8 December 2023

We must nurture churches that look different from the traditional parish

Brad Billings

8 June 2023

Driving along the Hume Freeway recently I passed numerous billboards proclaiming “exciting new” house and land developments. Each was accompanied by the evocative name of the estate and imagery of idealistic suburban scenes. Behind the billboards was excavation machinery carving out new roads, over which rose the frames of new houses being built. There are several whole new suburbs emerging along the Hume growth corridor. The council’s advice is that the population here will exceed 200,000 by 2026, and grow beyond that to more than 300,000 in the ensuing years. Most of these localities are within the geographical area of a single Anglican parish. Of course this is just one example of a burgeoning new growth area in greater Melbourne and Geelong! 

Read more: Communities on a mission to reach neighbours with the Gospel 

I have previously written about the importance in Anglican polity and ministry of what I described as “the traditional parish”. I certainly stand by that. I would also suggest that sometimes what is described in terms of “church revitalisation”, “fresh expressions”, and even “church planting”, could equally be described as “good parish ministry”. Even so, I recognise the critical need for new and innovative ministry initiatives alongside the parish model, to respond nimbly, and in innovative ways, to the extraordinary growth of Melbourne and Geelong, in all of its wonderful diversity. 

Read more: Melton Anglican church new home for growing church plant

This is not a new concept by any means! For decades now we have heard of “fresh expressions” and “green shoots” or similar. These are generally new ministries developing alongside, or within, traditional ministry models such as the parish. Such models of ministry are necessarily diverse and highly flexible. We are at a time in our diocese’s life when we need to be bold fostering and nurturing new initiatives. Many of these will look very different to what we have known in the past, whilst at the same time holding on to that which makes us Anglican. Again this is nothing new. We have heard for many years about what a former Archbishop of Canterbury described as the “mixed economy” church. In short, it is a “both-and” rather than an “either-or” model of church and ministry. 

Read more: So … what is a ‘resourcing church’? And could your church be one? 

The Diocese of Melbourne, through the synod, has prescribed rules and procedures for the formation and establishment of new ministries of this nature. All such new ministry initiatives require the endorsement of the diocesan governing body, the Archbishop in Council, and are subject to diocesan legislation in the same way as a parish. The clergy and authorised lay ministers who serve in them are all subject to the same regimes of authorisation and safeguarding as all other clergy and authorised lay ministers. All collectively belong to, and together are a part of, the rich tapestry that is the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Melbourne.      

Read more: Micro churches can bring the gospel to many in post-Christendom Australia

One locality in the area of episcopal care I have recently become responsible for comes to mind as a living example of the “both-and” model of church. In Werribee there is a parish church in the traditional model. Meeting on the same site also is an authorised congregation worshipping in the Karen language. Nearby is a rapidly growing authorised Anglican congregation meeting at the local football club. Each of these communities are engaged in mission and outreach in their own way, and in accordance with their own mission action plan. Each are needed. Each are Anglican in polity and identity. Each are vital components, alongside all of our parishes and authorised congregations, present and merging, in our shared mission in “to make the word of God fully known.”      

Read more: Thinking about planting a church? Don’t underestimate the recruitment phase

Brad Billings is Assistant Bishop of the Oodthenong area of episcopal care. 

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