What is a pioneer minister? (Hannah Smith)

Monday, 9 March, 2009

Hannah Smith asks, what is a pioneer minister?

Hannah SmithIf I had a pound for every person who has asked me what a pioneer minister is, I'd be rich. If I had another pound for every different definition of a pioneer minister that I've heard, I'd probably have enough money to fund the 50 or so training for Ordained Pioneer Ministry in the Church of England.

So what is a pioneer? Well I got selected as one. I am training as an OPM (Ordained Pioneer Minister) at St Mellitus' College, the new college in London which has a particular stream aimed at training pioneers.

I chose the 'pioneer track' as it was suggested to me by my DDO, although I agonised about whether I was 'pioneering enough' or 'too pioneering' for the role, depending on who I spoke to. The selectors at my BAP had some awareness of what being a pioneer might entail, but to be honest, I do not think that they had a clearer idea than I did.

Since starting training, I have been ruminating about the heady mix on the St Mellitus 'pioneer course'. It is a mixed mode course and we have a number of people who seem to have started fresh expressions of church without really knowing what that is; there are people who are interested in inherited church planting (planting traditional forms of church in new areas); and there are people who are off the map pioneers, with experience and theology to back them up. Thrown into the mix are a number of 'parish' ordinands who are sometimes more pioneering than the pioneers themselves.

The boundaries aren't clear and no one really knows what we will be asked to do when we leave.

A pioneer is: 'a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others'

There is recognition that different people who have different callings need different training, as, for example, there are different skills needed to plant an inherited church model in comparison with those who are starting a fresh expression with people struggling with addictions.

I think it is important for the first of the Ordained Pioneer Ministers ('pioneering pioneers'!) to remember that the definition of 'pioneer' is 'a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others'. This holds two connotations.

Firstly, that we are pioneering what pioneers are, and therefore we will have to take responsibility for the training and experience that we get; that the courses will be written as we do them.

Secondly, we are opening up new areas for the whole church to occupy and develop. This means that pioneers cannot disconnect themselves from the wider church and just 'do their own thing'. It is of vital importance for the pioneers to be constantly training others, lay and ordained people, in how to live lives of mission and reach out to communities of de-churched and non-churched people who need to see the kingdom in their lives.

About the author: 

Hannah Smith is training as an Ordained Pioneer Ministry.

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