The 1980s saw creation of two major reports on the state of the Church of England. Faith in the City was best known and documented the situation of parishes in England’s deprived inner cities. Then came Faith in the Countryside, assessing the parlous state of many rural churches.
What neither report treated in depth, though Faith in the City touched on them, was the situation of parishes in outer urban estates. There are a whole raft of such parishes, where urban deprivation is rife. This had a massive effect on the life of the church.
The upshot has been emergence of several networks drawn from people engaged in ministry in urban estates (row and tract housing built on a single property). One is the Church of England’s national Estates Evangelism Task Group, which met the week of Sept. 23. It aims to “reverse a decades-long trend” and see renewal of faith in local estates.
Speaking at gathering of the National Estate Churches Network in London, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt. Rev. Philip North, set out his vision for outer estates. Burnley, in Lancashire, has a high proportion of urban estates with run-down social housing properties.
The initiative forms part of the Church of England’s Renewal and Reform program, aiming to train people who will commit to ministry in estates. The network is publishing a new commitment to action to share the Christian faith on some of the country’s most deprived estates.
“We want to have a thriving, growing, loving church on every significant estate in the country,” North said.
“The church is coming back,” he said. “Jesus began a movement that transformed what it means to be human and he did so from the edges. Today, it is on the edges amongst the marginalized that renewal will come.
“If we are serious about the renewal of Christian life in our nation, we need to do what Jesus did. It’s so important that the church recommits itself to presence, to service, and to proclamation of the Good News about Jesus and to the ministry of love on our big outer estates.”
“Estates ministry is vital to the growth of the Church,” said Debbie Clinton, director of renewal and reform for the Church of England. “These new plans build on the wonderful work already being undertaken on estates churches by clergy and lay people, who are committed to meeting the spiritual and social needs of estate residents.”