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Rediscovering the “Minster Model”

It can be argued that in seeking to reverse the chronic long-term decline we need to overcome problems from the past with solutions also inspired by the past. We face in the next five years 50% of all clergy in this Diocese retiring. However, we also need to remember that the parish system only became an effective reality in the last century of the first millennium. Before then, the Minster was the fundamental unit of pastoral care and evangelism and is a model to draw fresh inspiration from in our emerging missionary context.

From a Minster, groups of clergy and disciples would journey into the surrounding area to tend to the needs of villages in which the spiritual focus was usually a timber or stone cross.

In the UK today only 39% of rural churches have their own incumbent minister and 50% of Protestants attend just 15% of churches. We are in an era that is closer de facto to the early Anglo-Saxon one than at any time in the past 1200 years. If we can see this as something positive to be channelled, it offers many potential benefits through sharing strengths and resources and releasing smaller congregations to concentrate on functioning effectively as a local focus for fellowship and worship much like the early stone crosses.

What are the marks of a Minster congregation?

1. A Regional Identity: The Minster congregation has a vision and plan for ministering to a region that is a self-identified unit

2. A Collegial Staff: The Minster church is staffed by clergy who have primary pastoral care for distinct congregations/parishes within the overall Minster structure. These congregations are resourced by the clergy but have a local LAY leadership in place. This provides a balance for clergy between direct pastoral care and the development of specialty ministry areas based upon giftedness that minster to the entire Minster community (e.g. teaching, counselling, etc.).

3. A Training Center: The Minster’s missional focus and larger span of care raises up people who are called to ministry who can receive very hands on practice tied to theological reflection. The Minster church’s mission keeps in check the tendency for pastoral interns to become overly focused on intellectual pursuits to the detriment of actual ministry to people.

4. Flexible Facilities: Central offices of the Minster church could provide meeting space, specialized equipment (i.e. recording studio, video production, etc.), bookstore, library, health center, mentoring programs, classroom space or even room for commercial or non-profit development.

5. Missional Stance: The Minster church’s driving purpose is innovative ministry to a non-Christian culture. It provides a way to share integrated word and deed ministry to a specific region by distinct (yet connected) local congregations/parishes.

Why is this revolutionary?

A. The Minster model is economically practical.

B. The Minster model is ecclesiastically flexible.

C. The Minster model is missionally nimble.

D. The Minster model is culturally relevant.

May be it’s time to return to the past in order to move forward into a future?

Mike Firbank