Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

No neat answers to shared ministry

Local Ministry

This 150-page book contains a collection of essays that seeks critically to review the Shared Ministry movement.

Alister Hendery   |  22 Dec 2008

Local Ministry: Story, Process and Meaning edited by Robin Greenwood & Caroline Pascoe (London: SPCK, 2006- £11.99)

This 150-page book contains a collection of essays that seeks critically to review the Shared Ministry movement. Robin Greenwood is one of the movement’s theological heavyweights. Any book with his name attached to it is worth reading. An additional attraction for New Zealand readers is the inclusion of two essays by New Zealand authors: Chris Honoré in Auckland, and Ken Booth and Jenny Dawson from Christchurch.

This book contributes to the thinking of anyone prepared to participate in that challenging process. It causes the reader to reflect on issues surrounding clerical power, the nature of success and Christian community.

I commend these essays to anyone willing to consider vital questions about the development of Anglican ecclesiology and polity in the 21st century. But as the different stories show (spanning Scotland, New Zealand, the United Sates, Wales and England) there are no neat answers – and thank God for that! For more is gained in the questioning than in the answers.

Local Shared Ministry can focus the wider church on questions about how any congregation can learn to be itself, respond to its call and seek to know how to live its life. Scottish Episcopalians, for example, have used this model to impact on their wider life as they seek to rediscover what it means to share in God’s mission.

Reading of the New Zealand experience, one asks whether we have kept Local Shared Ministry in a safe niche (cash-strapped small parishes) and not allowed its underlying principles to impact on the wider church. To do so may threaten some clergy as they are asked to consider a model of the ordained that moves from being ministry deliverers to ministry developers (Ray and Kelsey in Northern Michigan).

This is not a ‘how to’ book. Its value is in the questions it asks and the observations it makes. Honoré, for example,

acknowledges the move from understanding Shared Ministry as being not about plugging a gap with sacramental ministry, but as a genuine vocation from God. How do we enable Ministry Support Teams to move from being a corporate vicar to a place where the ministries of all are encouraged and supported?

The Christchurch writers raise questions about such issues as congregationalism, the radical call to the baptised, and the challenge to the inherited experience of the priest being seen as virtually the sole carrier of the faith story. We also see how Local Ministry has given impetus to a serious rethinking and appreciation of the diaconate as an order in its own right.

This model of ministry is a very deliberate restructuring of the church to enable it to become a community with a clear sense of mission and service. It does not claim to be a model that fits all. But questions it asks in regard to training, formation and the nature of leadership are applicable to all. Peter Sedgwick in Wales even raises questions about shared leadership that may be relevant to the question of a shared primacy in this province!

Alister Hendery is the Christchurch Diocesan Ministry Adviser.