These reflections tell some of the stories of the Lordsbridge Team of Churches since its beginning 11 years ago, the point at which I joined it. At this united Lordsbridge Team service, on 29th August 2021, members of the Lordsbridge Team of Churches gathered to celebrate my ministry across the Lordsbridge benefice and to release me as Team Rector in preparation for my taking up a new post as Warden of Launde Abbey.
The bible reading for the service was Luke 10: 1 -9. You can read it here.
Jesus sent them out into the towns and villages, to every place where he was about to go. He sent them to lay the groundwork, to open the doors, to create the networks and partnerships with people of peace, to say to those who had ears to hear, ‘The kingdom of God has come near’.
I wonder what stories they would have told their hosts as they sat around the table in the households that welcomed them. And when they returned with joy, as it puts it a little later in the gospel passage, I wonder what stories they would have told Jesus. Perhaps there were stories of the people who wanted to become followers; stories of breakthroughs, of change and new life; stories of people taking just a step or two on a long spiritual journey; stories of inner, perhaps outer, healing; of people blessed; stories of curiosity; or of apathy; of antagonism; stories perhaps of bewilderment; stories of distractions and false starts; stories of their own learning and of being blessed or challenged by their adventures in turn.
When it comes to stories, the Lordsbridge Team of Churches is no different. What if we, rather than the original 72, were taking stock in conversation with Jesus. What stories would we share of our experiences of mission and ministry in the villages of the Lordsbridge Team?
Do you remember that dark November night when we met for a service at Childerley barn with Bishop David, and with Mike Booker and Michael Matthews, before it had been turned it into a swanky venue and we had to bring our own lights? That was the moment when we formally acknowledged that the 11 parishes were now both the legal benefice of Lordsbridge and a team ministry – a team not just of clergy but of churches.
Do you remember when we began to talk about the structure of this team? From the start we wanted each village to know who its vicar was, and each vicar to know which villages they serve. We wanted each to have the space to develop and work with the local lay and ordained ministry team in that village, and the freedom to respond to each context differently, without lots of intermediate organisational layers.
Do you remember beginning to talk about a network of worshipping communities as well as 11 parishes, as we were deliberately becoming more people- and community-led in our thinking, rather than defined first by the requirements of our governance.
Do you remember Coton parish room being refurbished with donations from a range of parishes, to create a place for the area-wide meetings of the Team Council and others that were now necessary?
Do you remember how a few of us met to pray across one hot summer to explore how to connect and underpin the communities of Lordsbridge in prayer? Out of that came Sacred Space, a series of termly evenings, until the pandemic, of contemporary contemplative prayer around prayer stations that refreshed those who came, and created a new kind of spirituality network across the villages.
Do you remember the first Lordsbridge Prayer Pilgrimage one autumn – a week-long encouragement to connect the sacred places of Lordsbridge with visits and mutual prayer for each other there? Here in Lordsbridge, we were doing this before the national movement of ‘thy kingdom come’ emphasised a focused week of prayer each year.
Do you remember the grandly named Lordsbridge School of Theology – monthly Sunday evening seminars, set up to meet a demand for more theological study, and to nourish those in various forms of leadership, drawing on speakers in Cambridge and across the diocese? This was directly following one of our principles that connected together we make possible what we cannot do separately in each of our parishes.
Do you remember celebrating our diversity at Candlemas, a 5th Sunday with united services like today but on that occasion we had creative fun with a catholic mass in one place and a messy church in another?
Do you remember the autumn when we ran the home-grown ‘Call of the Kingdom’ series of sermons and group sessions, exploring gifts and calling, to build up the church and work with God beyond it? And do you remember how, after that, more people came forward for lay ministry and other roles?
Do you remember recruiting Becca, then David, then Claire to join the core team, each minister bringing their own style and experience to enrich not just the named parishes they serve but the rest of us as well? And do you remember how, in each of these vacancies, we have worked together to support the local teams and church wardens?
Do you remember welcoming Charles to the Eversdens as a self-supporting minister with another job and also, unusually, an incumbent in the Team Ministry – pioneering an approach that is only now gaining more mainstream recognition?
Do you remember the curates of the last 11 years – Corin then Beth and now Paul? And all the students who have valued placements here, as we gained a reputation as a training benefice for innovative and faithful rural and team-based ministry? Our contribution to their training has been one of our gifts to the wider church.
Do you remember the mission network for prayer and discussion about ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’ and what that approach might offer to those who just don’t relate to Sunday mornings in our parish churches? From that came the experiment with Gateways in Highfields Caldecote and an increasing understanding of an approach which multiplies congregations, encouraging them to be different shapes, to adapt to different contexts and people. We were learning from the practicalities on the ground way before the Church of England started describing this as a ‘mixed ecology’ and before the pandemic forced so many churches to diversify into different ways of gathering people. Lordsbridge has contributed to the national discussion about different models of ministry and now we are the subject of research into our village based, mixed mode approach. These days across the villages, alongside the congregations that meet largely on Sunday mornings in ancient buildings, our mixed ecology includes Wild or Forest churches, a weekday congregation of toddlers and their carers, a monthly service with tea for seniors, an ecumenical youth community and a Sunday Zoom congregation.
Do you remember how many of us learned from Beth about listening posts at fetes and events, and community prayer stations and trails such as All Souls memory cairns, Advent windows and Mothering Sunday trees. We have built on these and invented many other ways to be there for our communities, particularly in the last 18 months, helping them find moments of spiritual reflection and words of prayer outside the walls of our buildings?
Do you remember the planning and sharing of community projects, to meet local need and bless our villages: the volunteer-run cafes that contribute to flourishing village community; the school based hamper schemes addressing local food poverty, even before Marcus Rashford brought it to national attention; the various pandemic community support networks; and the new pilot listening service based out of Comberton medical practice?
Do you remember how we learned from each other as we negotiated a range of church building projects? Haslingfield and Dry Drayton are now beautiful, flexible spaces. Toft acquired a toilet, as did Comberton and Barton. Great Eversden discovered wall paintings and the beauty of underfloor heating. Comberton and Hardwick have built church halls. And there were other projects in other places. And now, with our greater environmental consciousness, I am proud that some of our church communities are leading the way again, becoming eco-churches and gaining awards for churchyard bio-diversity.
Do you remember first working with our primary schools on the yr 6 transitions project, now running annually in almost all 7 of them? Do you remember the experiments in area-wide youth work in church and secondary school, first by employing Emma, a shared youth worker, and now through our active involvement in West Cambridge Christian Youth Ministries?
Do you remember our almost unique annual area wide services with our ecumenical partners – with speakers like Methodist Rachel Lampard of the national Joint Public Issues Team, with evangelist Chris Duffett, then Baptist Union President, and with Rowan Williams, who needs no further explanation?
Do you remember developing the role of a shared administrator with Kathma which, thanks to a project grant from the diocese has evolved into a more robust Resource Hub, with Robbie and now Becca delivering administrative support services out to parishes and worshipping communities?
Do you remember the ideas and expertise, policies and services sheets that have been shared between ministers via Dropbox and our email communication network? These ministers will soon be further supported by the software package iKnowChurch being rolled out in the next few months. Do you remember how our resource sharing and networked approach made it easier to pivot to supporting Worship at Home across all our church communities, with resources in print, on Youtube, as podcasts and on Zoom during the pandemic?
And do you remember lighting the candles in our united services, at the times when we come together to celebrate and pray for all our different gatherings and communities meeting to around Jesus Christ? There are always 11 candles for the worshipping communities who meet in the ancient buildings on Sunday mornings or evenings. Then there are always a few more to represent each of the more fragile and sometimes harder to define communities who nevertheless gather around a relationship with the numinous and with each other. And there is always one more, for the as yet unknown new worshipping community that God is just about to call us to grow. These candles represent the lights of Christ across this area, the beacon flames of the Spirit, places where I pray we like the first disciples can also say ‘the kingdom of God has come near’, just as those first disciples did.
So here we are, at the end of a chapter and the start of a new one for the Lordsbridge Team of Churches. And from here and now, Jesus sends you out again, to create new stories. He sends you into the towns and the villages, the schools and the workplaces, the community groups, the footpaths, the households and the cafes and the meeting places. He sends you out amongst those who don’t yet know him and those who do: to go before him, to lay the groundwork, to tell, enact and pray the stories of God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ; to say, in so many different ways ‘the kingdom of God has come near’. And, I pray, with the Spirit’s help to make it true.