Richard Passmore, director of mission, innovation and fresh expressions in the Diocese of Carlisle, introduces the Northern Mission Centre, a collaboration between Church Mission Society and the Diocese of Carlisle.
God already at work
Fresh expressions have been growing across Cumbria during the last five years, with over 3,000 people now involved, the majority of whom wouldn’t necessarily call themselves Christian. We’ve got fresh expressions connected to local churches or mission communities – Messy Churches, cafe churches, as well as one of my favourites, which the leader describes as a youth club for the over 70s.
There’s a huge Network Youth Church. There were only about 235 young people involved in church across the diocese five or so years ago. They invested heavily in Network Youth Church, appointing workers at deanery level. That’s grown significantly, with around 2,000 young people now involved in Network Youth Church, with about 800 at the core.
We have a charity shop called Restore – we’re developing a new monastic community around that, reaching out to people on the margins through the shops, community spaces, an allotment project and Men in Sheds, which seeks to create a space for men to come together, support each other and make things.
And there are more pioneering fresh expressions, such as Mountain Pilgrims (how do you do church in the hills?), Maranatha Yoga (a holistic practice infusing yoga postures with Christian spirituality and meditation) and the St Kentigern school (contemplation for spiritual nomads, reaching out to people on their spiritual journey).
Cumbria is an ecumenical county working across Anglican, Methodist, URC and Salvation Army churches, with other denominations involved as companion churches, all under the God for All banner. When I arrived at the end of 2015 the God for All vision was: “By 2020 every person in Cumbria of all ages and backgrounds will have an opportunity to discover more of God and God’s purpose for their lives, so that they will discover more of Jesus and the Good News and become followers of Jesus within a Christian community.” A bold vision!
The growth of pioneer projects necessitated thinking about how we resource, equip and build an ecosystem for pioneering. At the same time, we were beginning to be recognised as having a strong profile across the northern England and southern Scotland through our fresh expressions day events and weekends.
CMS was a really natural partner. To start with we were focused on training people in pioneering settings, but quickly recognised that there was a broader role to build the mission ecosystem in time-honoured settings too.
Depth in diversity
We’ve set up the Northern Mission Centre with CMS to train people in a range of settings. The course is aimed across the north of England and Scotland. The majority of the population of the north of England can access Penrith within two hours and it has a mainline station. In our first cohort we’ve got 17 students, from Scotland, the north east, Sheffield, Halifax and Cumbria. One of the real strengths is pulling in that diversity. It helps learning as people rub up against each other and share experiences, from working in predominantly Muslim contexts to rural Cumbrian work. We’ve got some of the Network Youth Church team, as well as older people, children’s and family workers, and the chair of a deanery synod.
I’m encouraged by how CMS has developed a community of pioneers, and I hope we can build something similar through people involved with the Northern Mission Centre.
One of the challenges is that sometimes people see pioneering as not for them. But there’s a real pioneer spirit across the north. I’d like to think we can help people in time-honoured settings recognise that the creative mission they’re doing can be supported as well.
We are looking for people who’ve had a taste of mission, and we help them develop a project. Some people come with a project in mind. Some people have ideas that have started to quite quickly emerge as they reflected on their community. Pioneers are often described as the first to spot something, and we’ve got people on the course who have a sense of where they need to go. The course is helping them build on that.
There are six modules and the first was on pioneering mission. We looked at Jesus the pioneer: the students collaborated online to create an image of Jesus and his pioneering role. We’ve also considered culture, theological reflection and church and mission. We were able to bring in some of our ecumenical partners: Simon Sutcliff, a Methodist pioneer, did the teaching alongside one of our local pioneers. We’ll also cover mission entrepreneurship and missional leadership.
Cultivating creativity, bearing fruit
The creative training we’re doing in the Northern Mission Centre has been encouraging. The more we model creativity, the more people feel they’ve got freedom to experiment. I’d really like to see innovation and experimentation trickling down into Sunday mornings.
I’m really encouraged about the fruit that’s coming. We’re seeing people’s lives transformed and we’re seeing people come to Christ in new and different ways, through Maranatha Yoga or Restore community. It’s great to have got the relationships going to such an extent that new communities emerging are deep and meaningful.