Sometimes unexpected and unwelcome events turn out to be the very thing needed to stimulate change – and as we have reflected on our own calling, this has been true for us too. Looking back over the last ten years of our EQUIP ministry has enabled us to reshape our thoughts towards the future – and we’d like to share them with you.
EQUIP began in 2009. We were on holiday; Roger spent the afternoons walking with the family, and the mornings praying in a coffee shop. ‘What, Lord,’ Roger asked, ‘do you want me to do with the rest of my life?’ The answer, when it came, was simple: ‘I want you to focus on equipping other Christian leaders.’
And so the EQUIP ministry was born. Andrew Evans, a vicar in Holt near Trowbridge and now one of our trustees, asked Roger to mentor him; soon we had a little group meeting for one day, three times a year, in our home in Wells. Each meeting was followed by parish visits and sometimes ministry visits too – we started by taking a team to Holt for a week of mission.
The little group grew, and soon meetings began to happen in other places; John Benson started one in Chester and Roger began new groups near Basingstoke, Canterbury, Leicester, and Bristol. The leaders who joined were mostly ordained, some Anglicans, some not; a few were lay. By 2020 Roger and John were working with 60 people.
Why had God asked Roger to do this? We suppose because of his background. He had been a Christian leader himself, lay and then ordained, since age 26; working with the Navigators in Cambridge, with Daniel Cozens and Through Faith Missions, and then after ordination in various parishes. So he knew the territory. It mattered too that he had been employed by Cambridge University within what has become the Cambridge University Business School. In those days he went from one government department and one large company to another to advise on many different problems – nothing to do with God, mostly manpower planning and production management – but it meant that he was used to working from the outside for a complex organisation.
So when Covid interrupted everything in March, Roger asked God what to do about the EQUIP ministry. The answer came at 5.30 in the morning: ‘Be faithful’. So we knew we had to stick by the 60 people to whom we had committed ourselves: we replaced face to face meetings with Zoom, we replaced visits to people with phone calls, and embarked on what has become a long series of meetings and calls. In this period we have exercised very little direct ministry, just the occasional sermon via Zoom. Roger wrote 16 spiritual exercises for individual and group use, and John continued to produce his series of booklets. Four people didn’t take to Zoom, but we think the others have all enjoyed it – and some new people have joined too.
Over the last months we have focussed on four things.
It’s not been a simple task for leaders to remain faithful to their people during the pandemic. Mike Saunders from Hungerford shares what it’s meant for him:
“For the last 4 years I’ve been the vicar of Hungerford; I’ve been a member of EQUIP group for about 5 years. Before lockdown we had an embryonic Pastoral Care Team, but we had been struggling to make it work. So when Roger encouraged us to ‘be faithful’ to our members, we invested some time and energy into this team. Our Pastoral Care Team has 10 members and between us we care for 144 people. We encourage every team member to ‘keep in touch’ with the people they care for, which means phoning them once a fortnight if we haven’t spoken to them on Zoom or on our daily walk. And it has worked really well. For example Di cares for the people who come to the 8 am Communion; she calls them every week on a Monday. She has been so effective that when we were allowed back to church on 12 July fifteen people were present and only two were missing. Thanks be to God.”
Our second topic has been endurance; all of us have in one way or another made a lifetime promise to God. At times keeping that promise has been a joy; but during the pandemic some of us (including me) have found that tough. To endure is to press on when things are difficult; Jesus told his disciples that if we endure we will be saved. Presumably that means only if we endure.
The third topic which we have been covering is hope. Hope is about the future; it’s always based on God’s promise that the future will be good. John has written eloquently about the hope that revival will again come to north Wales, and everyone in EQUIP has written a hope statement, trying to sketch out what we believe is going to happen when the pandemic has gone. Rich Phillips writes about his hopes for Hull:
“I’ve been the Vicar of a small church in Hull for the past 6 years. Together with a group of committed and Spirit filled elders, we’re on a journey of seeking to create a culture of ‘disciples who make disciples’; where every believer knows who they are in Christ and is equipped to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel in the power of the Spirit in their everyday lives. However, seeking to transform the culture of a church can at times be a challenging and lonely path as a leader, and so earlier this year a friend introduced me to Roger and his work with the Mathetes Trust. I joined an Equip group of other leaders on a similar journey to me. Since then I’ve met regularly with the Equip group via Zoom and have enjoyed frequent phone calls with Roger, all of which has been a great encouragement to me. The calls with Roger have enabled me to talk through my vision and hopes for the future and to tap into Roger’s wisdom and experience, which has helped to both affirm the path I’m on, but also given me fresh insights about how to move things forward and where best to focus my time and energy. The hope is for Roger to visit St Aidan’s at the earliest opportunity in 2021 to meet me and our leadership in person and to preach on a Sunday. Following this, and with Roger’s support and encouragement, next summer/early Autumn we are planning to run a week of mission whereby Roger will bring a team of people to St Aidan’s to help us grow in our confidence to reach out to the people in our community with the Gospel – which is incredibly exciting.”
The final topic has been ‘prepare’. John has produced a booklet for church leaders about how to prepare for what is to come, focussing on questions such as ‘What is the Lord saying to us?’, ‘What are the lessons we have learnt?’’What are we preparing for?’ and ‘Where do we begin?’ – if you would like a copy just let us know (we’ll need to ask you for a small contribution to cover the print and postage costs). And Hazel Aucken from Kirkby Mallory has written about one way she is helping her church prepare for the future; we have posted her story here.
In New Testament times, John the Baptist was the person who prepared his nation for what was to come. He started by asking for repentance; so we too have been encouraging one another to use this time to repent on behalf of the church in this country. Churches are meant to be full of joy, love and power, and zealous for righteousness. We have too often taken those four things off our priority list. When the pandemic ends, we must be determined to start again and hit the ground running.
So what of us – how are we applying all these lessons to our own ministry of support? In 2021 we are planning to reorganise our EQUIP meetings. We are used to Zoom now and we will continue to use it even after the pandemic ends. This will allow us to organise the EQUIP groups in a different way, bringing together 4-6 people who share a common purpose rather than following a geographical pattern. So groups may be designed for those who are leading children’s groups, or multi-parish benefices, or who are lay leaders, and so on. Each group will meet bi-monthly and each meeting will be followed up by phone calls. The groups will be much smaller and homogenous than the EQUIP groups of a year ago.
Secondly, we are forming an EQUIP team, to work primarily with Roger. As soon as may be, the team will be on the move to minister alongside each EQUIP member, helping to facilitate missions, prayer weekends, training seminars and so on. We hope this will result in a significant expansion in the level of support we are able to provide.
We are excited by the way God has been leading us this year, and looking forward to a new phase in the life of our churches. We have been glad to welcome some new members over the last few months – so if you are a Christian leader and would like to take advantage of these new opportunties, please do be in touch; and do let others who may be interested know. We’d be glad to speak with them.
Posted 8th December