Not everyone supports church plants, but critics tend to ignore the fact that there are two kinds of plant. Julian Mann explains the difference
Liberals blogging on Thinking Anglicans are attacking GAFCON-supporting church plants following NEAC5 and the schismatic label is being bandied about. But these attacks fail to distinguish between different types of church plant undertaken by larger Anglican Mainstream churches. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two categories – the parish plant and the non-parochial or network plant.
The parish plant is a group from a large conservative evangelical or evangelical charismatic church going with diocesan approval to a struggling and often non-evangelical parish church with a view to reinvigorating it and using it as a springboard for evangelism in that community.
Holy Trinity Brompton in London championed this approach in the Eighties and Nineties, sending its curates to lead groups to establish parish plants. The Revd Paul Perkin, a Reform council member, who under God has done a wonderful job in St Marks Battersea Rise, led a parish plant from HTB.
A non-parochial church plant is a group going from a large evangelical church and planting in the parish of another church without diocesan approval and meeting in a school or other venue. More of these churches may get diocesan approval now that the system of Bishops’ Mission Orders is in place, but hitherto such ventures have usually involved the minister stepping out of the licensing system.
We have an example of this here in Sheffield Diocese in the form of Christ Church Central. It was planted from Christ Church Fulwood in 2003 when Canon Hugh Palmer, the current rector of All Souls Langham Place, was vicar. The Revd Tim Davies, curate at Fulwood, led a group of around 50 to plant in the parish of St Matthews in central Sheffield and they started meeting in Egerton Hall. Canon Palmer was chairman of the diocesan mission committee at the time, so his decision not to go down the parish planting route was understandably controversial.
Why as a Jerusalem Declaration-supporting member of Reform do I have concerns about non-parochial church planting? Surely you ought to rejoice in lost sheep being found. I do rejoice, being one myself, but I am fully persuaded that more lost sheep and a greater diversity of them can be found by Gods grace through parish plants than through the non-parochial variety, and that parish plants are much healthier pastures for the lost sheep to be nurtured in.
Parish plants from inception benefit from the experience of the elderly people in the smaller receiving church. These elderly people are delighted to get an influx of enthusiastic younger Christians, and can offer invaluable spiritual and emotional support to young converts joining the church.
Furthermore, parish plants have the potential to reflect the demographic and socio-economic diversity of the communities to which they minister. Non-parochial church plants tend to be homogeneous, and some are deliberately so, on the grounds that they can grow faster that way. In practice, homogeneity means younger, wealthier and better educated. Thus, non-parochial church plants can often be elitist.
Apart from these concerns, there is also the question of unity among orthodox Anglicans post-GAFCON. One of Sydney Dioceses reasons for opening the door to non-presbyteral celebration of the Lord’s Supper is that they do not have enough ordained ministers to cater for their church plants. In a parish plant, that rationale does not apply and therefore the need to disrupt the unity of orthodox Anglicans by this innovation is obviated.
Certainly, not all dioceses are supportive of parish planting. They do not want to see a liberal catholic church taken over by a larger evangelical one. Such negativism is surely inexcusable when the choice is between going evangelical and closure. But dioceses that are supportive of parish planting see the happy benefit of real gospel growth combined with accountability. |