Nick Spencer, a consultant for the Henley Centre, wrote an article for Christian Research on the need to rediscover the Minster model. He argued that in seeking to reverse the chronic long-term decline we need to overcome problems from the past with solutions also inspired by the past.
While we may be struggling with the legacy of unsuitable buildings and meaningless parish boundaries, we need to remember that the parish system only became an effective reality in the last century of the first millennium. Before then, the Minster was the fundamental unit of pastoral care and evangelism and is a model to draw fresh inspiration from in our emerging missionary context.
From a Minster, groups of clergy and disciples would journey into the surrounding area to tend to the needs of villages in which the spiritual focus was usually a timber or stone cross.
Currently only 39% of rural churches have their own incumbent minister and 50% of Protestants attend just 15% of churches. This leads Nick to believe that we are in an era that is closer de facto to the early Anglo-Saxon one than at any time in the past 1200 years. If we can see this as something positive to be channelled, it offers many potential benefits through sharing strengths and resources and releasing smaller congregations to concentrate on functioning effectively as a local focus for fellowship and worship much like the early stone crosses.
Nick Spencer hasn’t been alone in seeing the Minster as a significant model to rediscover. John Finney developed a similar thesis in his book “Recovering the Past”. Back in 1997 we began to argue that Minster models were emerging that were leading to movements.
Examples included a) St Thomas Crookes as a resource church linked to a network of churches growing from 12 to over 30; b) The ‘Warham Community’ being created to resource a network of those being reached through alpha courses across villages in Berks and Hants; c) the Soul Survivor movement based on the Watford Youth Congregation and national events, and d) St Marys Thame growing to a family of congregations and now licensed with Rector Chris Neal as a mission resource to the Oxford Diocese.
A Sheffield Diocesan strategy paper in 1998 recognised St Thomas, Crookes and Christ Church, Fulwood as ‘Minster’ churches. This was then picked up in St Thomas’s vision statement the following year and a missionary order is now emerging.
We believe like Nick Spencer, that with “British society and culture having changed greatly in the 20th century and the pace of change looking likely to accelerate in the next generation, the church needs to modify its structures accordingly,” What is exciting though is to see some who have been involved in church planting in its various forms, emerging as potential ‘Minsters’ that can resource the church as a whole for the challenges of the future.
Thanks to Nick Spencer for permission to draw on his article for ‘Quadrant’ Nov. 2000.
This article was originally produced for an ACPI circular called “News From”. This paper publication was (usually) published and distributed free to those on our mailing list twice a year between 1997 and 2001. Please bear in mind that the articles were written several years ago, and circumstances may have changed and people may have moved on.