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.