The Retford Area Covenant Partnership

At the 2016 Methodist Conference in London, three people shared the story of the Retford Area Covenant Partnership: The Revd Canon Tony Walker (then Team Rector of the Retford Area Team Ministry), Teresa Abel, and The Revd Peter Sheasby (the Circuit Superintendent). Here is part of the story they shared.

In November 2012, the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the Methodist Superintendent signed a ‘Covenant Partnership in an Extended Area’ for the Retford area. This was one more step in a long process of working together that can be traced back to the formation of the single congregation LEP in the village of North Wheatley in the 1990s and the Anglican-Methodist Covenant in 2003. The area is about 100 square miles and in it there are 28 Church of England churches and four Methodist chapels serving around 33,000 people.

A pivotal moment came in Holy Week 2006 with an Ecumenical Mission in the area led by the Bishop and the Chair of District, culminating in a special service of Holy Communion on Easter Day 2006 at Grove Street Methodist Church in Retford. It was attended by 650 people: Anglicans, Methodists, and others. For the Bishop to forsake his Cathedral on Easter Day in order to preside at a Methodist church showed how seriously Anglican-Methodist working together was treated.

Out of this experience of doing worship and mission together another idea developed. Neither denomination could afford to recruit a new full-time minister in the area so, why not go half-and-half and appoint someone to serve both denominations? In 2007, Mark Cantrill was licensed as Team Vicar for five Anglican parishes and was also authorised to serve the Methodist Church and given responsibility for Grove Street Methodist Church.

Over the years, working together has increased:

  • all the Church of England services are included in the quarterly Circuit Plan; details are shared one another’s gaps are filled;
  • an annual joint service gives a chance to celebrate the progress being made together;
  • all decisions about deployment of ministers are made after consultation, and each denomination is represented at the interviewing of new ministers;
  • mission strategies are agreed together; eg, the work of the Missioner to Schools and Young People, co-ordinating all the Messy Churches, etc;
  • the Superintendent is now Minister in Charge of two Anglican parishes which are in a single congregation LEP with one Methodist chapel. The only thing he cannot legally do at the moment is take Church of England weddings.

Teresa Abel is employed by the Methodist Church as Lay Pastoral Worker in the Retford area of Trinity Circuit, in the Sheffield District. This area covers three Anglican-Methodist LEPs and three Methodist churches.

Here are a few ‘snapshots’ of what it is like ‘on the ground’ for those who work and worship together in this area, and how the ecumenical drawing together has impacted on their churches and their communities.

One of the aspects of Teresa’s work has been to set up, train, and oversee pastoral teams in local churches. In the LEP in the Levertons, she worked closely with an Anglican colleague to establish and train a team to provide a solid basis of good pastoral care in that LEP and community. This acted as a model for other places, both within the area and beyond. Her Anglican colleague and minister, Mark Cantrill, has been a great proponent of this, maintaining that structured pastoral care is one of the great strengths of the Methodist tradition. Teresa was invited by the Retford Anglican Team to lead further courses training lay people to share the pastoral care in local churches. In addition, a bereavement care course has been developed and delivered widely across the area. In working together in this way, closer links have been formed between leaders and individuals in local churches and the importance of good quality pastoral care has been highlighted.

The sharing of resources, skills, and initiatives has been an important part of working together in covenant partnership. Another illustration of this has been the preparation courses for Marriage and Baptism. Couples getting married in one of our Anglican or Methodist churches are invited to a day’s Marriage Preparation. This is led by the Anglican clergy and supported by a team from both traditions. It is held at a town-centre Methodist church, whose premises and well-equipped facilities provide the most suitable venue. Monthly Baptism preparation sessions work along similar lines. All churches in the Partnership benefit from this arrangement, which brings with it the advantages of time economy, and also gathers together couples and families in similar circumstances from the local community.

Grove Street Methodist church in Retford feels that its worship has been greatly enhanced by the variety and richness introduced by Mark Cantril. He claims to choose the “best of both traditions”, and says he is grateful for the freedom the appointment has offered him in exploring new, creative ways of worship. In turn, the people have come to appreciate his varied use of liturgy and symbolism. Having Mark as their minister has certainly encouraged them to think more ecumenically and see beyond denominational differences. It has led to some good discussions about why things are done in the way they are, given a broader outlook on worship, and made people more open to exploring new ways of working.

The two denominations are working together at every level, responding to the changes both have experienced over a number of years, sharing insights, and looking at their mission and service in the local communities. A particular sentence in the 2011 document, Moving Forward in Covenant, inspired those preparing to enter the Covenant Partnership in Extended Area (CPEA) in the Retford area:

While this development [CPEA] falls short of the interchangeability of ordained ministries, it will enable us to go further in fulfilling the spirit of the Covenant – by acting as one until we are one …

Those involved in the partnership believe they can truly say that this is happening on the ground in their area because it provides for them a greatly enhanced form of shared ministry. They still look forward to the time when there will be interchangeability of ministries as well as other things that will help them to work as one.

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