(this post was 1st published on the Rural Presence Blog)
The following summary is based on this ” Oversight Ministry: What we have learnt ” website article from March 2017 and a response to it by David Heywood Director of Pastoral Studies at Ripon College Cuddesdon. For the original article Dr Jonathan Rowe, Director of Ministry, was asked what had been learnt from a national conference on Oversight Ministry and ongoing research by a small group from the Diocese of Truro.
The conference appeared in part as response to the way more and more clergy find themselves called to lead groups of churches, whether in united benefices, ‘mission’ or ‘ministry areas’ or ‘minster teams’. This change is not simply a pragmatic response to the falling number of clergy available. It also has a coherent theological rationale which emerges from a vision of the church in mission and the collaborative nature of ministry.
This theology is rooted in the relational nature of God the Trinity, human beings made in his image, the vision of his kingdom and the call to the church to provide a foretaste of the kingdom in its koinonia or fellowship. The theology of collaborative ministry is a ‘reflected practice’ model, in which the role of inherited tradition is to help us to discern what the Holy Spirit is doing on the ground and, in the words of Rowan Williams, how we are called to join in.
Oversight Ministry is about exercising ministry through and with others rather than taking on the responsibility for doing everything oneself. Given that definition it requires a collaborative style of working within the institution of the church. It is only exercised in teams and in context. You can’t be an oversight minister in splendid isolation. The role is also about being an accompanier whose key tasks are to resource others and nurture networks of connections and relationships.
The research group in Truro was clear that Oversight Ministry could be exercised by lay or ordained in a team of both lay and ordained ministers. And one tip for diocese was to pay special attention to moments of transition when clergy posts are vacant. These provide excellent opportunities to work alongside parishes and benefices to help them discern their vision, aspirations and callings, which the diocese can then support.
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