Tas Valley Cell Church

Monday, 1 June, 2009

In the Tas Valley Team Ministry, there are six traditional parish churches and a cell church comprising six adult cell churches and a youth cell. This 'mixed economy' reflects the nature of rural networks, some of which cross the villages through social links, others of which are village-based.

It is mixed here,

says Tas Valley vicar, Sally Gaze. She gives the example of a young mothers' cell which grew out of an Alpha course.

It was the easiest Alpha ever because they were all very alike and opened up to each other very quickly, but they were from three different villages. If we had focused on one parish we wouldn't have got enough people together. By enabling certain groups to come together, we strengthen them to be part of the church as a whole.

Sally explains that the Tas Valley group of churches is still working out what it means to be connected to its different parts, both village to village and cell to traditional church. Cells have about ten members each, the parish churches between six and 45 members. Many of the cell members are also members of one of the parish churches – but new Christians usually join a cell in the first instance. Sometimes they later start coming to Sunday parish church services as well.

Sally believes that the presence of cells in the mix helps to create unity. The success of this approach is reflected in the supportive presence of four members of a very traditional ('Book of Common Prayer') congregation at a cell-led monthly seeker service. The cells also contribute towards their 'parent' churches' finances.

Respecting both the traditional way of doing church and the needs of those outside it 'to discover Jesus, too'

If you're in a cell it's much easier to think that you can't be church on your own than when you have a medieval building,

Sally says.

Cells are more fluid so members think benefice-wide. Often the members of a cell will come from three or four different villages and help to draw the congregations from those villages together in understanding.

We don't bring the six parish churches together with the cell church very often  because we've tried to maintain the witness of Sunday church in every village. When we do come together we can do something of a higher quality.

United benefice services happen about three times a year. Benefice-wide events focus on socials, outreach activities such as holiday clubs, training events and 24-7 Prayer.

Respecting both the traditional way of doing church and the needs of those outside it 'to discover Jesus, too' has seen this rural benefice celebrate and share in the life of faith in all its members.

The cells, says rector Sally Gaze (in mission-shaped and rural: growing churches in the countryside, CHP, 2006),

worshipped and loved, they related to the wider church and respected the authority of its leaders, and participated in the sacraments... they engaged in mission.

Putting the cells together, the cell church was also as strongly attended as some Sunday services with around 8-10 members in each cell (making 40-50 members) compared with 6-45 in each parish church.

In a mixed economy benefice, the question arose: how can a growing number of cell churches find their legal standing alongside the traditional churches?

We felt it was time to help the cell church grow up and take responsibility,

says Sally, who also wanted to give the cells a secure place within the benefice.

We felt that cell church members should give to the cell church. It also makes a statement that giving to church is not just about keeping buildings going – our cell church doesn't have a building.

So the benefice discussed with the diocese ways in which cell members could give to their church that would enable it to claim back tax as in traditional offertories. In 2005 a cell bank account was set up, an important step in acknowledging the Tas Valley cells as part of the Church of England as a whole.

The bank account, says Sally,

encourages us to sort out giving, to encourage Gift Aid and teach stewardship. The cells pay a couple of thousand towards the benefice share. This is less than their numerical strength would suggest because a number of people are brand new Christians who will take a time to sort out financial stewardship, and others are members of both cell and parish congregation.

We didn't want to reduce the income of parish congregations so where people are members of both cell and parish church, they either stick with their parish giving or give on top of that to the cell church. The proportion of benefice share that the cell church and all the PCCs pay is kept under annual review.

The cell church has a cell leaders' meeting rather than a PCC and is still

a peculiarity on the edge of the diocese. But in the benefice itself it is treated as an equal member of the team of churches and represented on our equivalent of a team council.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Thursday, 14 July, 2011

The story of Tas Valley Cell Church in south Norfolk was first told on expressions: the dvd – 2. Its leader, Sally Gaze, tells what has been happening since the cameras rolled.

Monday, 1 June, 2009

This story illustrates the principles of How can we get support? in the Guide.