Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, is a Remarkable Leader!

I have just been reading an eleven page transcript of a talk he gave recently on the turnaround of the Anglican Diocese of London.  You might like to read it too but in the meantime, here are the headlines filtered through my particular lens.

For someone interested in church planting, the real gem comes towards the end of the eleven pages, when he reveals that the goal of the London Diocese is to establish 100 new worshipping communities in the diocese over the next 5 years.  That is an amazing turnaround!

20 years ago the diocese was declining faster than most others in the Anglican community, churches were frequently closing and moral was so low that some people began to foresee the end of the Anglican community in London.  Actual extinction was never really a possibility but the situation was extremely dire. So how has this turnaround been facilitated?  There are two obvious factors and a number of not so obvious ones.  First, most observers of the ecclesial scene will recognize that Holy Trinity Brompton has had something to do with this, not just because of the remarkable growth at HTB itself but also because of their church planting activity, concentrating on revitalizing other moribund parish churches.

Second, the arrival of many Christians from other parts of the world, particularly Nigeria, who have arrived in London as Anglican Christians and who would naturally look for an Anglican expression of worship.  However, even these two natural if unexpected advantages, were not inevitable.

Many Anglicans arrived in London from the Caribbean during the 1950’s and 1960’s and did not find a welcome.  They established or joined a whole series of Pentecostal churches rather than finding a home in the Anglican communion. The same thing could have happened again except that the Anglican church went out of its way to welcome those from other lands.  The Caribbean experience was not going to be repeated, lessons had been learned. And, even in the case of HTB, loyal as they have been to the Church of England, in order for church planting in other parishes to be possible, the cooperation and encouragement of the diocese was extremely important.  Some generous and far-sighted leadership from those who did not necessarily share the churchmanship of either migrants or of HTB was necessary and present.

Important as these initiatives have been it is perhaps the less obvious, behind the scenes work that has mattered.  The bishop’s lecture underlines three of these.  First, there was the need to send a signal.  Sometimes a change of mood, of intention, can be indicated by a symbolic act that does not itself bring growth but indicates a new and more positive direction.  Bishop Richard, generously attributes the beginning of such a change in the courageous, faith filled but essentially short lived, oversight of his predecessor, David Hope, who was appointed as Archbishop of York fairly soon (four years) after his arrival in London.   Richard Chartres had been appointed as an Area Bishop in the diocese by David Hope and sought to continue the positive note set by him.

He set that tone by declaring that there would be no more church closures within the City of London and so far that has been the case. The sale of church buildings sends an unfortunate message for years to come.  The Bishop has been able to work with buildings under threat and find imaginative uses for them while keeping them open as places of worship. Second, locating good leaders and recruiting them to work in the Diocese.  Some of these were lay leaders – including those who could find other uses for church buildings, others were gifted parish clergy, still others filled key diocesan posts. Third, there was a need to take some hard headed decisions around structures and finance.  Not the least of these decisions was to stop the five area bishops operating, in effect, five dioceses within the one diocese.

These kinds of activities do not make headlines, often make leaders unpopular and use up huge amounts of time and energy.  These are the many small actions that together enable the ship to be turned around.  The Bishop of London had the sheer guts to determinedly tackle the nuts and bolts of organizational change.  As he says in his address, the church needs to be vision led not problem led.  Casting the vision is one thing, enabling the vision is another.  Both are necessary

Martin Robinson CEO & Principal ForMissionDr. Martin Robinson is Chief Executive of ForMission and Principal of ForMisison College. Martin was born in India of missionary parents and brought up in Scotland, where his father was a church planter. When Martin was in his early twenties he trained for the ministry, and his first church was in the inner city of Birmingham. This multi-ethnic congregation was engaged in church planting, and Martin together with his wife Lynda, started one of the new church plants. After thirteen years in local ministry, Martin went to work for the Bible Society in the UK in a variety of roles. For a period he was the Director of Mission and Theology. Martin has written many books on the theme of mission, including Faith of the Believer, Invading Secular Space, MetaVista: Bible, Church and Mission in an Age of Imagination, and Planting Mission Shaped Churches Today.