The Revd Vanessa Conant is Team Rector of Walthamstow. She has been one of the participants on our congregational development programme with Citizens UK this year. Here she blogs for us about how we’re helping her engage with her local community.
What have I learnt through the process?
Coming new to a parish and beginning the course almost immediately meant that straight away, I had a framework through which to view the parish and make sense of it. The ‘seven marks of an organised congregation’ were a helpful foundation from which to build and to approach the task of giving direction and focus. I used those marks as the foundation for our vision and strategy in 2016 and so our activity is being shaped by the programme.
I have learnt the value of one-to-one conversations in building congregations and that they are a vital part of work – meeting Roman Catholic Priests who have congregations of thousands, yet who have hundreds and hundreds of one-to-ones has been inspiring and encouraging (and a bit of a challenge) when it sometimes feels as if the parish is too busy and demanding to fit them in. Reading the difference that these one-to-ones has made has also been profoundly encouraging.
What have the one-to-ones given me?
The one-to-ones have helped me discover people’s gifts, passions and concerns. They have enabled me, out of that, to build new teams within the church and to develop new relationships. They have helped me to know the people in the congregation and to begin to think where we can grow. They have also encouraged me to think of new things – the organic nature of the process and the search for people’s ‘self-interest’ has meant that I can’t control the conversation or the activity.
What has been helpful about the relationship with the community organiser?
Daniel [Citizens UK organiser] has been consistently supportive, encouraging and inspiring. He has been thoughtful, insightful and very compassionate. The church had been grappling with vision and direction. Now we have a clear direction for the year (based on the CTC model of an organised church). I feel there is a more empowered congregation, leadership is being shared across the congregation, people are beginning to express interest in wider Citizens’ actions and some people who have never participated in anything are gradually being drawn in. I think it’s a slow work – but I trust in the slow work of God!
Daniel came to a Sunday service – and I have received nothing but the most positive feedback – he was encouraging, engaging and instantly made a connection with the congregation. It was the highlight of the service – his was a very generous presence and we are grateful for his willingness to go above and beyond for the community here.
Is there any particular reflection on taking the course as a clergy member?
I think it’s a brilliant course to take as a member of the clergy. It gives you time to focus on the congregation, to think critically and analytically about it and gives tools to shape any future activity.
There are multiple pulls on time and attention (although increasingly, I think this is true for absolutely everybody, I think maybe I just complain about it more). I find the course refreshingly different to lots of quite managerial training that is offered. Its relational approach is heartening and has proved effective in building the congregation.
What would you like to get out if in the last couple of months?
I’d love to see a really big turn out from the church to go to the Copper Box Mayoral Assembly and that be the beginning of a movement where we think about how we can have a positive impact on the housing crisis which is affecting our community. I’d also really like to build more momentum around the refugee crisis.
Within our church, I’d like to see some of the plans we have talked about – an arts ministry, welcome teams, opportunities to gather as a community develop. I’d like to create a more flexible way to meet together midweek by the end of the academic year.
I would like to have dedicated time for one-to-ones. Within the next year, I would like to have had one-to-ones with most of the electoral roll!