From February 1 to 16 I travelled to the UK on behalf of the diocese to attend a conference and visit a range of research centres, individuals, and other Christian organisations. It was a fruitful time in which to hear about the ways that the Gospel is advancing in the UK, and what - as a Diocese and as a local church - that might be of blessing to us. Included below are reflections on some of the meetings. For completeness, I've also included a few reflections that I had previously shared in "snippets" whilst away.
- Visit to St Helen's Bishopsgate: St Helen's Bishopsgate is an historic evangelical church in the heart of the business district in London. Their vicar-emeritus, Dick Lucas, is a very well-known preacher and teacher. Each week the church has mid-week lunch gatherings with Bible teaching and discussion, particularly designed for the neighbouring business community. This was a great time with a very large group of people gathering to hear teaching from the Bible and discuss it together (amidst busy working days). I could imagine something like this working very well in Toowoomba! I also joined for worship on a Sunday and was greatly encouraged by the community, worship, and teaching.
- Dinner with a Staff Member of All Souls Church, Langham Place. It was terrific to share dinner with one of the staff members of All Souls (a son of one of our members!) and hear about all that the Lord is doing through the life of the church. In particular, it was great to hear how (very large) school music events are used as evangelistic opportunities. It was also fantastic to hear about some really creative ways that other churches in London are reaching and serving their communities.
- Church Growth and Evangelism Conference: This conference was absolutely fantastic and included presentations from dioceses all over the UK. It was very encouraging to hear of the strategic, faithful, and creative ways that churches are seeking to grow in maturity and reach people who don't yet know the Good News. There were many ideas and principles that the Brisbane contingent is hoping to raise for consideration in Brisbane. There were also many ideas that were affirming of what's already happening at St Bart's, along with some new ideas as well. One of the most impressive aspects of the conference was being able to hear something of people's great passion for God and the way that they love the people in their regions and seek for them to know Jesus. In particular, it was evident that the church is being more intentional in its mission, resourcing larger churches to be a blessing to other churches (and provide a basis for church planting), and investing in more contextually-based training for ministers. It was also exciting to hear about a national evangelism project called, 'Talking Jesus' (I'm certain it's something we can draw on at St Bart's).
- Visit and Meetings with St Mellitus College: St Mellitus College is a theological college started in London in 2007 (with help from Holy Trinity Brompton) with seven people training for ordination. Ten years on, they now are training around 220 people for ordained ministry along with hundreds of other people. The model of training is quite innovative, enabling potential ministers to engage in work at churches as part of their theological and academic study. St Paul's Theological Centre (part of HTB) operates in conjunction with the college and offers a range of night-time courses. I was able to attend one of those sessions after having met with a staff member of the college and the principal, Bishop Graham Tomlin. Their emphasis on seeking to train the whole people of God was very affirming of our focus through the St Bart's Training Centre (including the Ridley Certificate).
- Meeting with the Research & Statistics Team of the Church of England: It was a blessing to spend time with this team and learn from the great work that they are doing. Whilst (of course!) much larger than the Brisbane Diocese, there was much that I was able to learn from them for use closer to home in our diocese.
- Meeting with a representative from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. In this meeting, I learned of some of the excellent work that the institute is doing in supporting and enabling the church to grow. It was also very helpful to learn of various models for staffing in churches and the missional agility of smaller churches (particularly relevant for our diocese).
- Meetings with representatives from CPAS. CPAS is a parachurch organisation in the UK focusing on leadership. They operate across a range of areas including leadership development, children's camps, assisting in the selection of clergy for parishes, and providing resources. They also run the Arrow leadership program for emerging Christian leaders (some of you may know that I serve on the board of Arrow Australia). Resources they have provided include the publication of various guides (e.g., on running effective parish council meetings). They have also developed a fantastic website, disciplekit.org that reviews discipleship resources that are available to individuals and churches. Read more about CPAS here.
- Visit to Gas Street in Birmingham: Gas Street is a new church plant (out of HTB) formed in partnership with the Diocese of Birmingham (their Senior Ministers are Tim and Rachel Hughes). Their heart is to see people alive in Jesus, living life to the full, bringing hope and light to Birmingham. I attended one of their Sunday gatherings and then also joined people for a welcome lunch. This was a really encouraging time and there are lots that Gas Street is doing to effectively reach their city. They also have implemented some very helpful ways of engaging people in the life of the church. Read more about Gas Street here.
- Centre for Church Growth Research in Durham. It was also wonderful to visit this city again where Bettrys and I lived for a year in 2009/2010. I met with David Goodhew and had a fantastic discussion on patterns of church growth in the UK. David was able to direct me to research that will be helpful for our diocese to consider. There are also some implications for us to consider as we seek to reach the whole of Toowoomba. You can find out more about the Centre for Church Growth Research here, and also see a book on growth written by David (feel free to borrow my copy!).