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Renewed local focus for the Church Planting & Revitalisation Programme

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The inaugural church planting and revitalisation training courses – open to all – were run at both St Barnabas’ Church in Norwich and The Well Christian Centre in Ashill, Thetford, bringing individuals together from across the diocese who were wanting to engage with the programme and grow and learn from one another, sharing good practice.

The 10-week course set out to lay the foundations, looking at St Paul’s church planting model, the history of church planting, different models of revitalisation, the importance of prayer, how to build local teams and more. The slides and recordings of these sessions are available online.

In addition, the new Sports Minister Trainees began running holiday clubs and sports coaching sessions to learn from one another and inspire in others the power of sport in breaking down barriers. With the advent of the national lockdown in late-March, the Sports Factory team had to cancel planned holiday clubs for the Easter break as well as events such as a ‘How to run a Christian sports holiday club’ evening.

Speaking about their social media work, Ruth Anderson, Head of Sports Ministry for the programme said:

“The team did a fantastic job running daily ‘Stretch and Pray’ sessions, family games and challenges, ‘Re-charge’ Bible and reflection sessions, and twice-weekly Pilates sessions. Over 200 hours of online content was watched in the first 28 days of lockdown by many thousands of people, and viewers engaged with discussion and left really encouraging comments as they took part.”

The programme board took the decision to utilise the government’s coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to enable the programme’s five-year timescale and budget to be extended into a sixth year, and the team have recently returned from furlough to begin planning.

The programme’s director, the Revd Ian Dyble, was unwell from the end of December 2019 and at the end of June 2020 stepped down from his role leading the programme. During his absence, Jonathan Richardson, the programme’s strategic manager (and Children, Youth and Families Development Officer for the diocese) kindly stepped up to lead the core team and help direct them through a difficult time.

The Archdeacon of Lynn, Ian Bentley, has been appointed interim director of the programme, and the programme is being reshaped to ensure areas of focus are given greater resource to enable the church to flourish locally. New interns, worship leader trainees and sports minister trainees will be based in the ‘focus areas’, currently the Yare Valley Churches, Costessey, Litcham, Sprowston and Thetford, and strategic area action plans have been drawn up by and with local parishes. Over the coming years the number of areas will grow to around 10 as the programme seeks to reach both rural and urban areas and particularly engage with young people and families by focusing on areas of population around secondary school catchment areas.

Two lead practitioners have been appointed to help advise the focus areas. In addition to their local parish roles, the Revd Dave Lloyd (Associate Vicar of the Mitre benefice) will help guide and support new church plants, and the Revd Peter Leech (Rector of Yare Valley Churches) will help guide and support church revitalisation.

In addition, The Garden – a network of house churches supported by the programme and overseen by the Revd Dave Lloyd – has continued to grow in locations such as Sprowston, the Upper Nar villages, Loddon and Lakenham. The aim is to equip, connect and encourage small house gatherings in rural villages or new housing estates. Find out more here.

Katey Mills joined the programme in September 2019 as our first Trainee Youth Minister, studying for a degree in Theology, Ministry and Mission with a youth work specialism. Katey is based in Pakefield and works in both the local church and high school. As the programme supports a church plant in Oulton, she will become part of a growing team supporting the Lowestoft area.

This academic year Daniel Sherrington has joined the programme as a second Trainee Youth Minister. Daniel is based in Thetford as part of the Thetford Team Ministry. He will be working to support youth who are already part of the local church as well as developing new initiatives to connect with more young people. He will be working alongside one of the Trainee Sports Ministers and be supported by staff from Integrate Youth for Christ as part of the ecumenical Thetford Youth Project.

Talking about the work in Litcham, the Revd Heather Butcher said:

“Just over four years ago I arrived in these 17 parishes and realised there was a huge opportunity to engage with young people as at their centre was a high school with 600 pupils. Historically the church had not engaged with the high school but through the CPR programme and team laying the groundwork, we have been able to establish regular school assemblies in the five primary schools, set up an Open the Book Team and started Messy Church. We approached the school to ask if we could set up a Soul Space for prayer for a week. It was a fantastic success and teachers cried when they read some of the prayers. Paul Roast from Youth for Christ helped us to staff it and it gave him the connection to offer a Chaplaincy.

“We are now in the process of establishing a chaplaincy in school by funding YFC from the programme and have also just been allocated a Sports Minister who will enable the local church to connect with the local community through sport. There was a lot of preparation and heart searching but we are on our way.”