Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Sponsoring Body

Mechanics repairing an engine, San Rosalia, Ba...Image by Wonderlane via FlickrThis post is the fourth in a sequence examining some of the issues raised in a new report, 'A Review of Intermediate Ecumenical Life in England' to be published by Churches Together in England in a few weeks time.

Today, I will reflect upon the role of LEPs.  The following are the conclusions at the end of Chapter 9:

Though in some instances lights set on a hill, LEPs have not been the beacons for a united Church in this generation.  Single Congregation LEPs (the most complex) number some 600 in England, out of a rough estimated total of 40 000 congregations.  Their significance within a denomination is marked: they represent a much higher proportion of United Reformed Church congregations than they do of Church of England congregations; d Single Congregation LEPs have not included the Orthodox Churches or the Roman Catholic church, or BME Churches.

Without detracting fro  their positive contribution to the life of the Church of England, the attention they receive from CTE and from IBs is disproportionate, especially against the backdrop of emerging forms of ecumenical life.  The time consumed by LEPs could be spent more creatively, and IBs might be more enthusiastically embraced by Church Leaders if this were so.  However, LEPs are not the only form of local church life that has difficulties, and they should not be criticised unduly.

I believe the problem with LEPs has nothing to do with the time they take or their complexity; it is left over from the times when LEPs were seen as indicators of the ecumenical goal of full visible unity.  At one time they were the only game in town and so the more LEPs, the closer we were to unity.

This view was abandoned  at the end of 1980s and after twenty years its time we caught up with that important change.  LEPs do have a role, a vital role; a role not helped by freighting them with ideological baggage.

LEPs are a tool for mission.  In certain circumstances, they are an appropriate way to organise local churches for mission.  The challenge is to identify the circumstances where they are appropriate and then to set them up with a minimum of fuss.

What has struck me over 8 years working with LEPs, is the number of people who want to spend a great deal of time writing or tinkering with LEP constitutions.  We've done a lot nationally to reduce their complexity and the time it takes to set LEPs up but there is still legacy of people who insist on doing things their way.

If there is a call to mission, amongst two or more local churches, LEPs may be an appropriate response.  This works if the focus is on mission.  As soon as churches get hung up on the minutiae of constitutions, we get into trouble.  We've had decades of experience; the model constitutions are based upon this experience.  They allow churches, through locally agreed guidelines, to organise their affairs with a high degree of flexibility so long as those involved are willing to allow them to do so.

But they are also one tool amongst many others.  There's no pressure to have a LEP, and if circumstances change and it isn't needed any more, then there is no shame in terminating this particular arrangement.  What is important is relationships.  Relationships have priority over structures every time. 

Ask, what do we want to do and what is the best way of doing it.  Talk to ecumenical officers and find the best approach and when circumstances change, be flexible enough to make the necessary changes.
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  1. Chris,
    I entirely agree that it's all about mission and the best way of fulfilling that. I'm less sure that the SCLEP model constitution always does the job.

    For example, for an LEP with lots of students around for part of the year, it looks as if the students couldn't be members, members of the ECC etc. unless they transferred membership from their home churches, where they live for at least part of the year, so they generally don't want to do that and from what I've read, "extended membership" does not mean membership in both places.

    Representation can be important to getting our mission right. It's things like this that make some of us want to tinker...

  2. Bernard, the Methodist Church permits dual membership for students, so they can be members of their home church and their university church simultaneously. As members of the MC, they would then be able to serve on the ECC. extended membership is where someone is a member of more then one tradition.

    I don't know whether other traditions have a similar dispensation.

    If someone is not a member of the LEP they would not be able to serve as a Trustee, but I don't see why this would bar them from being on the ECC. I would look at preparing some local guidelines so that students who are not able to be members could be voted onto the ECC. As the Trustees would retain overall responsibility, I don't see why this should be a problem. Their relationship to the Trustees would be analagous to the the relationship between the church meeting and Trustees in, for example, a Baptist Church, where compromises have to be made to meet the requirements of the Charity Commission. So long as the student is a member in good standing somewhere, they should be able to play a full part in the life of the church.