Fresh global inspiration for growing churches
Bishop Ric Thorpe is part of the Diocese of London in the Church of England. He’s been a bishop for six years in part of the city called Islington, where his focus has been on seeing new churches develop and become established, both in London and across the country.
The Bishop of Islington is passionate about sharing the gospel and about reaching out to people who may never have stepped inside a church.
“There are so many people who haven’t heard the good news,” he said. “But we’re seeing many people during COVID, tuning into church services online, many more than we normally attract on a Sunday. And so there’s a huge opportunity to reach people that we haven’t reached before, to make connections with people who are interested, but who haven’t made that step to cross the threshold of a church.”
Bishop Ric says the global pandemic has changed the church dramatically and forced it to find new ways of connecting, when face to face services were simply not possible. And the changes have also brought new opportunities for the church to be salt and light in the communities it serves.
“I don’t know what the future holds. That’s part of the excitement. We are just beginning to say there is so much potential for connecting with different people, new people, particularly young people, and also people who are fearful about going outside, or people who are in the older generations, connecting with them in different ways. And again, connecting with new people in new places, in new ways is part of what I think the impulse of the gospel is all about. And the online enables us to do that in completely new ways.”
For Bishop Ric, growing new churches is very much about being salt and light in the world.
“To be salt in a place, to influence that place, to bring healing, to bring purification, to bring transformation, to bring light, to be the light of the world in a place, is to bring the light of the gospel. To bring light in the darkness, is to transform a space from darkness to light and from the presence of evil to something which is the presence of God and of goodness and transformation. So, in this context, church planting is the necessity of Christians and Christian communities to be in those places of darkness, to be in those places where there is great suffering or a great sense of hopelessness, with people feeling far from God.”
According to the Bishop, seeing a church take off in places where people either feel far from God or that the church doesn’t care, is like being the salt of the earth for those communities. He said as they deployed people and resources into new areas, where the church hadn’t been reaching, they have seen God transforming lives. “We have begun to see that salt and light having a huge impact on the areas that God has called us to minister to,” he said.
One of his clergy setting up a thriving new church on a housing estate in the Diocese of London, now has a vision to reach into the many hundreds of estates across the city. Once a teenage single mother, she found her own life transformed when she was introduced to the church community and became a Christian. Bishop Ric says she is passionate about reaching people who feel they have been ‘written off’ by society.
Seeing other young church planters growing congregations in various parts of London in the past year, despite the Covid restrictions, has been encouraging for Bishop Ric, who also heard of similar experiences in other places. He said, “I was inspired by churches in our link, dioceses in Angola and Mozambique, where their churches are started by catechists sent out by the bishop to start new churches in villages and towns. As they grow, they teach people the Christian faith and then help them to grow in their faith. And then they might go and start another church and then another church and then the bishop ordains people who have planted two or three churches themselves. That was very inspiring to me.”
Bishop Ric is part of the steering group for a new initiative in the Anglican Communion called Plant Anglican, which is a church planting network launched last year online, chaired by Archbishop Hector (Tito) from Chile.
“I’m really excited about it!” he said. “A number of people from different provinces, from across different continents all over the world are involved. It is a place online where we share stories, resources, thinking and strategy about how we can be effective in church planting.”
“I have learned so much from Bishop Moon Hing, who is the Archbishop of Malaysia, his missionary approach to starting churches, that we’ve just begun too, particularly off the back of pandemic, that is so useful to know about. I’ve also learned from Archbishop Tito in Santiago who challenged a dying church to plant a church and they started having new life and started growing… just a complete turnaround. Then there are the experiences of churches in Australia that are really battling with a challenging culture against the gospel, and just how they can start connecting with people. There’s so much that we’re learning so many amazing stories of God at work.”
Bishop Ric is looking forward to sharing with fellow bishops at the Lambeth Conference. He said, “There’s so much breadth to the Anglican Church, in the Anglican Communion. As a bishop, one of the things I appreciate is the call to be a focus of unity, to bring together different traditions, to say, ‘We are one in Christ, we have so much to learn from each other’. And I think the same thing about the global community. I have so much to learn from people who have different perspectives. People who have different contexts, experiencing different situations and how they are encountering Christ in those places. And when I’m with people like that, when I hear their stories, it actually helps me in my own relationship with God, in my own journey of discipleship and also my own call as a bishop.”