The Circuit's mission purpose, and early initiatives
The primary purpose for bringing five Circuits into a single Gloucestershire Circuit in 2008, was for mission. The intention was to become better released, organised and resourced for mission.
This was reflected in the organisational structure of the Circuit. The overall numbers of previous standing committees were reduced and a 'portfolio' structure adopted, reporting through the Circuit Leadership Team or Executive to the representative Circuit Meeting or Assembly.
As a result, in the early years of the Gloucestershire Circuit, several mission initiatives were introduced. These included new lay worker posts of a missional, outreach, children's, family or pastoral work nature, focused in Cirencester, South Cerney and Tetbury; in Churchdown, Eastington, Gloucester Lonsdale Rd, Tewkesbury and Winchcombe; and in a new lay chaplain's post at Hartpury College. A new Deacon was appointed for outreach work in Stonehouse and Innsworth. Additionally, wider initiatives were pursued, including becoming a Fair Trade Circuit, and developing an 'Explore' Christianity course.
Restructuring to develop an overall Vision and Strategy for Mission
In the light of experience, a restructuring in 2015 consolidated and reduced the number of portfolios, but endeavoured to increase the participation and collaboration involved in them by reconfiguring and establishing various connected officers, groups and networks, so as to drive forward the work and initiatives involved. Part of the restructuring was to establish a dedicated Circuit Vision and Strategy for Mission ('VSM') Group, to ensure a more strategic and missional approach for the Circuit as a whole. In Methodist understanding and organisation, the Circuit is the 'primary unity of mission', through which the Circuit's churches are enabled collectively to agree priorities and to pool resources, and in turn be supported and encouraged by the Circuit.
Following the March 2016 Assembly's agreement, the VSM Group conducted a consultation with all the Circuit's churches (including the Local Ecumenical Partnerships), in order to:
Responses from churches and individuals to the consultation led to some generalised feedback, and to some subsequent visits to several churches to reflect together on particular church's life and mission (such visits are continuing). Separately or as part of this, many churches have been developing their own mission priorities and endeavours, taking risks and making commitments, and/or they continue to wrestle with the challenges they may be facing.
For the Circuit as a whole, the VSM consultation generated ideas and insights that, through analysis and reflection, meetings and revisions, discernment and prayer, led in March 2017 to the Circuit Assembly agreeing a 'Circuit Vision and Strategy for Mission Statement'.
The Circuit's Vision and Strategy for Mission Statement
The Statement provides a framework, direction and priorities for the Circuit and its churches for the period ahead. The intention is to join in God's mission as effectively as possible, through conventional and fresh ways of working; through prioritised deployment of resources; and through commitment to agreed mission activities and causes.
The Statement uses the Methodist Church's existing 'Our Calling' framework (involving 'Worship, 'Learning & Caring', 'Service', and 'Evangelism'), but extends 'Worship' to cover church and ministerial arrangements, and 'Service' to include Social Justice. Whilst any framework might break down issues and ideas into particular points (as enumerated in the Circuit VSM Statement), the ideas and intentions are all meant to overlap and interlink.
Working out these aims and ideas in more detail and implementing them will involve the Circuit's existing structures and personnel, plus four specific taskforces for where a particular focus and impetus is required.
However, the effectiveness of the Statement and its outworking will depend above all on churches and individuals working with and committing to the Statement's principles and objectives in their own particular contexts, in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Hopefully, the Statement will then become an effective imperative and umbrella for guiding and prioritising our endeavours and direction. As the journey and destination become clearer, so the Statement will be revised and evolve. Thus, with God's help and blessing, the Circuit seeks more fully to discern and join in God's mission.