The Methodist Church has formally launched what it says is the biggest change in generations to how and where it offers training, learning and development, according to lead staff working for its new Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network.
Once up and running, the new system is intended to offer greater opportunities for training for lay ministry and service.
The Learning Network was set up as a direct result of decisions taken at Conference 2012 and recommendations in the Fruitful Field report. Its development follows a year of scrutiny and debate in the Methodist Council and other governance bodies, as well as online and in the letters page of the denomination's weekly paper.
Nearly 20 posts are still being recruited, with closing dates in mid-September. The changes will result in more staff being based regionally than before. Staff will work out of Cliff College and the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham, as well as in home or regional offices.
Jude Levermore, Head of Discipleship and Ministries, said “By having more Connexional Team members in the regions, we can combine the strengths of being a Connexional church with the strength of local mission. Being closer to where people are allows the Church to get the best out of what is already happening and what will be developed. We have a growing group of talented, skilled and professional people. The potential is huge.”
The new work will cover the full range of church life under the broad headings of Discipleship, Ministry and Church & Community. Said Jude: “this is a response to the challenge of being a ‘Discipleship Movement shaped for Mission’. If a church needs more home group leaders, how are they trained and resourced? If a circuit wants to focus on youth ministry, or develop the skills of the circuit leadership team, where do they find help? If changing demographics means a church needs to engage with Inter Faith work for the first time, how can they know they are getting the best and most up to date materials? To be a vital, growing church, we need to be a learning church.
”One of the key aspects of the Learning Network is that it will be shaped by and responsive to local needs. So in each of the 11 training regions there will be conversations between the regional coordinators and the chairs of the districts in that region and other District officers. These will produce learning and development work plans for each region. Network staff will engage with superintendents and circuit meetings to enable local needs to be heard and suitably incorporated into the plan.
Paul Taylor, Director of Learning and Development (Regions), said: “Each region has different needs, which vary by geography, demographics and local vision. So we want to listen to the regional and local needs along with the things that are identified as being Connexion-wide.”
For example, Safeguarding training for relevant staff is a requirement across the Connexion, and needs to be delivered in a consistent way and to agreed standards. But although there will be some required core elements to any action plan, the Network staff want to hear from and try to meet local needs.
Says Mr Taylor: “the needs of a rural region will be different to those of an urban one. Each region will be able to explore what its learning and development forum will look like. The membership of such a forum used to be quite rigidly set, but now will look different in different regions, to be able to better discuss local needs.”
The Rev Canon Dr David Hewlett, Principal of the Queen’s Foundation, commented: “We are delighted that the Queen’s Foundation, along with our friends at Cliff College, is part of this new era in Methodist learning and development. As an ecumenical college, with 24 academic staff and over 400 registered students, including 150 who are preparing for ordained or authorised ministries, we are committed to bring the widest range of our research and experience to all those we work with.”