christians and be part of a developmental approach to church life. While discipleship may not be the top-level aim of this approach, it very much includes lay faith development as part of its ongoing approach – particularly as it is done corporately, and with the clear goal of equipping those who attend for increased and improved involvement in their local congregations. An important element is the ‘collegiality’of the approach, in that individuals from different parishes are following the same ‘curriculum’ … providing an increased sense of unity within the broader diversity of the deanery.
Each autumn a locally devised thematic course called Growin’Faith has been run. The pattern has been a series of weekly courses delivered at a central point in the deanery, with a half term ‘break’ which included an outing. The venue was a church at the centre of the deanery – currently St Dubricius Church at Whitchurch. Around 100 people have attended the courses over the three years.
The programme has been both devised and delivered by the clergy of the deanery to meet a perceived need for foundational development for the congregations of the churches they are ministering in. Themes have included Christian basics, occasional offices, Lectio Divina, and the theology of hymns.
The clergy are the key to this programme both in decisions about the course content & work, its delivery and in pursuing outputs & outcomes within the context of their individual benefices. Revd Elaine Goddard, rural dean and Rector of St Weonards Benefice reflects that the course has informed and strengthened the members of the ministry team which had in turn underpinned the strategic work of the church in her benefice. An OLM (Ordained Local Minister) in training has also used the courses as part of the progress of her training. The courses are also set against the work being done to develop Mission Action Planning within the benefice as a whole.
There is evidence, too, that capturing the imagination of people through their attendance at the Growin’Faith course has made a contribution to church growth in the deanery. Though not intentionally an evangelistic programme, the courses have seen people ‘bringing others along’ to share in the sessions. This has been an added – but unexpected – outcome in a deanery where an overt approach to evangelism doesn’t seem to be effective.