Do the Church of England’s bishops want 10,000 new churches or not?

July sees the start of the Church of England’s General Synod – normally a somewhat fractious occasion, this month’s session has been overshadowed by a storm in an Anglican teacup. The unlikely catalyst? An article in the Church Times reporting on a new church planting initiative ‘Myriad’ launched at a conference held by the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication. The director of Myriad is Canon John McGinley, formerly vicar of Holy Trinity Leicester (one of the evangelical powerhouses of the Church of England) and Development Enabler for the Archbishops College of Evangelists. Presenting Myriad John outlined a vision for 10,000 new churches established over 10 years led by by lay members of the Church of England – he contended:

‘Lay-led churches release the Church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly college-based training for every leader of a church . . . then actually we can release new people to lead and new churches to form. It also releases the discipleship of people. In church-planting, there are no passengers.’

The response in the Anglican twitter-sphere was rapid. Whilst some were supportive, criticism and questions came from all directions. Anglo-catholics wondered who would administer the sacraments in these churches? Pragmatists wondered who would pay for them, train the leaders, supervise safeguarding the vulnerable and make the whole thing work? Ecclesiologists wondered if these kind of churches are even Anglican? Influential voices spoke against the proposed 10,000 lay lead churches. Rev Marcus Walker the Rector St Bartholomew the Great and Spectator columnist opined – ‘We’ve traded under parson, cleric, priest, minister, padre and even pie-and-liquor, but never before have I heard us described as ‘key limiting factors’ – many rank and file clergy clearly agreed as they added ‘limiting factor’ to their twitter bio. Rev Dr Martyn Percy Dean of Christ Church Oxford published 2 articles decrying the initiative as an ecclesiastical version of Mao’s ‘great leap forward’ and the Church Growth movement in general as ‘spiritual pornography’. Rev Giles Fraser, vicar and commentator claimed ‘I have never seen this level of anger from within the church during my 25 years as a priest’ and he’s fought in the clerical wars over women bishops and human sexuality.

Canon McGinley was left to battle these criticisms and critique alone. The leadership of the Church of England were silent. Aside from a single supportive tweet from the Archdeacon of Exeter no-one in the hierarchy of the Church of England ventured to get involved. As voices decrying Myriad reached a crescendo and General Synod approached, a press release was published on the Church of England website from Dave Male Director of Discipleship and Evangelism for the Church of England, he noted:

‘I am very aware that some recent commentary in media and social media purporting to set out the future direction of Church of England has caused real anxiety, hurt and pain to many.

“Some of this has been based on a fundamental confusion between the Church of England’s own emerging Vision and Strategy for the 2020s and beyond, which we will be discussing at the upcoming meeting of General Synod, and a separate initiative called Myriad to create 10,000 new lay-led churches – which is not a national Church of England project.’

As a PR crisis loomed Dave was deployed to the airwaves to defend the Church of England from the charge that it’s leadership considers her clergy a limiting factor for growth. He reassured Rev Marcus Walker on the Spectator podcast that his objections were regarding Myriad ‘something to do with the Gregory Centre not something to do with the church of England’ and when pressed answered ‘you really need to talk to the Gregory Centre about what they mean by their plan, it’s not the Church of England’s plan for 10,000 new Christian communities in their parishes’

So that’s it then, it’s all a misunderstanding. Two separate initiatives that have been confused, one called Myriad launched by the Gregory Centre that seeks to pray and plan for 10,000 new lay-led churches and an entirely different initiative that will soon be presented at General synod for 10,000 new church communities. Ok, easily done, these things happen.

Except, well, the Myriad initiative didn’t exactly drop out of thin air. Canon McGinley added some context on Ian Paul’s Psephizo blog:

‘This has been developing over a two year period with consistent consultation with Bishops and people from every tradition as well as clergy and lay leaders. So while it will have many weaknesses it definitely isn’t a back of a fag packet idea.’

And the Gregory Centre whilst independent of the Church of England is certainly at the heart of the Church of England’s church planting initiatives. It was founded and led by the Bishop of Islington Ric Thorpe, the Church of England’s lead for church planting. Curiously, Dave Male seems to have forgotten that he was a seminar leader at the same conference at which Myriad was launched. He omitted to mention that the Archbishop of Canterbury took time out of his sabbatical to welcome delegates to the same conference, and it also seems to have slipped his mind that the Archbishop of York led the conference session entitled ‘Setting the Scene’. The bishops of Lancaster, Horsham, Burnley, Kensington and Dunwich led seminars on themes of evangelism and renewal at the same conference, which makes one wonder why they have not voiced support for the Myriad initiative? Why have none of the 17 bishops who endorsed Bp Thorpe’s book ‘Resource Churches a story of church planting and revitalisation’ (launched at the same conference) had anything to say on the matter?

Strangest of all is that the bishop of Lambeth the Rev Dr Emma Ineson co-led the church planting seminar with John McGinley at which the Myriad vision for 10,000 lay-led churches was presented. Maybe she got it confused with the entirely different vision for 10,000 new church communities described by Dave Male which she and Archbishop of York will be advocating for at General Synod as part of the Vision and Strategy program outlined in synod paper GS2223?

It was said at the Myriad conference that the vision for 10,000 lay-led churches was developed in consultation with diocesan bishops of the Church of England. I don’t doubt that, and if that is the case then they need to advocate for and defend that vision.

After all, do they want 10,000 new churches or not?

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