At diocesan synod in July, members agreed a change that replaces the titles Rural Deans and Lay Chairs with Area Deans and Lay Deans. The new titles recognise that as deaneries have been developing and implementing their Deanery Mission Plans, the roles have changed significantly and Area Deans and Lay Deans have been working in ever-closer collaboration.
“The title change celebrates and encourages the strengthening partnership between lay and ordained leaders in our deaneries. This relationship is vital as we continue to evolve the role of deaneries and bring them front and centre in terms of decision-making and realising missional aspirations locally as we live and tell the story of Jesus in our communities,” says Archdeacon of Bath, Revd Dr Adrian Youings.
Each of the 19 deaneries in the diocese have an Area Dean (a member of the clergy) and a Lay Dean who, working with the Deanery Mission and Pastoral Group and other leaders in the deanery, use their detailed knowledge of parishes in their area to link local issues with the overall strategic development of the diocese. The Area and Lay Dean are also jointly responsible for pastoral care and co-ordination between the parishes. Read more about shared leadership in our deaneries and how you might get involved.
The title change is the latest development in a programme of work that to refocus the role of deaneries, help them become real agents of change in our communities and support deanery leaders in that. These began in 2017 with the start of the Deanery Mission Plan process. Since then:
- Every deanery now has a Deanery Mission Plan and are actively working towards implementing them
- Deaneries are consulted and involved in discussions about next steps when vacancies arise
- Deaneries now have a real stake in shaping the diocesan strategy
- A deanery perspective is sought about every major decision concerning resourcing in the deanery
- Area Deans and Lay Deans meet together with Bishops Staff at key dates throughout the year
- New resources have been developed to support and encourage conversations about shared deanery leadership, what it means and who might be involved. View and download the full guide and ‘pew-friendly’ summary leaflet.
Reflections from our newest Area Dean
Revd Matthew Street has been the Area Dean of the Midsomer Norton Deanery since January 2018. It’s an area with a population of 54,000 and like many deaneries in the diocese it’s a mix of urban and rural parishes with 19 churches in 8 benefices.
One of the things that Matthew, as the new Area Dean, has sought to establish since he took up his new post is to foster a greater understanding of what the deanery is and what the two roles, Area Dean and Lay Dean involve.
“For a lot of the people at the moment the titles don’t really mean anything. I see it as part of my role to help everybody gain a better understanding of what an Area Dean does. Also now ‘Dean’ is consistent in the two titles; one is ordained the other isn’t, but that consistency helps people understand the link between the two roles.”
In Midsomer Norton Deanery there is a big difference between the membership numbers in the urban areas compared to those in the more rural areas. Whilst some parishes for example Peasedown St John, have a membership of 100, some of the smaller churches may have as few as 9. Matthew says, “I think there is a lot of work to do, to show people they are a part of something bigger. One thing we did, which we weren’t expecting to take off so quickly, was holding a deanery service. We said to all 19 churches, ‘sorry we’ve cancelled all the services today and if you want to go to church there’s one service in the deanery. So you need to get in your car and drive to it.’ Everyone agreed to it and 29 July was our first one and it was amazing. It was at St John’s in Midsomer Norton and what was staggering was the place was packed. There was representation from every church and as I looked around I thought to myself, ‘you know what, this deanery was born today because people are in this building, they are worshiping together.’ What warmed my heart were the village churches, for them it was so special, to be with 250 other people worshipping God.”
Matthew also put a few things in place before the joint service which he hoped would establish a link between the churches, again helping them to understand what deanery means to all of them.
“I put a map on the back of the service sheet and I deliberately joined 19 churches, I formed 9 groups and linked them. For example Wellow and Stratton on the Fosse, and I said to them you have to pray for each other, please ring each other up and ask what it is they would like to pray for in the deanery service and vice versa. In that process different parts of the deanery began talking to each other and then praying for each other.”