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Urban Congress 2018 – Seeking the Kingdom in the City

More than 70 people from Church of England Birmingham’s inner city and outer estate parishes gathered for the day to reflect together on our life and mission as disciples within the city.


This year, the Congress had a very dialogical and conversational character – people spent a lot of time talking to each other in small groups, with those from the Diocese listening.  It felt very much that this was a living example of Robert Schreiter’s concept of The Community as Theologian.  We had fun, we worshipped, we ate together.  We watched these films about mission and the kingdom in some of our parishes.

St Thomas, Garretts Green

St John and St Peter, Ladywood

Hodge Hill Church

The Church and the Estates

Paula Gooder introduced some biblical images of mission for us and got us thinking hard about which most excite us in our mission.  Here are our reflections:

Go! Matthew 28: 19 – 20

– ‘go’ and ‘come’ are both encompassed in this.

– relational

– comforting

– journey through life

– who we touch


Seek the welfare of the city, Jeremiah 29: 7

– welfare

– shalom


Freedom, Luke 4: 18 – 19

– it is easier to be a giver than to receive

– the importance of being broken

– issues of Church v Kingdom

– people we know

– “difference”

– mission at home.


An Uncomfortable Kingdom, Luke 13: 19

– weed

– untidy

– what our church does

– plant on purpose?

– symbolic tree

– abiding place

– how do we accommodate it?

– is the Kingdom like Japanese knotweed?


Care for the Stranger Luke, 10: 33

– receiving help


Parable of the Talents, Luke 19: 12

– little brings a lot

– put it to use


The Ethiopian Official Acts 8: 26

– explaining scripture

– our lives challenge others

– instant results vs long journey


Touching Jesus’ Cloak, Luke 8

– we want more!


Workers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20

– God’s nature – rewarding last minute workers the same fair wage and dignity


Yeast and Leaven, Matthew 13

– don’t fiddle with it or you will break it

– doing things at the right time

– doing things in God’s time



– scared

– terrified

– obedient



– turned away

– no one listened


Widows and Unjust Judges, Luke 18

– persistence


God loves the world, John 3: 16

– love for everyone

– God loves us first


Jesus and the Lepers, Luke 17

– tending wounds


Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5

– social justice


Sending out: Luke 10

– why I am here

– things happen


Chosen by God to Bear Fruit, John 15


Sowing Seed, Matthew 13

– not knowing what soil we have

– prodigality

– it is up to God






– to see everyone welcomed

– our communities changing

– bringing people and communities together

– encouraging one another in mission

– looking inside – what is my purpose? what can I give?

– making Jesus accessible for all

– people coming together to share

– seeing God’s grace at work

– wanting Church to be different

– being joyful

– working with schools

– blessed are the poor




– the community working together

– including young people in church

– theology and suffering – called to engage and respond

– intergenerational learning, reverse mentoring





– “how to” guides

– more social media

– recognising the gifts that are already there

– mentoring / small cell groups

– sustaining with prayer

– working as churches together

– calling and releasing gifts

– working with all agencies


Simon Heathfield responded at the end of the day:

What are the things that matter?

What is God saying?

  1. Where is God’s sweetness?

– our parish

– our identities in God – this means seeing gift before deprivation

– let’s believe God’s identity in this place

– God has given us our identity, the authentic thing God calls us to be

– “there is treasure when you find what people have to give”

– what is the treasure in your place?


  1. Is your Church ‘come’ or ‘go’?

– building a culture of invitation

– ‘go’ = being changed


  1. Messiness

– how comfortable are you with mess?

– suffering?

– mustard seed

– Jean Vanier “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”

– the conversation today has been really positive


  1. Who is driving the agenda?

– where is the agency?

– the agency, the initiative, the power come from outside

– giving you the vision God has for you


  1. How do you deal with issues of timing that you cannot control?

– mission as not-knowing

– taking the long view

The cost of discerning a call is too high for some

There is an extremely good article by Emma Ash in The Church Times this week reminding us that the financial cost of discerning a vocation to the priesthood in the Church of England can cost £1000 (read the article here).  This can be an insurmountable obstacle for people who do not have a high income.

There has been a very helpful discussion about this in the last few days on Twitter.

If anyone has any stories about how financial or other middle class obstacles have affected them in discerning lay and priestly vocations, could you let myself or Lynne Cullens have them (obviously in complete confidence).

NECN sits on various groups looking at nurturing greater diversity in Church of England leadership, and there is considerable will to effect change. We can feed comments and anonymised stories into the process to try to make change.

keynote from necn conferences

NECN Keynote April, 2018


Well, it is good to be here!

Welcome everyone to the National Estate Churches Network Conference for 2018.  If you don’t know me, I’m Andy Delmege.  I’m the new Chair of NECN, I’m also an Anglican priest on an estate in South Birmingham and I am Urban Estates Missioner there.

If you don’t know NECN, we are “what it says on the tin” – an ecumenical charity that supports estate churches.  We’ve had a bit of a relaunch recently – and we need to pay tribute to the hard work that has gone into the last 25 years, especially that of Laurie Green and Jane Winter, helping to keep estate churches on the radar in what have often been difficult times.

We are in a strange time for estates and estate churches.  We know that for most of us, we are facing huge demands as austerity bites into our communities and the fabric of life becomes ever more stretched.  Some of us will come from communities affected by knife crime, all of us from places affected by squeezes in benefit and the lack of properly paid work.  We know the cost of this to our neighbours, to congregations, to ourselves.  Many of our churches punch well above their weight in terms of their service to the community, but this so often seems like a widow’s mite, that we are just scratching the surface.  There is plenty to be angry about, plenty to lament.  We must keep this reality before our eyes.

At the same time, there is suddenly a lot of new energy in estate churches.  Bishop Philip will speak in more detail about the national scene this afternoon, but it is wonderful to know that some of the national churches are finding enthusiasm for the estates, and that we can see such a lot of creative and imaginative ministry on the ground, new and traditional models of Church flourishing.  Our Marketplace and our Toolkit point to this.

Today’s conference is about the craft of estates ministry – going back into our communities tooled up.  As we will hear from our contributors, this is not about clever technique.  Rather, it is about the core things.  It is, most importantly, about the Gospel, Christ, love, faithfulness, sticking where we are.

Perhaps the most important thing for us at this time is to look to our foundations.  What is there at this time that helps you to flourish?  Where do you find hope?

Here are some themes that might help us on our journey together.

  1. Rooted in Jesus, rooted in God

Well, let’s start in the most important place – being rooted in Jesus, rooted in God.  Our relationships with Jesus, our lives of prayer, underpin everything else.  It’s good today to have some time to pray together, to worship together and to be in this powerhouse of prayer in the middle of the city.

Jesus.  In the Person, life, teaching, Death and Resurrection of Jesus we see the love of God.  Our ministry, lives and churches are understood as attempts to faithfully respond to this.  Our relative poverty teaches us that we must rely on God, the Spirit and Grace.

In Christ, we see God’s love for those on the margins and the edges.  We see the attractiveness and the cost of this and are called to respond by our discipleship.

In applying this to our present context, we know that social housing estates, the people who live on them, estate churches and estate ministry are very close to the heart of God.  If the Church abandons the estates, then it is abandoning the Gospel.  In seeking flourishing estate churches throughout this land, we must continue to be deeply rooted in our life in Christ, in our biblical understanding and in our common life and culture.

  1. Transforming Love

One of the key themes for me for estate churches is transforming love.

Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, the biblical emphasis on the prophetic, the Resurrection, the Transfiguration and the expectation of all things being transformed in the life of the world to come point to transformation as a key theological theme in estates ministry.  Transformation provides a lens which brings together theological reflecting, praying and acting around the Kingdom of God, around the mystical journey, people becoming fully alive and flourishing, flourishing neighbourhoods and transformation of peoples’ life chances,

We remember that cities (and urban estates) are the ultimate hope in the Bible, with the city in Revelation becoming paradise.  Our cities today mean we have a lot to do.

Our estates are crying out for social and economic transformation.  They often need physical transformation.  There is need for justice in the way people are treated by wider society and Government.  We have had Grenfell Tower since we last met.  Estate churches, in partnership with people of goodwill, have a key role to play in this practical demonstration of the love of God.

As well as economic transformation, people on estates often suffer from poor educational opportunity and attainment, low self-esteem and little chance of growing through employment.  Christian discipleship has a key part to play in helping people live out Irenaeus’ insight that a person fully alive is the glory of God.  A key part of our vocation is how we can bring people from estates into leadership within the churches and the communities.  We will hear more about this in our stories this morning.  This is a vital part of our work.  How can all our churches establish the cultures which allow this to happen?

Our churches often need transformation.  They can be small and under-resourced; often have poor plant; can have a lack of hope and vision.  The wider Church has often failed to invest properly in estates, and lives a life that is rooted in a very different culture.  There needs to be a continuing and determined struggle with this to ensure the flourishing of estate churches and, with the spiritual gifts they bring, the flourishing of the whole of Christ’s Church.

This journey of transforming and redeeming love brings challenges: to the wider Church, to helpful outsiders who move onto estates, to people from estates, and to estate churches.  As on any pilgrimage, this will involve times of discomfort.

3. Organic Mission

As it reflects Christ’s love and is attentive to its context, mission on estates is organic.  Mission on estates makes sense and has integrity if it is understood as encompassing three areas:  social action; evangelism; and people growing and flourishing.  Mission must include work to transform society so that God’s love is shown in action and that the Church may have integrity.  It should include discipleship so that people have an opportunity to grow into the image and likeness of God.  It must include evangelism so that the Church does not neglect spiritual care (Pope Francis links these three together in Paragraph 200 of Evangelii Gaudium; Theos and CUF have embarked on an ambitious project to research the link between these three elements).

  1. Embracing All

We find in Jesus a welcome to outsiders, and the boundary breaking character of the church, the ‘new humanity’ described by Paul.  One of our gifts to the church is that estates ministry is one of the few places where there is obvious respect among people from very different wings of the church and where no one is trying to re-fight the Reformation.  One of the great gifts of today (and across both conferences) is that there are people from many different parts of the Church.  We respect one another and the ministry each are doing, often in hard circumstances.  We need to work hard to hold this space and continue to develop this culture.

We will be inclusive of many different patterns of church.  There will be traditional expressions of parish; there will be plants; there will be fresh expressions; there will be hybridity; there will be things we have not yet dreamed.

Some of this may seem contradictory.  In some places there will be emphasis on people from outside practicing kenosis and incarnational living; in others the concentration will be on building local people up.  Patterns of ministry will be different in different places as we seek to be faithful to God.

And there are huge amounts to be teased out and learned from here.  I’m really looking forward this morning to hearing stories from some Churches that have gone a long way down the road of bringing local people into leadership.  Some of this can be challenging.  I think of Lynne Cullens’ call a few weeks ago that middle class leadership on estates commits to fostering indigenous ministry (https://lynnecullens.com/2018/04/05/poorface/ ).  At the same time, we have such a witness of leaders from outside (like me) being called to estates and serving on them in wonderful ways.  We will hear something of this in our panel discussion this afternoon.  These may seem contradictory (and if they are, then I believe that we see the work of God in them), but perhaps we can work out Jill Duff’s vision of modern St Hilda’s (the abbess of the monastery in Whitby that sent out missionaries to evangelise Britain) who raised up Caedmon the cattle herd who sang the wonders of God in his own language.  Let’s find the Caedmons who can sing the love of God in the language of our communities.

In all this, we must have the chance to fail gracefully.  As Christ sent his disciples out in pairs to prepare his way with instructions for what to do if they were unwelcome, so there will be times when our work does not bear fruit.  There must be freedom to proceed faithfully without fear of failure.  We recognise that the seed dies in the ground before it grows.

  1. Smallness, brokenness, woundedness

Estate Churches are often small.  We passionately want them to grow, and we will do our best to continue to work at ways of doing this.  But smallness, woundedness, and the little way are all at the heart of the Gospel.  The Risen Christ is often recognised by the wounds he bears.  We are healed by his wounds.  There is much here that we can bring to a wealthier, more comfortable wider church.

While we receive financial support from wealthier churches, there is a deep sense in which churches in areas of poverty provide spiritual support to them.

Our poverty teaches us that we cannot do things ourselves; we rely on God and one another (this is one of the key reasons we are so important).

  1. Passionate Theology

We are here today, and we live and minister where we are because we are passionate about it.  The nature of estates ministry means that people are chippy and angry, often broken and bruised.  This is due to immersion in what so often feels like a Passion and in the effects of structural sin which hit areas of multiple deprivation hardest.  The wider Church has to recognise this and offer love.  Estate churches often offer a challenge to what the wider Church and society see as ‘successful’ and of value.  It is really important that we articulate this – it is something we often have not done well.

We seek to develop patterns of Church and ministry which are sustainable.  We will continue to develop patterns of community which allow ministers to be supported and to flourish in the long term.


Now some remarks about NECN and this conference and the toolkit

moving from our foundations to who we are and what we do

All of this can seem a daunting task.  But there are a couple of important and hopeful points to make here.  One is that we have resources that can help us in our ministry.  And it is important to note this – a few years ago, there was very little around for estate churches.  By and large we either had to heavily adapt things or write our own from scratch.  Lynne will talk more about our Toolkit before lunch.  It is in its early stages, but we know we have a lot of things that work in our churches.  The toolkit is the chance to share them with each other.  The Toolkit is collaborative, so please join in and help us to expand it.  And please use it!  We and all those who have provided the resources would love your feedback.  Many of the people who have developed the resources are here in the Marketplace – make sure you visit them at lunchtime or when we finish.

One of the most important assets we have is one another.  A great thing over the past couple of years has been a real mushrooming of estate church groups around the country.  These can be a real boost and support to estate church leaders. If you would like to be put in touch with one or set one up in your area, let me know.  NECN can’t establish new ones, but we can help support – it is important to say that NECN isn’t interested in owning local groups (although we are happy if they want to be called NECN Groups) – we want them to be there and are happy to offer support.  Non-regional groupings like New Wine Urban do this wonderfully too.

As with most (all?) estate church things, NECN does this with very little resource.  We have no staff.  The work is done either by volunteers or by those who are able to spend a bit of very full work time on it.  We have a committed Steering Group.  At the moment there are no vacancies, but if you are interested, let me or Lynne know – when opportunities arise there is a balance of filling skill-areas we need (we could do with a decent website), and balance of geography, denominations, and so on.

If you want to support NECN financially, there are some donation forms at the Welcome Desk.

We have an opportunity for Estate Churches that we need to make the most of before the tide goes out.  NECN will support groups and hold its conferences every year or so.

We have ecumenical ambition.  All our denominations need to put the estates at the centre – please go back and hassle them all.

God has put a task before us, estate churches and the whole of the Church.  It can feel daunting.  For those of us who live and work on estates, it can often feel that sticking there is all we can do.  But there are always things we can be, always things we can do.

It is important that we don’t compare ourselves with churches in wildly different contexts (although we must be accountable for what we do).  One of the great missionary theologians of the twentieth century, Roland Allen, teaches us that God will always give the local Church the gifts and capacity that it needs in order to do what God wants it to do.  Let us pray that we can discern what God wants us to do together and in the ordinary lives of our estate churches, and let us pray more that we can be faithful to do it.

Jesus teaches his disciples constantly do not worry, do not be afraid.  I was recently reading a reflection by the Abbot of Montalegre, the poorest of the Carthusian Communities, houses of silent, solitary monks (‘The Poor Communities’ in The Wound of Love, A Carthusian Miscellany).  He has about 8 monks, no money, no way of gaining either.  He realises that this poverty is ideal for living the Gospel.   What does Jesus say?  ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and the rest will be added unto you.’  Or the passage where Jesus is asleep in the boat in the storm and the disciples wake him and are rebuked for their lack of faith.  The paradox of the Gospel is that we should have confidence when everything says we shouldn’t.

But the risk for poor communities is “a deep impoverishment at the level of aspiration: a certain conformity or resignation in the face of reality”.

I believe this speaks a lot to us.

So, let us learn from this wisdom.  To make sure that we do not have a deep impoverishment at the level of hope and aspiration.  And to seek what is simple and essential – God and our neighbour, fraternal charity, the will of God.

I think, this beyond and before all else is the craft of estate ministry.

We begin, end and have our being in God.  We seek to follow faithfully and prayerfully, to work for the establishment of the Kingdom, for the flourishing of all people on estates and for their churches.  This is, at heart, a way of love.  Let us commit ourselves anew to following it.


Andy Delmege







necn easter greetings

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

may I wish you a Happy and Blessed Easter on behalf of all at the National Estate Churches Network.
I hope you find refreshment in the next days.

A final reminder that our national conferences are in Blackburn on April 16th and Birmingham on April 18th. (Click on the links for more information and to book).  We have record numbers coming – but there is plenty of room.  It will be great to see you there.

With prayers for you and your church,

Andy Delmege

NECN March Update

Dear Friends,

there are lots of good things happening:

Our Conferences – Tooled Up: The Craft of Estate Ministry – are on April 16th in Blackburn and April 18th in Birmingham.  They are going to be very well attended.  There is still room, but it would help us if you could book quickly – please press this link for full details and to book your place in Birmingham and here for Blackburn.

We will be launching an online toolkit of resources that work for estate churches at the conferences.  If you have any suggestions for it, please let us know.

There are a few places left in the Conference Marketplace for organisations supporting estates ministry.  Please contact us if you would like a table.

I am updating my list of Estate Church Groups – if you would like yours added to the list, please let me know – it is wonderful that there are so many springing up.

With prayers for you and your Church in Holy Week and Easter,

Andy Delmege

diary of a country priest


I am summoning up the courage to read Georges Bernanos’ The Diary of a Country Priest again.  Proper reading for Passiontide.

Why does it need courage to read?  It cuts to the heart:

“To cultivate clever people is merely a way of dining out, and a priest has no right to go out to dinner in a world full of starving people.”

necn update

Dear Friends,

Here is an update on NECN.  There’s quite a bit of news at the moment so I will send another email in a few days which will include details of an exciting offer from the Urban Theology Union.

NECN April Conferences
If you haven’t done it yet, please book your place on one of our Conferences:
‘Tooled Up: the Craft of Estates Ministry’

Blackburn Cathedral Monday 16th April 2018 10.00am-3.00pm
Click here to book

Birmingham Cathedral Wednesday 18th April 2018 10.00am-3.00pm
Click here to book

At the NECN Conference this year, we will be launching the Estates Church Toolkit, an online range of resources that we know work to help support ministry on social housing estates. We will also be sharing in stories from Estate Churches around the country.

The Conference days will begin with a welcome over tea and coffee as you arrive, followed by a keynote address by Revd Andy Delmege, the new Chair of NECN (Andy has been a parish priest in estate parishes for many years, is a member of the Estates Evangelism Task Group, and Urban Estates Missioner in Birmingham).

There will be presentations from Estate Churches, telling rich stories of their lives and their ministres and looking at what has helped them to flourish (as well as what has been difficult).

There will also be available, throughout the day, a Marketplace of organisations and groups who provide helpful resources for Estate Churches.

Midday Prayer will be followed by a sandwich lunch which is included in the cost of the Conference. The afternoon session will see a panel of estate practitioners, thinkers and influencers present and take questions from the floor.

The cost of the day will be £25 including a simple sandwich lunch – if that charge prevents anyone from attending then please contact NECN using the details below to discuss ways in we might support your attendance.

Both venues are wheelchair accessible on the ground floor, including toilet facilities. Queries, dietary preferences or any other specific requirements should be notified to us via email at lynne.cullens@nationalestatechurches.org or on 07544 350692.

We look forward to seeing you!

Estate Church Toolkit

Following feedback from our last Conferences, NECN will be facilitating a space where resources and sources of support for estates ministry can be shared and accessed by estate practitioners.  The 2018 conference Marketplace will provide a physical space to do this, but an online toolkit facility is also being developed.  This will be a peer resource, populated by NECN members and others nationally over time.  We are sourcing suggestions for resources to get this process started – can you suggest any suitable resources or partner organisations to include?

The toolkit subheadings are mission & evangelism; discipleship & learning; children & young people; worship, reflection & prayer; blogs & member contributions; and community engagement & social action.  If you can suggest any resources under those headings that you have seen, used or produced – liturgy, script, bible study, children’s activities, reflective resources or blog etc. – please forward the document or a link to Lynne on lynne.cullens@nationalestatechurches.org  Clicking on whatever resource you might suggest takes the user back to the originator’s site so it is a good way of raising traffic to partner sites, blogs etc too.  We’re happy to source permission to use any resources suggested, if necessary.

This has the potential to evolve into a significant body of peer-led wisdom and resources over time, so your support and ideas would be welcome.

With best wishes and prayers for your ministry,


necn april conferences

Dear Friends,

This is to remind you that you can book your place on NECN’s April Conferences.

‘Tooled Up: the Craft of Estates Ministry’

Blackburn Cathedral Monday 16th April 2018 10.00am-3.00pm
Click here to book

Birmingham Cathedral Wednesday 18th April 2018 10.00am-3.00pm
Click here to book

Click here for more details about the content of the day.

If you would like to have a place at the Marketplace or can suggest anyone who should be, please contact us.

Please let us know anything that should go in the Toolbox.

The cost of the day will be £25 including a simple sandwich lunch – if that charge prevents anyone from attending then please contact NECN using the details below to discuss ways in we might support your attendance.

Both venues are wheelchair accessible on the ground floor, including toilet facilities. Queries, dietary preferences or any other specific requirements should be notified to us via email at lynne.cullens@nationalestatechurches.org or on 07544 350692.

We look forward to seeing you!

advent journey – “success”
December 22, 2017, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Christmas (and in terms of season I am solidly in both Christmas and Advent for these days) is a beautiful and strange time for clergy.  For myself there are the wonderful, huge number of services, assemblies, opportunities to share with people something of God.  But there is also the challenge of having time and energy for my family.  And, as we all know, there is a shadow side to the season.

We can find this a bit in social media, which (if you follow the same people as me) can be full of clergy who are justly proud of the numbers attending their services.  Now, I am fully in favour of having as many people in Church as possible (part of my ministry is a missioner), but I am also aware that many of us in urban housing estates and other places will be ministering as hard and imaginatively and faithfully as possible, but may have very few visitors and regular congregation in Church this weekend.  This can be crushing, especially when you are exhausted.

So, maybe we might think before we tweet or facebook our numbers.  And, to be honest, it might be best to stay off the computer for a bit.  Spend time with family and friends, watch a film, read a book.  Much more healthy.

My prayers for you all over the next days.

(and Sarah Schofield says similar things much better here).

advent journey – 2


Advent began for me a week ago with the Urban Congress in Birmingham.  80 people coming together for the day from our inner city and outer estate parishes to reflect together on Staying in the City: Stories of Hope and Holding On.

The pictures of the day are here

Reflections on how this day helped map the Advent Journey to follow.