Ian Mobsby talks to Rona Orme, Children's Missioner for the Diocese of Peterborough, about the beginnings of a fresh expression in a new-build area of Northamptonshire.
Wootton was a classic English village on the edge of Northampton, which in the last ten years has been absorbed by the building of new housing to become a larger suburban part of greater Northampton. The needs of this population have steadily increased, many of which are unchurched families of young parents with young children. The local Parish Church of St Georges has not been able to make an impact in many parts of this new community, whilst developing its continuing work to the older parts of Wootton.
Two years ago, a new parish priest was appointed who began to develop a more engaged ministry with local people. Although requests for baptism and numbers attending monthly Family Services have grown, it soon became apparent that she did not have the capacity to engage further with the people living in the 'new-build' areas with its two new primary schools, secondary school and growing community of unchurched families.
Additionally, there were very few local links between the old village of Wootton, and the community developing in the new-build area, making things even harder for the Parish Church to have an impact in the newer areas of its community. In effect, two parallel communities were emerging out of the local context. So the Diocesan Mission Enabler, Children's Missioner, Archdeacon and Parish Priest became increasingly aware that the mission and ministry needs of the new-build area of Wootton remained unmet.
This then raised the need to develop a 'mixed economy parish' – deepening and developing the work that had already been started, alongside beginning something new and pioneering to address the needs of those parts of the local community the church had not been able to reach.
An opportunity presented itself, when the Church of England Commissioners offered the Diocese of Peterborough money for setting up four posts to engage with new-build housing communities with pioneering mission initiatives. It was offered to assist the Diocese to engage in mission with a local population expansion of 20%.
Providentially, these posts were to be focused on meeting the specific mission and ministry needs we had already identified in Wootton. So the Diocese quickly explored what a potential pioneer post could contribute in assisting the Church to engage with the needs of largely unchurched families with young children living in the new areas of Wootton, which is now the key focus supported by the Diocese, Deanery and Parish.
Already partnering discussions have begun with one of the local Primary Schools. Preston Hedge's Primary School was very keen to develop collaborative pastoral support for working with children facing family relational difficulties, and to develop after school clubs exploring faith and other issues. The school see the need as supporting the emotional and spiritual development of pupils, creating an exciting opportunity for contextual mission and ministry. There is now a real potential for birthing something really interesting and innovative in a local mixed economy of church.
The Diocese are currently seeking the appointment of a full time Pioneer Minister (open to Lay or Ordained Pioneer Minister) to lead this exciting new project, with support from the local Parish Priest, Diocesan Mission Enabler and Children’s Missioner. It is hoped that this work will build an evolving ecclesial community coming out of mission and ministry needs of local children and their families in a school context.