Making a Bigger Difference with Thames Valley

Citizens from across the Thames Valley area will be gathering on the 11th June. This assembly will not happen at the Church of Christ the Cornerstone – as originally planned – but online using Zoom.

This will be a significant event, marking the launch of Thames Valley Citizens – which will link community alliances in Milton Keynes, Oxford and Reading. 

This is a high priority for Milton Keynes Deanery, and is supported by the Diocese of Oxford, as part of the “Making a Bigger Difference” priority.  The Bishop of Oxford will be speaking, and the agenda will reflect issues that have been agreed by local people.

The aims are to:

  1. Bring key leaders from MK, Reading and Oxford together to take action together as part of Thames Valley Citizens;
  2. Enable civil society institutions across the Thames Valley to reflect together on the challenges they face because of Covid-19, encourage solidarity, and begin to envision what a more just post-Covid Thames Valley could look like;
  3. Celebrate the contribution made by local government, NHS, police and emergency services, listen to the Covid-related challenges they face now and in the future, offer the support of civil society, and seek their support to make the Thames Valley a more just place post-Covid.

We need to get as many people to come to the event as possible, because “turnout” demonstrates our interest.  Three of our parishes are members of Citizens MK in their own right, but we have committed to bring a further forty from the rest of the Deanery.  Please register here if you want a Deanery ticket.

11th June 2020 from 6:30 to 8:30pm

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Meet the Candidates

There will be a General Election on December 12th.  As Christians we are called to play our part as members of society.  For some, this means standing for election, but all of us have an opportunity to engage positively and vote.  We are therefore organising an Assembly with our partners in Citizens MK.  This will be an opportunity for us to talk about the issues that our members are most concerned about, to listen to what the candidates have to say, and to ask questions.

It’s really important that we get as many people there as possible, so that we can show how much we care.  The issues that our members will raise will be:

  • Mental Health – the top priority identified by MK Deanery
  • Climate Change – a Diocesan priority and a big concern for local schools
  • Refugees – which has been a big priority for us as churches since 2015
  • Hate Crime – which is a big issue in our diverse city
  • Fair Work – which is about the way people are treated by employers

If you want to know more and book a ticket, please see Eventbrite

This is an important opportunity to speak to people who may have the power to make a difference.  We want to have a positive relationship with the MPs in Milton Keynes – whatever party they may belong to.  This will be a way to build that relationship so that we can work together with them for a better MK!

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Understanding Mental Health (UMH): Report for 28 March 2019 Deanery Synod

Where we Started: I was looking back recently at the initial notes those on our table made a year ago before UMH met to form a group. I found it interesting to see we are still engaging with all those initial ideas, but I thought it worth reminding ourselves of 3 in particular:-

1. Make church a place where people feel SAFE; feel they BELONG, feel ACCEPTED; and feel is HOSPITABLE.

2. Equip ourselves – our churches – to be BETTER LISTENERS.

3. TALK ABOUT IT (Mental Health) – in context of whole self – the theology of mental health.

I really like the closing thought, which was to “Decide where to focus our efforts. We can’t do it all, but we can do something if we work together.”

What We Asked of You: I don’t think anyone would disagree with points 1 and 2, and in fact I’m sure we all want that across the board for anyone coming to church, not just for those with MH issues. No 3 seems to be more challenging. Our request for each church to bring our project to its PCC and to get feedback about whether their church was ‘mental health friendly’ (and if so, in what way), has highlighted some difficulties. Some misinterpreted the question, feeling uncomfortable about asking people about mental health or targeting only those with known MH conditions, when actually we wanted to know what congregations felt their church’s ATTITUDE was to Mental Health. Nor are we setting ourselves up as experts, or expecting you to be. We had hoped to collate the feedback to give you tonight. However, the response in general has been poor, and few churches or LEPs have engaged with us, never mind got a clear understanding of what we’re asking. In fact only 3 members of the clergy responded out of 27, so thank you to Catherine, Sharon and Matt. I found that really shocking to be honest. I think it’s difficult for lay members to do much without clergy support, but we’ll see how things develop. The members of UMH – all busy people – have invested many hours of their own personal time in this project over the past year – myself included. I’m not doing this as part of my job! I believe everyone in the group is happy to continue to do this as we feel it’s what God wants and as long as it is produces fruit eventually. God has clearly shown he’s opening doors for us, such as being invited through a WI friend of mine to join the Campbell Centre group, and finding when we got there that the Secretary is a member of Sts Peter and Paul’s Church in Newport Pagnell! A new member has also now joined the group as result of our presentation at the last Synod -Iola Samuels from St Martin’s Fenny Stratford – so we’re delighted she’ll be joining us at our next meeting.

Where We Were: Even last March there was the recognition that this subject is vast. The more we’ve learned since, the more overwhelming and urgent it seems to become, and the more we see the cross-over into other areas such as homelessness and addiction. Moreover, other areas of community are affected. The Police now spend 90% of their time dealing with calls concerning Mental Health – and this after only 45- 60 minutes’ training. How does that leave them adequately prepared to deal with the issues, or time to do other police work? What knock-on effect is this having?

What UMH Has Been Doing: We’ve made great strides in our research and have continued to strengthen our relationship with the Campbell Centre and build trust, primarily via the User and Carer Improvement Group, in which Gill and Linda have now been accepted as members instead of onlookers, so we are able to contribute suggestions and help influence improvements in care while we work towards identifying where we can best offer future help through our churches.

In January a member of the Quality Care Commission (QCC), who was carrying out an inspection of the Campbell Centre, joined the group. Kingsley Akuffo, the new Service Manager, has also attended several meetings, though sometimes the managers’ meeting clashes or over-runs. Therefore from June onwards the meeting day is going to change to ensure managers are able to attend.

Gill and Linda have also finally managed a meeting with Re-Think and this is a charity we might be able to partner with in the future.

Separately, through Citizens:MK (of which the Deanery is a member), Gill has met up with Patrick Gillespie, the Interim Service Director for MK Mental Health Services at Central and NW London Foundation Trust (CNWL). Unfortunately we’ve just learned that his temporary term has ended and a new Service Director is being sought, which is a bit of a setback for all concerned, not least because of the time this may take. A few weeks ago we managed to arrange a meeting of the UMH team (including Tim), with the Campbell Centre team. Sadly there was an emergency, so it ended up with just 4 of us with Mark Sanderson, an Associate Practitioner and Chair of the User and Carers’ group. Nonetheless we learned a great deal. They have been trialling what they call a Recovery College, which consisted of 18 sessions on a variety of topics. It has not been particularly well attended, but this was most likely due to inadequate advertising, coupled with the bus route being changed due to road works. If this Recovery College is rolled out, (which it may not be, due to a lack of response), it is certainly an area we could engage with, not least through helping to advertise it, or offering venues for it to take place.

We were aware that the Point was to close imminently and that The Mix Drop-In was actively seeking an alternative venue. However, they turned up one day to find The Point padlocked, and no notice had been given! Thankfully it has temporarily re-opened, as the number of attendees for a couple of hours on a Monday has now risen to over 90. The high numbers are worrying in and of themselves, as many people with MH issues do not like large crowds or noise. However, it’s the only thing of its kind available, for a few hours once a week, and I understand one of the main draws is having a member of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau there. As well as that they have 3 qualified support workers, and I was told that a member of The Samaritans attended recently, though the Council has just cut the position of the fully-trained MH Social Care Assistant, so it’s a case of ‘win one, lose one’.

We believe our churches are ideally placed to hold similar Drop-Ins, and it would be amazing if we could have one or more open and welcoming on each day of the week across MK. So this is another area we’re keen to get involved with, and it’s been hard not to just jump in with offers of help. However, we’re mindful that the right structures and support need to be in place first, and our help needs to be appropriate and sustainable. To this end our intention is to raise awareness, offer training, and ensure we have consistency in volunteering, otherwise we could do more harm than good. Hopefully we will be able to say more on this in July.

Since the last Synod Linda and Hilda have done a mapping exercise, drawing the parish outlines on a map, and putting different coloured dots to signify what we understand churches are doing, and identify where there might be potential for involvement.

UMH has also continued to hold its own meetings, one of which took place at Cornerstone following Citizens:MK’s Delegates’ Assembly in February. We were expecting to meet up with Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser for Oxford Diocese, to discuss training and draw on her considerable expertise, but unfortunately she was ill that week.

Where We Are Now: UMH was elected by you as the highest concern to your churches. To be clear, the intention was never to set ourselves up as a Counselling Service, or as experts in dealing with the more serious MH conditions. However, we could make a huge difference if we could offer places of safety, refuge, belonging and understanding, even to those with depression, loneliness, and isolation, which can themselves lead to homelessness, or addictions such as gambling, or drug, alcohol or food misuse, or internet/phone addiction. (I learned from Mark that there are now detox centres to help those addicted to their mobile phones…)
UMH is not asking for your support – quite the opposite. We’re saying we’re here to help you if in fact you are ready to accept the help the Deanery is offering, and which you’ve said is a priority for your church. We’ve therefore decided to extend the deadline for feedback to the end of May, and to offer more specific help, because I believe some churches do wish to get involved but don’t know how to begin to get the information we’ve asked for. (Please consider this during the time of worship.)

Where We Go From Here: I thought what we’d asked for in November would be easy to achieve – one conversation a month with one person at church. After asking you to do this, I realised that in some churches this would mean only getting feedback from 3 people – hardly a cross-section viewpoint! So it was tempting to ask more of you. However, as even this first goal has not yet been achieved, we’d like to offer the St Frideswide’s model as an achievable way of carrying out the request.

St Frideswide’s Model: Prior to the PCC meeting following the November Synod, we sent an email to PCC members explaining the Deanery context, what we hoped to achieve, and asking them to think about the answer to the question before the meeting. At that meeting we made virtually the same presentation, and members then discussed the question in pairs, then gave feedback. They were then tasked with asking the same question of their spouse/partner/significant other, plus one other person, before sending feedback (in writing) to Gill or I. We tried to get the views of a cross-section of age groups and backgrounds, with a potential total feedback of at least 40 people. If you would like one of us to come to one of your PCC meetings and talk about UMH and what we are trying to achieve, I’m sure this can be arranged.

Summary: People turn to a variety of sources to help them cope with the stresses and strains of daily life, such as bereavement, loneliness, anxiety and depression, debt, bullying, etc, but these can lead to addiction and suicide. That’s not what God intended. He is clearly at work amongst us, judging by the opportunities we have been presented with. UMH will soon be ready to assist those churches who choose to join in. It just depends which way we move forwards when assessing risks vs opportunities, and who is ready to step out in faith.

Linda Kirk (on behalf of UMH)
27 March 2019

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Understanding Mental Health (UMH): Update for Deanery Synod, 28 March 2019

Where we Started: I was looking back recently at the initial notes those on our table made a year ago before UMH met to form a group. I found it interesting to see we are still engaging with all those initial ideas, but I thought it worth reminding ourselves of 3 in particular:-

1. Make church a place where people feel SAFE; feel they BELONG, feel ACCEPTED; and feel is HOSPITABLE.

2. Equip ourselves – our churches – to be BETTER LISTENERS.

3. TALK ABOUT IT (Mental Health) – in context of whole self – the theology of mental health.

I really like the closing thought, which was to “Decide where to focus our efforts. We can’t do it all, but we can do something if we work together.

What We Asked of You: I don’t think anyone would disagree with points 1 and 2, and in fact I’m sure we all want that across the board for anyone coming to church, not just for those with MH issues. No 3 seems to be more challenging. Our request for each church to bring our project to its PCC and to get feedback about whether their church was ‘mental health friendly’ (and if so, in what way), has highlighted some difficulties. Some misinterpreted the question, feeling uncomfortable about asking people about mental health or targeting only those with known MH conditions, when actually we wanted to know what congregations felt their church’s ATTITUDE was to Mental Health. Nor are we setting ourselves up as experts, or expecting you to be. We had hoped to collate the feedback to give you tonight. However, the response in general has been poor, and few churches or LEPs have engaged with us, never mind got a clear understanding of what we’re asking. In fact only 3 members of the clergy responded out of 27, so thank you to (named – those who did). I found that really shocking to be honest. I think it’s difficult for lay members to do much without clergy support, but we’ll see how things develop. The members of UMH – all busy people – have invested many hours of their own personal time in this project over the past year – myself included. I’m not doing this as part of my job! I believe everyone in the group is happy to continue to do this as we feel it’s what God wants and as long as it is produces fruit eventually. God has clearly shown he’s opening doors for us, such as being invited through a WI friend of mine to join the Campbell Centre group, and finding when we got there that the Secretary is a member of Sts Peter and Paul’s Church in Newport Pagnell! A new member has also now joined the group as result of our presentation at the last Synod -Iola Samuels from St Martin’s Fenny Stratford – so we’re delighted she’ll be joining us at our next meeting.

Where We Were: Even last March there was the recognition that this subject is vast. The more we’ve learned since, the more overwhelming and urgent it seems to become, and the more we see the cross-over into other areas such as homelessness and addiction. Moreover, other areas of community are affected. The Police now spend 90% of their time dealing with calls concerning Mental Health – and this after only 45- 60 minutes’ training. How does that leave them adequately prepared to deal with the issues, or time to do other police work? What knock-on effect is this having?

What UMH Has Been Doing: We’ve made great strides in our research and have continued to strengthen our relationship with the Campbell Centre and build trust, primarily via the User and Carer Improvement Group, in which Gill and I have now been accepted as members instead of onlookers, so we are able to contribute suggestions and help influence improvements in care while we work towards identifying where we can best offer future help through our churches.

In January a member of the Quality Care Commission (QCC), who was carrying out an inspection of the Campbell Centre at the time, joined the group. Kingsley Akuffo, the new Service Manager, has also attended several meetings, though sometimes the managers’ meeting clashes or over-runs. Therefore from June onwards the meeting day is going to change to ensure managers are able to attend.

Gill and I have also finally managed a meeting with Re-Think and this is a charity we might be able to partner with in the future.

Separately, through Citizens:MK (of which the Deanery is a member), Gill has met up with Patrick Gillespie, the Interim Service Director for MK Mental Health Services at Central and NW London Foundation Trust (CNWL). Unfortunately we’ve just learned that his temporary term has ended and a new Service Director is being sought, which is a bit of a setback for all concerned, not least because of the time this may take. A few weeks ago we managed to arrange a meeting of the UMH team (including our Area Dean, Tim Norwood), with the Campbell Centre team. Sadly there was an emergency, so it ended up with just 4 of us with Mark Sanderson, an Associate Practitioner and Chair of the User and Carers’ group. Nonetheless we learned a great deal. They have been trialling what they call a Recovery College, which consisted of 18 sessions on a variety of topics. It has not been particularly well attended, but this was most likely due to inadequate advertising, coupled with the bus route being changed due to road works. If this Recovery College is rolled out, (which it may not be, due to a lack of response), it is certainly an area we could engage with, not least through helping to advertise it, or offering venues for it to take place.

We were aware that The Point at Central Milton Keynes was to close imminently and that The Mix Drop-In (which meets there once a week on a Monday) was actively seeking an alternative venue. However, they turned up one day to find The Point padlocked, and no notice had been given! Thankfully it has temporarily re-opened, as the number of attendees for a couple of hours on a Monday has now risen to over 90. The high numbers are worrying in and of themselves, as many people with MH issues do not like large crowds or noise. However, it’s the only thing of its kind available, for a few hours once a week, and I understand one of the main draws is having a member of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau there. As well as that they have 3 qualified support workers, and I was told that a member of The Samaritans attended recently, though the Council has just cut the position of the fully-trained MH Social Care Assistant, so it’s a case of ‘win one, lose one’.

We believe our churches are ideally placed to hold similar Drop-Ins, and it would be amazing if we could have one or more open and welcoming on each day of the week across MK. So this is another area we’re keen to get involved with, and it’s been hard not to just jump in with offers of help. However, we’re mindful that the right structures and support need to be in place first, and our help needs to be appropriate and sustainable. To this end our intention is to raise awareness, offer training, and ensure we have consistency in volunteering, otherwise we could do more harm than good. Hopefully we will be able to say more on this in July.

Since the last Synod we have done a mapping exercise, drawing the Deanery’s parish outlines on a map, and putting different coloured dots to signify what we understand churches are doing (according to the exercise we did at the November Synod), and identify where there might be potential for involvement.

UMH has also continued to hold its own meetings, one of which took place at Cornerstone following Citizens:MK’s Delegates’ Assembly in February. We were expecting to meet up with Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser for Oxford Diocese, to discuss training and draw on her considerable expertise at that meeting, but unfortunately she was ill that week. We are hoping to engage with her on another occasion.

Where We Are Now: UMH was elected by you as the highest concern to your churches. To be clear, the intention was never to set ourselves up as a Counselling Service, or as experts in dealing with the more serious MH conditions. However, we could make a huge difference if we could offer places of safety, refuge, belonging and understanding, even to those with depression, loneliness, and isolation, which can themselves lead to homelessness, or addictions such as gambling, or drug, alcohol or food misuse, or internet/phone addiction. (I learned from Mark that there are now detox centres to help those addicted to their mobile phones…)
UMH is not asking for your support – quite the opposite. We’re saying we’re here to help you if in fact you are ready to accept the help the Deanery is offering, and which you’ve said is a priority for your church. We’ve therefore decided to extend the deadline for feedback to the end of May, and to offer more specific help, because I believe some churches do wish to get involved but don’t know how to begin to get the information we’ve asked for. (Please consider this during the time of worship.)

Where We Go From Here: I thought what we’d asked for in November would be easy to achieve – one conversation a month with one person at church. After asking you to do this, I realised that in some churches this would mean only getting feedback from 3 people – hardly a cross-section viewpoint! So it was tempting to ask more of you. However, as even this first goal has not yet been achieved, we’d like to offer the St Frideswide’s model as an achievable way of carrying out the request.

St Frideswide’s Model: Prior to the PCC meeting following the November Synod, Gill and I (both members of St Frideswide’s) sent an email to PCC members explaining the Deanery context, what we hoped to achieve, and asking them to think about the answer to the question before the meeting. At that meeting we made virtually the same presentation, and members then discussed the question in pairs, then gave feedback. They were then tasked with asking the same question of their spouse/partner/significant other, plus one other person, before sending feedback (in writing) to Gill or I. We tried to get the views of a cross-section of age groups and backgrounds, with a potential total feedback of at least 40 people. If you would like one of us to come to one of your PCC meetings and talk about UMH and what we are trying to achieve, I’m sure this can be arranged.

Summary: People turn to a variety of sources to help them cope with the stresses and strains of daily life, such as bereavement, loneliness, anxiety and depression, debt, bullying, etc, but these can lead to addiction and suicide. That’s not what God intended. He is clearly at work amongst us, judging by the opportunities we have been presented with. UMH will soon be ready to assist those churches who choose to join in. It just depends which way we move forwards when assessing risks vs opportunities, and who is ready to step out in faith.

Linda Kirk (with members of UMH)
28 March 2019

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DLT Report – March 2018

The Deanery Leadership Team (DLT) consists of the eight Deanery officers, who meet regularly to plan activity and share leadership. The Standing Committee meets monthly to manage the regular meetings of the Deanery.

Without doubt, the biggest thing on the horizon for the Deanery is the Diocesan strategy for Milton Keynes: Celebrate and Bless MK (CBMK for short). This has been developing over the past two years, but is now becoming more concrete. There is now a definite proposal on the table which is out for consultation. Please take advantage of this opportunity, because there are some real opportunities for new mission and growth.

CBMK will focus on growth in depth, impact and numbers. There will be an emphasis on prayer, training for leadership and funds to kick-start new posts. There should be opportunities for most of our parishes to benefit directly in some way, so please don’t miss out.

The key question that is being asked between now and Palm Sunday focusses on the balance between lay and ordained ministry. Where should the bulk of new funding go? These are crucial questions that need careful thought, so please let us know what you think…

The new school in Eagle Farm

The Deanery Mission and Pastoral Committee (DMPC) has been focussing on how we can find a pioneer minister for Eagle Farm. They have put forward a proposal for a new post as part of our existing ministry numbers. This has the support of the Archdeacon, and will now go forward to the Archdeaconry Mission and Pastoral Committee (AMPC). Assuming this is successful, the new post should start in 2020.

The new pioneer will build a new worshipping community on the very Eastern corner of the city, with a focus on St Mary’s School – which is being moved from Wavendon village to Eagle Farm. A team has already been formed to lead this work.

Please pray for the team and the appointment of the new pioneer.

Rev Neil Popham at his licensing service

On January 31st Neil Popham was licensed as Interim Minister in the Stantonbury Team. Neil will be serving as the minister of Bradwell Church and leading a review of Stantonbury Ecumenical Partnership. This is an exciting post which will help shape the mission of SEP over the coming years. Please pray for Neil and the team as they start this work…

Revd Martha McInnes has started work as the new chaplain of Willen Hospice. Martha was formally welcomed at a service at Willen church on the 17th January. Please pray for her and the other staff at the hospice.


Work is continuing on our three Deanery Priorities. The “Understanding Mental Health” group has been making huge progress on research and has built strong relationships with key agencies and power-holders. The “Sanctuary” group is developing some ideas about how churches can make a difference. There is no “Affordable Housing” group as such (yet) but Tim took part in a video project which will be part of an exhibit in the new Art Gallery.

There has been an exciting development in our work with refugees. A house has been offered for “community sponsorship” in Wolverton. “Community Sponsorship” is a new approach to welcoming refugees which puts a local community group in the driving seat. It has huge potential – partly because it creates better community links for the family as they arrive. A group from the Wolverton churches has already formed and is working towards an application…

At the time of writing, it’s still not clear when, how, or even if, the UK will be leaving the EU. There are calls for prayer from all the Christian denominations in the UK and materials available. Please pray for unity, peace and a focus on the common good.

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Organising for Growth

Milton Keynes has become a significant centre for work on Community Organising.  Since we set up Citizens MK in 2010 we have learned a lot about how community organising can help us make a difference in our city.  We’ve brought diverse communities together, welcomed refugees, got businesses to sign up to the Real Living Wage and spoken out about Hate Crime.  It’s been exciting to make a difference rather than just talk about making a difference…

Community Organising is good for serving our communities, but there is also a lot of evidence that it can help grow churches – in depth, impact and numbers.  In London, there has been a lot of work on “congregational development” and a number of churches have been recognised as “Resource Churches” because of the way they have used organising to grow their congregations.

The Centre for Theology and Community in East London is based at St George-in-the-East where Fr Angus Ritchie both teaches and practices community organising from a Christian perspective.  There’s a great YouTube video that tells their story:

One of the important strands that have shaped Community Organising in the UK and US has been the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.  These remind us that it is the values that we hold that shape our action.  Churches therefore have something to offer beyond an extra pair of hands. The ten principles of Catholic Social Teaching are:

  1. Dignity of the Human Person 
  2. Common Good and Community 
  3. Option for the Poor
  4. Rights and Responsibilities 
  5. Role of Government and Subsidiarity 
  6. Economic Justice  
  7. Stewardship of God’s Creation 
  8. Promotion of Peace and Disarmament 
  9. Participation 
  10. Global Solidarity and Development

Bishop Adrian Newman spoke about Catholic Social Teaching at the National Deaneries Network Conference this year.  Bp Adrian was Bishop of Stepney and a trustee of Citizens UK.  His parents also lived in Milton Keynes in their later days. His talk is one of the most downloaded videos on the NDN web site:

During the past year, Fr Angus and Bp Adrian have been working with Matthew Bolton (now Executive Director of Citizens UK) to run a series of three symposiums on the three quinquennial goals of the Church of England:

  1. Serving the Common Good
  2. Growing the Church
  3. Re-imagining Ministry

I was lucky enough to be at two of these – alongside people from MK and Oxford Diocese.  It was encouraging to hear how churches have been addressing these challenges using the techniques and principles which are at the heart of organising.  From my perspective, I am encouraged by the fact we have a model which is rooted in theology, while presenting a radical alternative to the managerial-leadership model often assumed as the only option for growing churches…

In Milton Keynes, we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the potential of organising as a tool for Church growth.  I’ve been using some form of organising for over twenty years and really love the insights that I’m learning from the Citizens family.  I use the skills I’ve learned every day, and am a big fan.  I am struck by the model of “pastor as organiser” and it’s the way I try to operate.  Most of the time it wouldn’t be obvious to others but I know how significant it has been for me.

John Robertson has been running a course called “Leading for a Change” which follows the pattern of a two-day course in Community Organising.  This course has been specifically designed to equip lay leaders, and the feed-back has been pretty good.  A key element to this course is the concept of Salvation History and the way God invites us to join him in a mission of transformation – both within the Church and the World.

I’m really keen that we take these ideas to the next level.  Milton Keynes is already a leader when it comes to organising in the UK, but I’d like us to be a front-runner when it comes to organising for church growth.  I think this is something that we could excel in – and offer to the wider church.  

I suspect some people think this is just another “initiative” or short-lived “fad” but I genuinely believe that there are important lessons from organising which would help us build a more Christ-like Church.

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Affordable Housing – MKCLT

The affordability of housing is one of the biggest drivers of social problems in the UK today.

A shortage of genuinely affordable housing means that young people have to stay with their parents until they’re in their mid-thirties, working families need to use food banks and more people are becoming homeless. This leads to greater inequality, reduced opportunities and a whole range of problems for individuals and society as a whole.

The Biblical story has a lot to say about “home” and “hospitality”. The story of Israel is a story of a people who are promised a safe place where they can thrive and prosper – but it is also to be a place of hospitality for the orphans, the widows and strangers – those who are marginalised or left behind.

We have made affordable housing one of our top priorities as a deanery. This could seem like a huge issue that is beyond our reach, but there are things that we can do – particularly if we work with others.

Working through Citizens MK, our Area Dean, Tim Norwood, has helped to set up a project group who are aiming to set up a Community Land Trust in Milton Keynes. For more information, see MKCLT.org

Tim is currently looking for church members who will join the team and embed Christian values of hospitality and social justice at the heart of this project.

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Understanding Mental Health

Understanding Mental Health (UMH) is one of the 3 top priority projects selected by Deanery Synod members following the meeting in May. 

The team comprises members from 4 churches, but as 3 of these are in ecumenical partnerships, 17 churches are effectively already involved, as well as the Chaplaincy at MK University Hospital.

Much work has already been done over the past 9 months defining a strategy for the next few years, as well as continuing to do research and build relationships with other groups.  (The strategy document is available for downloading from the Documents section of this website, under the ‘Information’ tab.  This gives details of the group’s vision, Mission Action Plan (MAP) and Objectives.)

At the recent Synod meeting on 14 November, churches were asked to provide details of groups and services they already offer which people with mental health issues could engage with.  UMH hope to use this information to create a directory which can be accessed across Milton Keynes by churches and other groups.  In the meantime the team will be looking at specific goals for the next few months.

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Report – October 2018

The Deanery Leadership Team (DLT) consists of the eight Deanery officers, who meet regularly to plan activity and share leadership.

Celebrate and Bless Milton Keynes

The Diocese is working on a Common Vision which includes seven big strands of work. One of these is to “Celebrate and Bless Milton Keynes” – on the basis that it is the fastest growing city in the four counties. A working group was formed by the Archdeacon – and consisted of people from MK and elsewhere.

In July the working group (known as WG6) presented some initial thoughts to Bishop’s Council. These were warmly received, with a specific encouragement to develop a funding bid. Bishop’s Council also encouraged the Working Group to involve more lay people and ecumenical partners.

The report can be found on the Celebrate and Bless page on our web site. 

The big themes of the report were the rapid changes that are taking place in Milton Keynes with further expansion, the Oxford Cambridge Arc and deepening poverty. The report also argues that Milton Keynes is under-resourced for mission.

The working Group made a number of key proposals, including:

  • An Archdeacon of Milton Keynes with a focus on the Oxford-MK-Cambridge Arc
  • Learning Centre for Pioneer Ministry, Community Organising and Mission
  • At least three “resource” churches that are planting and supporting new worshipping communities
  • The provision of new missional posts equivalent to eight full-time ministers (or more)
  • Partnerships for the Common Good
  • Involvement in Milton Keynes University

Many of these will need to be explored further by the Diocese or the Deanery.  Some of them will require external funding, so there will be more work to do.

We have set up a Steering Group and three new working groups to
develop detailed plans and proposals…

The three new working groups will be:

Learning:To create a unique learning environment to equip the church of the future in mission – and draw up plans for how that learning environment will be created.  John Robertson is chairing this group with the help of Keith Straughan and Alison Drury.

Growing: To draw up plans for a programme which will enable us to a) plant or grow new and sustainable Christian communities in Milton Keynes, and b) build up existing churches so that they can plant and support new Christian communities in Milton Keynes.  These plans will need to include criteria for determining which projects to invest in and how they will be assessed.  Paul Oxley will be chairing this group with the help of Ruth Maxey and David McDougall.

Funding:To coordinate the creation of a bid for Strategic Development Fund (or other) investment. This will require input and involvement from the other three working groups.  Steve Snook will be chairing this group with the help of Kevin Lovell.

It’s going to be a long-term project, so don’t expect to see anything happen quickly.  We hope to have a developed plan by summer 2019!! In the meantime there will be lots of opportunities for consultation and conversation.  Please take advantage of these opportunities when they come!

We were visited by Alan Cruickshank, the Senior Strategy Consultant for the Church of England.  He wanted to see what was going on in Milton Keynes, and how the national church can help.

He picked up a conker from outside Christ the Vine Church.  He said it was going to sit on his desk at Church House Westminster as a reminder to pray for the Church in MK – which can often be small and toughened by difficult circumstances – but its waiting to burst forth into new life.  I hope you will keep praying for the growth of the Church in MK over the coming year!

I hope you had a good summer – it does feel a long time ago now!! One of the highlights of my summer was the Greenbelt Festival near Kettering.  I lead a team from Citizens UK to promote the work of Citizens across the country and talk about community organising.  The best moment was seeing a woman from London hear the news that her group was going to receive its first family of Syrian refugees.  It’s great to see words become action!

On a related theme, I had planned to step down as chair of Refugees Welcome following the vote at Deanery Synod.  I hope you don’t mind, but it seems a bit early to step back from this work.  We have now received sixteen families into Milton Keynes, but the journey toward integration is much slower than we’d hoped – and there are opportunities to do more, if we are willing to seize them!

There is work moving ahead as a result of our Deanery Synod priorities. We plan to focus on one of them at each Synod meeting. The November meeting will look at Mental Health.

Every two years, there is a national conference for Anglican Deaneries.  I’m on the steering group for the National Deaneries Network, so was heavily involved in organising the event.  

It was a really good conference and you can see the various talks on YouTube.  There are downloads and links on the NDN web site.  

We are not doing a major Christmas campaign this year, but will be encouraging churches to make use of the resources produced by the Church of England.  This reflects the change in priorities that came from Deanery Synod and the advertising strategy emerging from DMPC.

As always, there is so much else we could talk about:

  • Sanctuary Training
  • LEP Constitutions and Sharing Agreements
  • CLT funding
  • Ecumenical Reviews
  • Church Inspections
  • Annual MOTH service
  • Council of Faiths
  • New Communities
  • and so on…

Please pray for the Church in Milton Keynes, that we would continue to grow in depth of relationships, clarity of purpose, and the fulfilment that comes from making a real difference.

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