Making the mixed economy work on the ground

Monday, 6 June, 2011

Paul Bayes, former head of the Church of England's Mission Department and now Bishop of Hertford, talks to Zoe Hart about trying to make the 'mixed economy' work on the ground – and how deployment and resourcing are the two issues where the church gets 'stuck'.

Duration: 5:43   | Download Download mp3


Interviewer: I'm pleased to have with me Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Hertford. Paul we know that you were a real champion of fresh expressions when you worked at Church House, how does it feel now that you're a bishop to be putting some of that theory in practice at ground level, have you had the opportunity to do that, do you just want to catch us up with where you're at today?

Paul Bayes: Thanks very much Zoe. It was great when I was at Church House Westminster for the last six years or so, to be talking about all this stuff and advising other people to do it. Now there I am in the Diocese of St Albans as a suffragan bishop trying to make it work on the ground. And what I've found is that for the six or seven years since Mission-shaped Church came out, since we started talking about the mixed economy church after Archbishop Rowan thought of the phrase, people are slowly getting it, it just takes time but people are genuinely getting the idea that in every local church they have to look around and see whether the right way to grow the church is through the inherited work or by doing new things. So we've found some things that work really well, for example Messy Church as we know has become more or less an enormous world franchise now, because it's quite close to what the churches always used to do with children and young people but it takes that extra step into church and so as I look around Herts I can see quite a lot of churches that are experimenting with that. And then there are more edgy entrepreneurial people stepping out as church planters. I can think of one young guy in particular setting up a church in Starbucks with a group of young people, and he came to me as the local bishop to explain what he was doing and because he knew through Mission-shaped Church and through everything that Fresh Expressions has been doing that the Church of England was open for this and would give him a warm welcome. I was able then to get in touch with the local Church of England churches and with Churches Together in the town where they guy is, so that his work in church planting gets off to a flying start and he doesn't have to worry about the attitude of the approach of fellow Christians in the place, he can just work with them to bring a new flavour into things. I think eight or nine years ago that would have been impossible or much more difficult to do, and certainly for me as a bishop when I read initially in Mission-shaped Church that bishops brokered new things between those who were on the ground and those who wanted to do new ideas, I knew vaguely what that meant, but now in Hertfordshire in my own day to day work I can see what it means and we're beginning to see the fruit of it.

Interviewer: So it sounds like you're really in a place where you can open up the doors for pioneers. There must be some tensions though. What are some of the tensions of working within an institution when you're passionate about mission?

Paul Bayes: I think right across the church the two issues where we get stuck and where we will get stuck until we've thought this through a bit more, are at the point of deployment – what are we going to do with our skilled and talented people, both lay and ordained, are we going to put them into traditional churches because they're still going ok in Hertfordshire, or are we going to do a new thing because England is changing – deployment, and resourcing – where are we going to put the money. And where, given a limited budget, are we going to say this we're going to take a punt on, we're going to explore and experiment, and it may be that it won't work but we will take a risk anyway. And of course at that moment you come up against people who say quite rightly that the inherited church is doing fine and that that should have the first call on resources in this or that place. I think those struggles to say we know that the present is good, but the future could be better, we're going to experiment with an uncertain future and we're going to invest some of our resources of people power and of money into it, those are where the conversations need to continue. I try to have those conversations not in a simple-minded way, simply saying new things are always good and inherited things are all going to do, because I don't believe that's true. I think the mixed economy means, here at the end of Christendom, that for many many years to come the inherited church will still have a future, but if we're going to prepare for the future of the full mixed economy we have to prepare for it now. So the patient conversations happen in our diocese, the same as they are in so many, at the point of where do we put our stuff and what do we do with our budgets. I'm happy to continue those conversations, hoping that the vision of a bright future will overcome the fear that at the moment things may not be held together.

Interviewer: And as a leader in a strategic position, albeit a different one from the previous one that you held, how do you see the future? You've touched on it already, but how do you see this mixed economy panning out over the next ten or twenty years?

Paul Bayes: I think the church always has a choice and the choice is between fear and hope. It's quite easy I think for me and for my fellow clergy and for Christians right across England quickly and easily to get cynical or defensive. I think if we do that it feels quite safe, we can all have a good moan, but it doesn't actually get much done. What we've got to do instead is to just hold on to the Scriptural basis of what we're doing, to the fact that God's Holy Spirit is moving in new things. The Archbishop of Canterbury today at this conference where we're talking now Zoe, spoke really compellingly about what the future might look like, but he said you would have to be foolish to be able to predict the future. The point is whether we can face the future with hope. I try to do that, not because I'm a bishop, but because I'm a Christian and because the Lord Jesus Christ by his Spirit and the word of God in Scripture all tells me to try and embrace the future hopefully and creatively. And I find there are plenty of Christians, not only in my diocese but across England, of all denominations, who are trying to make sense of that with hope. That's what helps me get up in the morning and that's what puts, quite frankly for me as a bishop, occasionally quite a soppy smile on my face.

Interviewer: Bishop Paul Bayes, thank you very much indeed.


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