at Synod on Saturday we were treated to a discussion starter document entitled 'Marks of a Healthy Circuit'. It is based on the premise that 'In London we know that our members' diversity of experience in different denominations and Connexions means that what a Circuit is and how it works is not always fully understood'. In order to help us understand the nature of a Circuit better therefore, this document outlines seven marks of a healthy circuit 'as a basis for thought and discusssion and to help understanding as circuits face urgent questions about their future'.
It certainly does provoke discussion.
If Saturday's conversations can be used as a judge there are a variety of different ways of understanding what does, and does not constitute a 'healthy' circuit. The District really is to be congratulated on having produced such a provocative document.
As an example - mark number 1
A Healthy Circuit has:
An effective Staff Team of between 5 and 8 ministers or full time staff.
'it is clear that one of the big gains in Circuit mergers has been the increased quality of staff fellowship, support and teamwork'.
Apparently - fewer than 5 can lead to 'major difficulties' in the case of ill health,sabbaticals and 'relationship issues'.
I agree it is certainly easier to keep relationships light, non-confrontational, non-informative and polite when there are enough people in the room to divert attention away from key issues. It's a lot easier for example, for a person in a group of 8 to stay silent and unnoticed for an hour than it is for a person in a group of three or four. I am also inclined to agree that many of the problems in circuits stem from conflicts amongst the circuit staff, but I'm not sure the answer is to create a situation where they can be ignored hidden, minimized or disguised. And what about the role of the laity, of Supernumerary and sector ministers - are they not part of the 'team' with a role to play in resolving any such issues? What would St Paul say about such issues,what is our calling in such circumstances?
Similarly - it is suggested that more than 8 staff can create a loss of team focus and accountability - so how on earth does a circuit meeting which is larger and more diverse, hold focus and accountability?
Last - but by no means least - a staff team of between 5 and 8 creates better training opportunities and the possibility for diversity in gifts and graces.
And of course - there is the problem that none of this applies particularly well to fresh ways of being circuit (see Conference report in 2008)
Thinking about all this theologically - I guess the first thing I would want to say is that Mark 1 of a healthy circuit could do with being about YOU God, not about ministers!
Something about a willingness and a commitment to work together to serve God and engage in the mission of God to this circuit.
In general, I think we need to take the focus off the HOW and onto the WHY.. if we really want to inspire people to create healthy(?) - missional circuits which are able to help the District fulfill the mission statement we adopted on Saturday.
I think it is a brilliant idea to produce such a document - we DO need to look carefully at circuits (which is why the Connexion produced a report about the missional nature of the circuit)
I would just want to make a plea for it to be a CHURCH document - ie a theological document, focused on YOUR work God, not ours, and so something that takes into account important considerations such as the quality of Worship, the provision of the means of grace, the equality of ministry, the commitment to social justice and growth in grace and holiness for all your people - the obligations of membership and the responsibilities of good stewardship, the MISSION of the circuit as part of the District.
I think I would want it to spell out how it relates to the discipline and doctrine of the Connexion - and how adopting it can help us to become a more missional, inspirational people and a more effective witness to your gospel. (That might even help people to understand what CPD is all about!)
All of which is just a case of making explicit what is largely implicit in what we have been given. So, I really do want to thank you God, for giving us people who care enough about your Church to want to wrestle with it and engage with it, and persuade us to do the same - in order that YOUR will be done.