As the Dean of Liverpool, Justin Welby, prepares to leave Merseyside to become Bishop of Durham, he spoke of the need to continue to focus on growth in his future Diocese.
Justin, whose final service as Dean will be on Sunday (October 2), explains, ‘The business of growth encompasses growth in depth of spirituality, growth in engagement with communities and many other things, but in this context I mean growing numbers. If the Church is to meet the challenges of today - not least those that are posed by government funding cuts - we have to have more people on the ground. Jesus spoke of praying for people to go out into the harvest. The fields are white for harvest and we haven’t got enough people to get out there.’
As he bids farewell to the Diocese of Liverpool, Justin hails it as a leading light in its approach to pioneering new forms of church. ‘I have learned a great deal here, and especially from Bishop James,’ he says. ’I think he’s someone who has - with a good deal of questioning in a very affirming but very, very challenging way - worked away at developing fresh expressions. The Diocesan Secretary, whole senior staff team and clergy across the Diocese have seen this as something that’s important.
‘One of the good things about Liverpool is that they haven’t thought, “OK we’ll plug fresh expressions in and then everything will be solved.” Because it isn’t. But, on the other hand, they haven’t said, “Well because it’s not a black box which would solve all our problems we won’t do it.” He credits Liverpool’s achievements to a willingness to ask ‘quite difficult questions’ about what the results of any such efforts should be.
It’s an approach that helps to avoid misconceptions as to what is being attempted. ‘Fresh expressions is increasingly a technical phrase and it’s a misused one,’ he adds. ‘It’s one that’s being used so widely that it often becomes meaningless. You end up…where everything is a fresh expression of something and therefore nothing is.’
In acknowledging that Durham Diocese has some of the lowest churchgoing in the country, he warns against seeing the development of fresh expressions as a ‘cure all’.
He explains, ‘Fresh expressions of church are something that need to be calibrated and thought through very carefully rather than just done ad hoc as a sort of knee jerk reaction when we need to have a fresh expression. You need to ask yourself, “What do I mean by that?”, “Is it genuinely a fresh expression?” “What’s it trying to achieve; in what way does it add to the work of the Church and the Kingdom of God in the area?”’
When asked what he will do as Bishop, his answer is that he will pray a lot, listen a lot and test out some principles including, ‘If fresh expressions is not at its heart involving an encounter with Christ then I’m not remotely interested.’ However, mixed economy working already looks set to be high on the agenda after his consecration on 28 October at York Minster and enthronement at Durham Cathedral on 26 November.
He explains why mixed economy is so important to him, ‘I think partly because historically the church has always operated mixed economy when it was at its best. If you go back to the Middle Ages the great growth of the monastic movement was essentially a mixed economy, Benedict was a fresh expression in his day. So there’s nothing new about the mixed economy idea. Mixed economy is essential because it gives the balance between what Benedict called stability – a location in place and nature – with the catalyst of an openness to the Spirit of God doing new things. And we need both.
‘Without stability you end up just following fashion, Benedict knew that very well, and without the catalyst of the Spirit you end up just becoming utterly embedded and unable to move in what you’ve always done.’
Photo available of Justin Welby