NEW CHURCHES ON ESTATES: +Philip North at General Synod

Last week General Synod backed a drive to create new churches on estates throughout the country.  This movement has been growing for some time:  see

and it was good to see it receive overwhelming support, especially as this challenge is very close to the serving, risk-taking and radical hearts of deacons.

However, the charismatic Bishop Philip North did not pull his punches when he spelt out the sacrifices it would mean for existing churches and parishes.  I reproduce his opening address to synod in full, and commend it to you for its clarity, passion and practicality.

General Synod Opening Address to Estates Evangelism Debate

22nd February 2019

Most people, when introducing a Synod motion, try to whip up votes in favour. I am going to reverse that custom by asking you to vote against.

It would be very easy to nod through a motion on estates evangelism because it ticks so many fashionable boxes. In fact there’s something in it for everyone. We’ve got evangelism for the evangelicals, the social Gospel for the liberals and the bias to the poor for the Catholics. All we need is some loud-mouthed rhetorical speeches to clap and we can click the green button on our voting machines and head for the bar. Estates evangelism, it’s a shoo-in isn’t it? Well think again. I want you to vote this motion down and vote it down decisively if you are not up for the implications.

When the early apostles set out of fulfil their task of growing the church, they started with the hungry and the widowed and the slaves. When St Francis set about rebuilding the church in the twelfth century, his first move was to go and live with a colony of people with leprosy. When St Vincent de Paul felt his call to renew a tired and corrupt French church in a deeply hierarchized society, he began with galley slaves and prisoners. I could go on but already the lesson is clear. Anyone who is serious about the proclamation of the Gospel starts with the poor.

That is the contention of this motion. The Estates Evangelism Task Group is not trying to start a competition. We are not saying that urban estates matter more than the suburbs or the countryside. We are not denigrating any areas of ministry because, of course, we need the church in every place and for every person. We are not a social policy or campaigning group. Our interest is evangelism. And as such we want to remind the church of a truth which is firmly rooted in the scriptures and the tradition. If we want to see a nation coming back to Christ, it will begin amongst the poor. And where today do we find the places of greatest deprivation? Our urban estates.

Those estates were built with great optimism and the first generation of residents were overjoyed at what was being provided. In many ways they are still joyful places to live and to minister. My years working on estates, especially in the north-east, were the happiest of my ministry.

But today, for many estates residents, life is hard and getting harder. What must seem like the modern day four horsemen of the apocalypse – universal credit, low-paid work, food poverty and austerity – plague many lives. Too often services, voluntary organisations and traditional forms of association have been closed down or privatised and along with them have gone the places that form local leaders. Just like austerity, the UK’s departure from the European Union is likely to have a disproportionate impact on urban estates, especially in the short-term. And the church’s response? Bit by bit, almost unseen we have been pulling away, closing churches, withdrawing clergy. We invest far less in ministry on the estates than in any other context. The harvest is rich, but the labourers have been redeployed.

So here’s the vision. It’s a very simple one. To have a loving, serving, worshipping Christian community on every significant social housing estate in the nation. To plant back in the estates we have abandoned, to better support our presence in the places where we’re struggling. If we can do that, the impact on church and nation will be transformative. As Christians we will be seen to be doing what we are called to do which is to share good news with the poor. We will release unlikely leaders and evangelists who will speak the Gospel in a language that people can understand. We will develop evangelistic resources and approaches that will work anywhere. We will for once be working with the grain of cultural transference, because history shows that if you start with the poor, eventually the rich catch on.

And don’t think this is an impossible pipe dream. In recent years I have been blown away by some of the work taking place on our estates. The evidence is that joyful, relationship-based evangelism rooted in belonging can grow incredibly precious Christian communities. Some Dioceses are committing significant time and effort to this and the Strategic Development Fund has put resource behind imagination.

So the question we need to answer today is a simple one. Are you prepared to buy into the vision that lies behind this motion – a church on the side of the poor, a Christian community on every estate? And please I urge you, don’t vote yes if you mean no. Because there are challenging implications.

Voting yes will impact every single parish because many parishes contain forgotten estates, others will want to twin with an estates parish and most will feel financial implications. It will affect every Deanery because all too often the conclusion of Deanery Plans has been that the post or parish that can disappear is the one that serves the outer estate. It will affect every Diocese because the motion asks Dioceses to build estates into their strategic plans and vision. It will present personal challenges to clergy because we need our best priests to be spending at least part of their ministry in areas of deprivation. It will affect this Synod, a place where estates voices are rarely heard with the consequence that our policy decisions can adversely impact the poor. It will affect those who select and train clergy and lay ministers because those from non-professional or unlikely backgrounds have for too long been systematically excluded from leadership in the Church. It will present awkward challenges to those sitting on historic assets because it will require a spirit of generosity within and between dioceses. If you’re not up for these implications, just vote no.

The paper in front of you lays out as clearly as possible how the Estates Evangelism Task Group is seeking to go about its work. But what brings change is not policy decisions and papers but transformed hearts. The details of strategy matter less than the big picture.

Because I am utterly convinced of two things. First, that the renewal of Christian life in our nation is not just possible, it is inevitable. I don’t know how, I don’t know when. But I know it is inevitable because Jesus is Lord, and since he is Lord a distracted nation will one day discover anew his beauty and his truth. And second, that renewal will begin (as it always does) with the poor, with the marginalised, with the forgotten and the oppressed and the broken. That is where the Holy Spirit will one day move, and move with power. The only question left is this. Will the Church of England be there to join in?

+Philip Burnley


Two days ago, the General Synod backed a call for the Church of England to work closely with charities and other groups to tackle homelessness.

Members voted in favour of a Private Member’s Motion calling upon the Archbishops’ Council to enable the formation of a Church of England-led task force on homelessness.

Deacons will welcome this, called as we are to those on the margins who feel powerless.  However, there is a range of responses to homelessness and rough sleeping, not all of them helpful or constructive;  so I was glad to come across this post from Jon Kuhrt’s blog, reflecting on the positive impact that faith and the church has on homelessness after his eight and a half years leading the work of the West London Mission with people affected by it.

From January this year Jon became Specialist Advisor with the government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative team.

This coming week is my last at the West London Mission (WLM) after 8½ years leading their work with people affected by homelessness, poverty and trauma.

It has been a deeply rewarding job.  I have worked alongside many brilliant people and WLM has travelled a long way. In term of this blog, it has been a unique place from which to reflect on faith, social justice and transformation.

A key reason I applied for the role 9 years ago was because WLM was a Christian organisation. Often, professional and spiritual approaches diverge down different paths and become disconnected from each other. I intentionally wanted to work in a space where specialist social care overlaps and converges with the Christian faith.

Demanding interface

Working in this space is demanding because it requires managing an interface between worlds that have different perspectives, language and cultures. There is baggage to contend with – everyone has a story about bad religious experiences – and both sides are sensitive about the perceived power that the other side has. Conflicts arise and need dealing with.

But, despite these challenges, it is also an exciting space to be in. The social care world is far less secular than it was 20 years ago and there are rich opportunities for a missional engagement with contemporary culture. I find it far more interesting than operating within a church-bubble or within an echo-chamber of people with similar views.

These are 3 reflections that I wanted to share about the role of faith in our work:

1. Faith should never be the elephant in the room

Often in organisations with a religious basis, especially those who employ staff with a wide range of beliefs, faith can become a subject that people are reluctant to talk about.

It is understandable – faith is a sensitive subject which evokes strong feelings. But this is exactly why the issues needs talking through.

At WLM we have had important sessions at staff conferences where we talked honestly about the kind of faith we wanted to see – and the kind of faith we didn’t want to see. Whether people are firm believers or atheists, everyone benefits when an organisation is clear about what the Christian ethos means and what the expectations are.

We have helped develop The Charter for Christian Homeless Agencies which helps make expectations clear. And we have run regular sessions for staff called ‘Thinking Things Through’ which directly address the relevance of the Christian ethos to our frontline work.

2. The importance of faith and spirituality to people affected by homelessness

In 2013, an important report was published by the research agency, Lemos and Crane called Lost and Found: faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people (my review is here). It concluded that the ‘secular orthodoxy’ of many charities was out of kilter with the importance that many homeless people attach to faith and spirituality.

A key factor was that the author, Carwyn Gravel, was himself an atheist. This was no Christian propaganda but a well-researched and honest report. The Secular Society disapproved of it but for us it provided external, independent evidence of what we believed to be true.

And a key aspect of WLM’s journey has been to employ a Chaplain who has revolutionised how we offer spiritual services to those we work with. She has put our ethos into action – not just in the implicit ways of being kind and available – but in the explicit ways of articulating God’s love in ways which connect with those we work with.

I have seen many examples of how people affected by homelessness and addictions have found personal hope in the Christian faith. The Recovery Course is an exciting example of the combination of explicit Christian beliefs with the wisdom from the 12 Step movement.  In many ways, social care is increasingly a post-secular space, with far more openness to faith and spirituality than 20 years ago.

3. The Church has unique resources to create change

The last 8 years have given me countless more examples of the unique contribution that churches bring.

In 2011 I was part of a group who started a church-based Night Shelter in Westminster – at first there were just 4 churches involved. Now we have 13 churches (plus a mosque and a synagogue) partnering and the shelter runs for 8 months of the year. Last year the scheme helped more than 60 people into accommodation.

And this Night Shelter is just example of over 100 similar schemes up and down the country. As well as being the inspiration for older organisations like WLM, faith has continually been the motivating factor for new initiatives which tackle poverty and homelessness.

The Church should therefore be confident in its message and in what it has to offer. Housing Justice is the national network for Christian homelessness initiatives. They offer support in both practical action and in political advocacy about the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness.

My new role

My new role is as a Specialist Advisor with the government’s Rough Sleeper Initiative team. The government have committed themselves to to a target to reduce rough sleeping by 50% by 2022 and my role focuses specifically on the partnerships with faith and community groups.

Churches and faith groups have an incredibly important role. Just as at WLM, my aim will be to build strong bridges which help maximise the impact that faith has to end the tragic reality of rough sleeping and homelessness.


Recently I came across a booklet on the website of the diocese of Melbourne in Australia about their policy on the diaconate. I found it very clear and most encouraging, and I think it has elements which can help us here in the UK.   I have posted extracts on our Deacons’ Facebook page

and here I will cut and paste below most of what is said.  Here’s the link to the whole text.

I have put some words in the text in bold to highlight the main points.  Please let me have your reactions, either on here in the comments section, or on the Facebook page (see link above) or send an email to


The Distinctive Ministry of The Deacon

What it means to be a Distinctive Deacon in the Diocese of Melbourne

THE DISTINCTIVE MINISTRY OF THE DEACON Adapted with permission from A New Life in Christ: the distinctive ministry of the deacon © 2007 Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn

2  Holy Orders in the Anglican Church

It would be difficult for anyone to give an account of what it means to be a deacon in the Diocese of Melbourne without first addressing the issue of holy orders – in particular asking the question: Why has the church taken one of the holy orders, that of deacon, previously assumed to be an order passed through on the way to becoming a priest, and restored it to a distinctive and permanent order without the assumption that the minister who is a deacon will ever be ordained to the priesthood? The short answer is that the ministry of deacons has a long history dating back to biblical times. The deacon in the early church was a permanent order. It is only since the Middle Ages that the order has been used as a transitional order, i.e. a period of training or preparation for the priesthood. An examination of the liturgies for ordination in ‘A Prayer book for Australia’ (pages 785 & 793) will show differences in emphasis between the ministry of a deacon and that of a priest.

Why ordain deacons at all? Why not join deacon and priest into one order? There are those who argue for this and those who argue that, in effect, bishop and priest come out of the same ‘stable,’ but the deacon has a different reason for being. Bishops oversee and delegate to priests their episcopal authority to gather, teach and nurture the community of Christ, whereas the bishop authorises the deacon to assist the bishop to focus the church and the world alike on issues of justice, mercy and compassion. Deacons are not apprentice clergy. They are emissaries of the bishop and servant leaders in the ‘diakonia’ (ministry of service) of Christ. They carry out a distinctive ministry to the world and to the church. They work in many different fields and may often be found outside the mainstream of the church, at the boundaries and in the ditches of society. Rethinking the role of the diaconate in the contemporary church has meant rethinking and re-framing the roles of everyone who is baptised into the church of God. Thus baptism is the primary calling to ministry.

Image result for renewed diaconate

image from deacon john 1987’s blog

3 What does the renewed diaconate look like?

Images and metaphors

There are many images that are used to give some idea of the role and being of a deacon: • go-between • servant leader • bridge to the world • prophet • fellow-traveller • evangelist • intercessor • apologist • teacher • pioneer.  All of these metaphors encapsulate the role of deacon. These ways of being and doing are not exclusive to the deacon; they are shared with everyone else in the church. A deacon however can demonstrate the outworking of these ministry metaphors for the benefit of the whole church.

Why renew the diaconate? In summary the reasons are:

• to recover the ‘diakonia’ of the whole body of Christ;

• to clarify what it means to be a member of God’s church today;

• to bring about change in the culture of the church, refocussing it towards Christ’s mission;

• to bring into sharp focus our current ways of doing and being;

• the Fundamental Declarations section in the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia commits us to a threefold order of ordained ministry;

• each order is understood out of reference to the other.

A strong priesthood and episcopate needs a strong diaconate. What does the renewed diaconate offer? By recovering the distinctive role of deacon on a more permanent basis, the Diocese of Melbourne sees opportunities to:

• imaginatively explore new possibilities for ministry;

• develop a clearer vision for the ministry of all believers;

• develop a clearer understanding of what it means to be bishop, priest, or deacon within the context of a ministry belonging to all baptised believers; and

• use deacons as signposts for a renewed outward-focussing church.

• messenger• envoy • herald • adviser • healer • advocate • enabler• ambassador • bridgebuilder

Image result for signposts

What do the deacons in this Diocese do?

The ministry of deacon in this diocese is as varied as the number of deacons. some possibilities for ministry include the following:

Chaplain A number of deacons in the Diocese have roles that include aspects of chaplaincy. Their ministry may be centred on schools, local nursing homes, aged-care facilities or hospital chaplaincy units. They may be licensed to these ministries or operate from a home base church but spend most of their time equipping others for ministry at the margins of society, away from the gathered church. They care for the young, poor, the sick, the lonely, the outcast, and the marginalised and bring their concerns to the attention of the local church.

Deacon in the Parish Deacons are licensed to a local parish as part of their ministry responsibility. Within the liturgy, they represent the church scattered, bringing the hurts of the world to the attention of the church. Some of these deacons will have a specific ministry to special groups (e.g. children’s ministry; developing and leading pastoral care groups; leading parish home and hospital visiting teams; working with mental health patients.) In all of these activities, they work in association with the incumbent of the parish.

Diocesan Deacon Several of the deacons operate at the diocesan level employed by Diocesan agencies in specific areas appropriate to their order and ministry. All of these deacons work to support, encourage and equip the work of others for ministry in the church of God.

Where do we need more deacons? The church needs deacons in ministry leadership, in education, in parish ministry and in prophetic and advocacy work. We need advocates and prophets. There are some people with these gifts, working to bring justice to all levels of governance in church and society. They often work at the margins, critically questioning unjust structures. They are prepared to be unconventional and challenging. They are prepared to break new ground, to be a ‘burr under the saddle’ of those in authority. We need deacons with gifts, knowledge and a passion for the environment, nursing, education, working with children and young people, among indigenous people, and more. The Diocese is concerned with issues such as poverty, the environment, justice, the needs of marginalised groups, and the reconciliation of Aboriginal people and later migrants to the rest of Australian society. There are many members of the church ministering in these areas in the Diocese., Some of these may have the call to the diaconate but are not sure what it means for them.

At this point in the brochure there are two pages of the diocesan policy in Melbourne.  See the link at the end for the whole script.  Then the final page says:

Specific Provision for training and support for the Order of Deacons

There will be a designated unit of study within the pre-ordination training program, which explores the distinctive nature of diaconate as an order of ministry. Deacons must participate in the formal post ordination training activities organized for the clergy of the diocese. In addition, specific events and opportunities are provided for Distinctive Deacons to encourage a sense of collegiality in their particular order, and to deal with issues which pertain more particularly to their circumstances of ministry. A Committee for the Diaconate operates as a sub-committee of the Board for Ministry in drawing Deacons together on a regular basis for fellowship and training including conferences.

The Deacon in the Liturgy of the Eucharist

Liturgical practice in the Diocese is varied but generally follows the rubrics of A Prayer Book for Australia. The Prayer Book records definite liturgical roles for bishops, priests and deacons. If a deacon is not present, a priest or an authorised lay person exercises the role designated for the deacon. As a distinctive order, deacons are encouraged to play their role in all aspects of the liturgical life of the church community. While actual practice depends on local circumstances, the following may be seen as specifically ‘deacon’s’ ministry:• the call to repentance (prophetic role)• the reading of the gospel (heraldic role) • serving at table (servant role)• the dismissal (go in Peace… mission role).

A Final Word

The grace of orders enables us to fulfil the tasks that would otherwise be impossible, including the changing commitments that impact both on our own family and the other members of the church. The community of faith has placed their faith and trust in the ordinand to be a faithful servant leader and a committed follower of Jesus Christ. Ordination involves family and community transforming old relationships into new ones. It brings shared pain and shared joy. Ordination is a call to faithfulness and accountability through which we pray we might also grow in holiness of life as imitators of Christ.


Deacons called to be leaders of relationships

Reclaim “core business” of the faith, deacons encouraged

I am not sure about relationships being the ‘core faith’ – surely Christ has something to do with that? – but this is an interesting idea:  deacons called to be ‘leaders of relationships.’  What do you think? (Ed) (I am assuming these are not distinctive deacons)

February 14 2019Archbishop Philip Freier ordained 20 new deacons, including nine women, at St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday 9 February.

Head of Theological Education in the Diocese, Bishop Brad Billings, told TMA that this was the fourth year in a row where there have been “good numbers of ordinands” and that there continued to be “strong numbers of aspirants coming through the system”.

“The diversity and quality of men and women being called into Holy Orders in his Church, exemplified among these 20 new Deacons and those who I hope will follow them in the next few years, continues to fill me with confidence in the future of the Anglican Church in Melbourne,” he said.

Preaching at the “day of great celebration”, former diocesan parish partnerships coordinator the Revd Jan Crombie called on the new ordinands to become leaders in building relationships in order to strengthen the church.

“In the truth of the Royal Commission we need to come through the shadowy reality of causing absolute harm with absolute reclaiming of the core business truth of Jesus Christ,” she said.

“Our core business is relationships. It is always about relationships and how we relate to God and each other. It is the processes of what we do together that counts: how we make decisions together, how we develop leadership culture, what we focus on in community, how we live in community.”

Mrs Crombie, who is now the rector of the Anglican Parish of Kenmoore-Brookfield in Queensland after many years of work in the Diocese of Melbourne, said one of the “key learnings” in her previous role as parish partnership coordinator was “discernment of capacity”, which these new leaders would need to develop.

“So as new vision and ideas come to build relationships with community and within community, it is obvious that we have to let go of many things we have been doing for a long time and enable new wine in new skins.

“This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of leadership: to assist a community to imagine what they need to look like in response to God’s call on their life as a community.

“Thus, we, the Church, must prioritise the need to call, and train, the leaders for this work, and leaders who realise nothing is possible without God’s Holy Spirit as partner.”

Of the cohort, 13 of the deacons studied at Ridley, five at Trinity and two elsewhere. One is destined for service as an ADF chaplain after serving their curacy in the Diocese, while one will lead a Mandarin-speaking congregation and another a Farsi-speaking congregation.


Recently a number of deacons have suggested that we set up ‘deacon hubs’ across the country.  The definition of a networking hub on Quora says

A Hub is a networking device which receives a signal from the source, amplifies it and sends it to multiple destinations or computers.

Image result for hub

An active hub receives the signal, amplifies it and sends it on to others.  This is a great way of describing a deacons’ hub:  when we get together, we receive God’s ‘signal’ or call together, we share it in a way that amplifies it and we send it on to those whom he may be calling to be deacons.

So what is a deacon hub?

It’s a way of getting in touch with other deacons nearby and meeting together occasionally.  The meetings can take any form you want, and would be primarily for fellowship, prayer, mutual support and just having time with ‘our tribe’.  This is really important, especially for isolated deacons, because it’s a break from the endless need we find we have to explain who we are!

How do we go about it? 

If you’re a lone deacon, find out who the deacons are in your neighbouring dioceses.  Contact them  and  suggest you get together and create common cause.  What you do doesn’t have to be big or complicated:  a lunch (if you are all free during the day), or an evening meal or a Saturday lunch (if you’re not) just to chat, share stories, swap experiences, encourage each other, and, if you can find a quiet spot, pray together.  In this way we ‘share the signal we all receive from our source’, who is God himself:  we ‘amplify’ it by being with others who are receiving the same signal:  and, reinvigorated, we go on our way to share God’s signal with our communities.

If you can’t get together physically, then consider a conference call or a skype call.

Deacon Alison Handcock puts it like this:

  we need diaconal hubs where we sing the same song, speak the same language, and enable other deacons and diaconally minded folk to grow in confidence and value so that they/we in turn can share the love and encourage the whole church to feel valued and become more diaconal. Setting God’s people free!

Or, to put it more theologically:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Cor 12:4-7)

And please let me know how you get on!  email to or message through our deacons’ Facebook page

Onwards and upwards!

(diagram from the Disabilities Trust)


JUST JOY: Stellenbosch University Choir wins Eisteddfod singing Baba Yetu (Our Father)


Die Matie, Stellenbosch University’s Official Newspaper posted the following performance on their Facebook Page this month to commemorate their win last year at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in Wales.

“Performing Baba Yetu at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in Wales is one of our favourites” and “here’s to new Matie Music in 2019!” they said on a post they shared a couple of weeks ago.

The SU Choir was awarded first place for the Categories: Mixed Choirs, Youth Choirs and Open Choirs, as well as the ‘Award for Outstanding Conductor’ at the Eisteddfod in July 2018.

The SU Choir is also currently ranked number 1 on the Interkultuur World Choir Rankings (see here).

Baba Yetu is essentially the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili and is the hit theme to Civilization IV – composed by Christopher Tin and featured on the double Grammy-winning album ‘Calling All Dawns’.

Video Credits: Stellenbosch University Choir