Plymouth Churches Together
19 April 2012
My testimony about leading Plymouth Churches Together started 35 years ago, when as a young Navy officer in training; I caught my first sight of Plymouth - standing on the deck of HMS Fearless as she traversed Plymouth Sound on a beautiful June day. God spoke to me in one of the most direct, audible ways ever; “This is the place I want you to live, work and serve me”. I just said, “Ok Lord-looks great to me”.
I promptly failed a Navy exam and found myself home in the New Forest saying, “what now Lord”; and He confirmed – Go west! I arrived in Plymouth 2 months later with a job at Aggies Royal Sailors' Rest, serving the Navy I'd recently left. Over the intervening years I got married, raised 4 children and moved into teaching having completed a B Ed Hons in Theology and Philosophy.
In 2004 The retiring pastor of my church asked me to take over joint responsibility for the Church as the teaching Elder. When later I came out of teaching as a career, I gave myself to this role more fully. It was then that I joined a Wednesday morning Prayer for Plymouth meeting, and later heard that Churches Together needed a new Chairman. I prayed and thought of all the people who could do it – then, like the original Lottery hand, a God sized finger pointed at me and said, “It should be you!” That was July06, and by Jan07 I was inaugurated into the role. It felt to me a real fulfilment of God's call to me way back in 1977. I love my teaching / leading role in my church; and I love the strategic way God is touching the whole city through his Kingdom people using all the churches together.
God – leading a city:
When I became Chairman of Churches Together in Plymouth (CTiP), we expanded one of our Leaders' Network Lunches into a full day's conference for all Church and Ministry leaders of Plymouth; this proved a very powerful occasion. Each year we invite a nationally known speaker who faithfully brought us a 'Word in season'. This annual conference has become key in listening together to hear what the Lord is saying to the church across the city, then outwork that agenda in the subsequent year. In each conference we have also involved civic leaders (Council, Police etc) to make sure our discussions are truly 'grounded' in the city we seek to serve. The leading we have experienced over the last 5 years has been as a result of this Urban trinity! Let me explain:
The city's Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) developed a city vision for the year 2020. It read, 'Plymouth will be recognised as “one of Europe's finest, most vibrant waterfront cities, where an outstanding quality of life is enjoyed by everyone” '. And would be measured under the headings of; Healthy, Wealthy, Safe and Wise. The Word for us in 2008, brought by Hugh Osgood of 'Churches in Community, International' was that in answer to the 2020 city vision, we were to outwork Acts 20:20 in which Paul, speaking at Miletus to the Ephesian elders said, 'I have held back nothing that was helpful to you, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.' If in just over a decade, the Church in Plymouth could truly say to the city, we held nothing back that was helpful, but publicly and privately, have ministered God's Kingdom into this place – then we will have faithfully served both God and the city to which He has called us. This mantra became our guiding principle over successive years.
We set about compiling a 'Faith Action Audit' (FAA) to gather information about what Faith communities were doing, not for themselves, but for their communities! To 'Plymouth-ize it, we constructed the questions under the LSP headings of , Healthy, Wealthy, Safe and Wise. (details available at www.ctip.org.uk). We commissioned Plymouth University Social Research Group to do the report. Their findings, on the basis of a 50% return was that 450,000 volunteer hours of Community serving was being delivered annually. They used minimum wage to calculate a notional value of that work of £2.8m pa. So we reckoned that, had we had information from the other 50%, we'd be delivering nearly £6m into community cohesion in the city. On the basis of 'holding nothing back' we could now quantify and qualify what Faith groups were contributing towards the city vision and mission. We published a FAA report and launched it in the Council Chamber, proceedings opened by the Mayor, with Council and Police leaders, city MP's and 100 faith leaders present. They were blown away by all that Faith communities were doing!
Next we wanted to know how to develop that work, and called that year upon Lloyd Cooke of Stoke on Trent (who had done a Faith Action Audit in 2005) to speak to the conference. He had championed the involvement of Church in the infrastructure of a city through its Governance, Law & order, Business, Media, Arts, Education, Sport etc. He rightly said that the FAA would open doors we had to be ready to go through. Following our FAA, I was subsequently invited to sit on the LSP, now known as the 2020 Board; Police Independent Advisory Group, ITN Diversity panel, Area Business Council and write a monthly column in the local newspaper. This brought us alongside the 'shakers and movers' in every sphere of city life. We are digging ditches through city structures; and God by His Spirit is irrigating them!
Seeking to move forward the agenda of how we could serve the city, 'holding nothing back', we engaged with Debra Green's Redeeming our Communities, as a means of developing vision and involvement of more churches of the city. Debra spoke to the Leaders' conference in 2010; following which we developed a city 'Spiritual Vision'. After much prayer and consultation, it reads: For Plymouth to be a welcoming city – safe, caring and hope-filled for all. Where churches develop in unity; with new partnerships for growth and diversity - and new methods for mission and mercy. They will be prayer based and God centred, with inequalities reducing and opportunities increasing; a new generation pioneering as we trust in Christ to grow in faith and impact the city in grace and truth.
We also set about organising a launch of Redeeming our Communities (ROC) in the South-west. We booked the largest venue west of Bristol, Plymouth's Pavilion arena at a cost of £20,000. We shared this vision, not just with the city Churches and authorities, but across Cornwall and Devon as a regional event. God was very good to us – a Police inspector with 6 months service remaining got agreement to dedicate it to the ROC launch, and contacted agencies and authorities across the region. The local Constabulary invested £5,000 in the event believing in it's aims, and the Fire Service promptly followed suit with their £5000. After some donations from Christian groups and a few individuals, God had met the budget in full, and the tickets were offered for free! In October 2011, 1,300 people poured through the doors and experienced the most inspiring evening showcasing Christians in community service across the region – it was great!
The way Forward:
In the months following that evening, we have had a succession of civic authorities knocking at our door with ideas about how they could work with the Churches to make life in the city better. Hey – we've got a few years left until 2020 when there should be, 'an outstanding quality of life enjoyed by everyone'! We've got a long way to go, but we're on an awesome journey and experiencing God's blessings and favour in ways we could never have imagined.
Right now, City authorities and agencies have scarcely been more open to faith groups! The huge amount of Community service provided through Church members and buildings has earned their respect; painful austerity measures have driven them to look outside the 'municipal' box – and come straight to us! I sense huge spiritual excitement in what God is doing in our city. I also know he does not trust any one leader or church with His vision and burden for the city – we can do so much more together; unity is the key. God knew it (Ps133), Jesus prayed for it (Jn17:11), we must seek it (Eph4:3), then the world will know it (Jn13:35)!
Rev Chris Clewer, Chair of Churches Together in Plymouth.