For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, wrote the sage of Ecclesiastes – and on with the famous passage, a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to gather what is planted, a time to tear down and a time to build up…. For us, August is perhaps a time to draw breath, to take stock, to renew our energy and our courage, and to prepare for the new season of ministry which lies ahead. We give thanks in particular for some recent developments:
- Our EQUIP ministry has come through the pandemic with increased numbers: 9 groups will start up in the autumn, mostly face to face but with some on Zoom. One local mission is planned, and three others are under discussion.
- We have just published the first Swahili translation of the Rooted in Jesus Team Manual, which was first created twelve years ago to enable teams of Rooted in Jesus facilitators to provide enjoyable and effective training sessions for new group leaders. It’s been revised and updated over the years, but until now was available only in English. We are delighted to announce that it is now also available in Swahili. It takes its place alongside the Rooted in Jesus Junior Team Manual which was translated into Swahili last year.
Otherwise, the ups and downs we have all experienced over the last 18 months continue to encourage and challenge us:
- We have been inspired by testimonies from group members in South Africa, where the Diocese of Natal has just hosted an online training course for Rooted in Jesus. One group member said: “RinJ has taught me from the Bible how to forgive, how to move on, to be a different person.” Another shared: “I have got so much closer to God through Rooted in Jesus, and I have found a family. It has transformed my life.” Both came from a group which began by meeting in person, but changed to meeting by whatsapp during the period of restrictions.
- And we continue to be challenged by the seemingly ever increasing difficulties of ministry in rural England. One of our new EQUIP groups aims to support clergy leading multi-parish benefices, with all the challenges of scattered rural congregations, high parish shares and the burden of maintaining ancient buildings. Ministry is never easy…
But in all this we remember Jesus’ words to his disciples: ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.’ That is our desire and our determination.
If you would like to catch up with the news on Rooted in Jesus in more detail, visit our latest blog. And if now is the time and you would like to join our EQUIP programme, please do get in touch!
Posted 11th August 2021
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
Supporting the ministry of local churches in the UK
We are increasingly encouraged by the resolute and creative ministry of the many churches we support through our EQUIP programme for church leaders – especially in North Wales, the East Midlands, Kent, Gloucestershire, Bristol and here in Somerset. We are standing with each one of them as they focus on their hope – not just of eternal salvation, but for the future ministry of their church once the pandemic is over. To this end, each church leader has writtten a hope statement based on God’s promises to them; we are praying with them as they encourage their churches to prepare for the harvest which is to come.
As we pray into the future, we are delighted to read the latest national prayer polls conducted by ComRes, which show that people who have never previously prayed are beginning to do so, and that the provision of online worship has seen a doubling of numbers attending, with a rise from 11% to 24% of the population participating. The increase is greatest, it seems, amongst young people! Details available on the ComRes website here.
Supporting the ministry of Rooted in Jesus in Africa
We would also like to draw your attention to our latest Rooted in Jesus blog post, which covers news from our partners in Africa. In brief:
Hectorina Tsotetsi writes about her new socially distanced Rooted in Jesus groups which meet to worship on a mountain in Free State, South Africa
Brian Keel shares the new work with Rooted in Jesus being done in villages around Kisumu, Kenya, by a network of Pentecostal churches
Alfred Mugisa sends an update on the difference Rooted in Jesus has made in South Rwenzori, Uganda
Pez Raobison and +Todd & Patsy McGregor share the challenges and opportunities of Covid in Madagascar
+Moses Zungo writes from Maridi seeking our prayers for South Sudan
John Onyao gives us some troubling news from Karamoja, Uganda
There is much to hope and pray for!
Posted 14th September 2020
Our EQUIP ministry has been going for over a decade now, and John Benson and Roger Morgan are currently working with nearly 60 church leaders and their churches. At the heart of EQUIP are learning communities aimed at providing support and encouragement for ministry leaders, making use of our own experience to help them build the skills they need. During lockdown our termly meetings have been replaced by monthly Zoom seminars which are much shorter and involve fewer people at each one. Our regular personal visits have been replaced with monthly telephone calls. We have also generated a series of spiritual exercises which our members can use for their own devotions or share with members of their churches.
In addition to the usual challenges of ministry, the coronavirus pandemic means that our church leaders now face the need to acquire new skills. Each person is bringing fresh ideas; each church is experimenting in different ways. EQUIP now has its own Workplace page (similar to a Facebook group) which everyone contributes to and learns from. Some of the groups have been joined by lay disciples who have travelled with us on ministry teams for parish missions and prayer weekends; they bring a different perspective and expertise, which is helping us to think creatively in this new situation.
Thinking on our feet
As a group we now have experience of many new ways of doing things. Most of our church leaders have replaced Sunday services with Zoom, Facebook and YouTube transmissions; many have been surprised at the numbers attending. Fellowship during the week comes through small group WhatsApp and Zoom gatherings. Rural clergy have been using their daily walks for open air evangelism, with encouraging results. Others are running Alpha courses on Zoom, sometimes with unexpectedly large numbers. One is inviting people to contribute to a book detailing how God has walked with them through this trying time, another has created a resource to help people maintain their mental health. Thousands of phone calls are being made by ministers and members of ‘care through prayer’ teams. Village churches have taken the lead in providing many kinds of support for their communities. Parcels full of fun things to do are being delivered to children, generating interest in church from new families. Contact is being made with people who have never attended church, some of whom are asking when church will start up again. With the easing of lockdown, open air services are being planned, with the hope that some of those with whom the church has made new relationships will want to come. We trust and pray that we will increasingly see great fruit as a result of these initiatives. The signs are already there!
We are now beginning to use our EQUIP Zoom meetings and phone calls to think ahead. One of our leaders said: ‘In recent times, church in this country has not been a big success. When the virus is behind us, I want to do it differently.’ Now is the time to think out how that will work.
What is EQUIP?
“EQUIP has been going now for over a decade. I had spent 18 years teaching in Cambridge, culminating in my appointment as head of what is now called the Cambridge Business School and giving me many opportunities to advise businesses, large and small. I then spent 25 years in Anglican ministry learning how to lead churches to growth. In EQUIP I was joined by John Benson, whom I had known in Cambridge, back in the UK from Singapore after many years leading a church, supporting other leaders and pioneering mission to unreached peoples. Our aim in EQUIP is to make use of our experiences by serving as mentors to church leaders. It is a great privilege to serve in this way.”
To find out more visit our EQUIP page, or get in touch with us by phone or email. And if you would like copies of our spiritual exercises in uncertain times just us know.
Posted 1st July 2020 by Alison Morgan
As we enter the next phase of our national lockdown we would like to share some of the insights and good practice which is emerging amongst the sixty or so church leaders now meeting with us regularly in small Zoom groups.
We hope that a day will come when everybody will have been vaccinated and the pandemic is a thing of the past; perhaps in a year’s time, perhaps longer. It now seems that it may become possible to reopen our churches to some extent before then, but it is clear that the day when ‘normal service’ can be resumed is still a long way off. In the meantime Christian ministry will not change in its essence, but methodologically it is required to be very different: we are all acquiring new skills. And the new avenues we are exploring now are likely to influence what comes after that, in ways that are hard to imagine, but which might bring long
lasting and radical change to our models of ministry.
Caring for one another: keeping in touch
Since the restrictions began, the obvious and most familiar tool for many of us has been the telephone. Some people love it, others pick it up only reluctantly. But people need pastors, and a simple phone call remains the easiest way to keep in touch with individuals. We have made a list of the people we wish to support, and ring them regularly – usually once a month.
Those of us who are doing this find that the conversation is most fruitful if it is structured. So I might start by listening and sharing; how is life for my sister, my home group member, my friend? I want to listen with empathy, but also share honestly how life is for me. I then move on to talk about ministry: who are my friends concerned about, trying to help, praying for? I ask ‘Who is on your heart? Who are you giving your support to?’. We all need encouragement and advice; we all need to share what we are doing with someone who is interested. The third and final part of the conversation moves on to spiritual matters. ‘Are you managing to connect with God?’. I listen, share, make suggestions, and we pray together. I am also writing a series of short spiritual exercises – let us know if you would like to receive these regularly.
Meeting together, virtually
We need to form groups of about 6 people who will meet together over the internet, probably once a month; Zoom is proving to be the most popular platform. EQUIP members are running groups for enquirers, for children, for adult Christians, or for leaders. We have formed eleven Zoom groups for the 60 members of EQUIP, and in the groups we discuss the same three subjects as the phone calls: personal concerns, ministry to others, and spiritual life. Meetings go better if prepared in advance, so we send out suggestions for ways to prepare for the Zoom meetings by email. In this way we are seeking to follow the discipleship model of Jesus: people grow best when they travel together in groups.
Finding new ways of being church
Finally, we need to find ways of keeping our church communities alive, measured through the presence of love, joy, power and thirsting for righteousness.
Regular worship. Many of our churches are having virtual gatherings in place of Sunday services. But there is an obvious danger – that we end up offering something which only goes in one direction. Within EQUIP we are focussing on developing online church so that it flows both ways, and becomes both participatory and interactive. Some churches are sending out services on Facebook or YouTube and following them immediately with Zoom meetings for discussion and prayer, using Zoom’s facility for dividing people into groups. Some are creating group pages through Workplace or Facebook, which allow invited members to join and make posts (which can be moderated if necessary). This gives everyone a chance to communicate with fellow church members, sharing their news, needs and opportunities.
Serving the community. We are called to be salt and light in our communities, and each church needs to find new ways of reaching out to the local community. YouTube seems to be the easiest way of doing this. A church might hold a weekly event, advertised through Facebook. The event can be mostly pre-recorded, and include several items which together make up an hour or less. Items can include a talk, a testimony, a high quality musical item, a children’s talk, and information about how people can get involved in what the church is doing for the local community. The main aims of these events should be to provide take-home wisdom, and to share the gospel and its relevance to people’s needs today – which means trying to avoid religious language and practices!
Prayer support. It remains important for everyone who has an active ministry to others to be able to recruit prayer support, with the aim of keeping in step with God’s word and seeking God’s help. Prayer can be done through phone calls or whatsapp groups, or via Zoom.
It’s all a bit of a learning curve, but all of these paths are being followed by one or more of our EQUIP members. Some have already reported significant results – most commonly an unexpected increase in the number of people attending church in this new virtual world. We are hoping that before long all 60 of them will have made significant progress. I think we are all finding, as this situation goes on, that we are seeing new possibilities for ministry, not just in the short term but also in the medium and even long term. Who knows, perhaps this
unexpected pandemic will force us to make changes we
should have made long ago…
If you are a church leader and would like to join with us, please do get in touch.