Can we counter those who disrupt the progress of a church’s mission agenda? Julian Mann explains a possible course of action and a change in church rules

I do not usually remember my dreams, but this one was vivid. The toddlers were about to come into the church for their Monday afternoon service and there I was setting up for them.

But as I stood at the church door, I noticed that all the stone steps had been dug up and large, broken paving stones had been piled up in front of the door. The entrance had been drastically narrowed, and I thought to myself, ‘How on earth are they going to get in, and how on earth am I going to get out?’

The person behind this frightening spectacle was a member of the PCC who
used to be somewhat of an ally but in recent times had started hooking up with the ‘mission-blockers’, those who previously held sway in the congregation but whose authority is now being challenged by the mission agenda.

Nightmare and reality

Choirs, as many clergy have discovered to their cost, are of course a classic power-base for the mission-blockers.

It was a great relief to find that when I did go to set up for the tots, the entrance was intact. The dream owed more to anxiety than to reality.

Nonetheless, mission-blocking in small parish churches is a reality and unless mission is unblocked, these churches will forever stay small.

Special measures

To counter mission-blocking, the Church Representation Rules need to be changed so that churches that pay less than £25,000 per annum in parish share, and/or have a congregation of fewer than sixty adults on a normal Sunday, are made subject to special measures.
These special measures would be clearly explained to all the members of the PCC during the interregnum and their acceptance by a two-thirds majority would be the condition of any future appointment.

These special measures would mean:

(1) The incumbent can apply to the archdeacon for the removal of ‘mission-blockers’ from the PCC. The assumption is that the application would under normal circumstances be accepted. This would apply to PCC members who have voted against or abstained on a proposal for change to existing practices brought by the incumbent on three occasions.

Under the measures, the voting record of individual PCC members would be logged. Provided the incumbent has allowed at least two meetings for the changes to be fully debated with a sup-
porting paper, the provision would apply.

In practice, it would be rare for this provision to have to be resorted to. The point of it is to create a change of culture and attitude on PCCs. Such a measure is, and this is worth pointing out to those who might be surprised by it, completely consistent with the 1956 PCC legislation under which the first function of the PCC is to cooperate with the incumbent.

Service times

(2) The incumbent would be given clear permission to alter non-standard service times in a parish church without a formal vote by the PCC. So, take an incumbent who comes to a church that has developed a monthly pattern of three Sung Eucharists at 10 a.m., with a family service at 11
a.m. on the fourth Sunday with a 9 a.m. BCP Communion. He can immediately introduce a standard service time of 10.30 a.m on every Sunday.

Non-standard service times are a deliberate barrier to growth. The in-crowd may well understand them, but they are confusing to the outsiders that the church needs to be reaching.

(3) Under the special measures, it would be clearly set out that the incumbent’s canonical duty is to implement growth-allowing change. An expectation is thus created that change is on the agenda for the sake of Christ’s mission.

Of course, none of these changes by themselves will stop front-line clergy from having anxiety dreams, but they would help prevent the nightmares from becoming reality.