Thinking Anglicans

Transforming Wigan

The Diocese of Liverpoool has published an independent review into its Transforming Wigan project. There was a brief summary (copied below) in its latest weekly email bulletin. The full story, with links to the review, is here.

We publish the Independent Review into the Transforming Wigan project

Today [22 September 2023] the Diocese of Liverpool publishes an independent evaluation of Transforming Wigan the first large scale change management project funded through the Church Commissioners Strategic Development Fund (SDF).
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The report, from Kate Hudson of Intergras Consulting, provides a thorough appraisal of the project assessing its strengths and weaknesses. It shows that the project, which has now evolved into Church Wigan, highlighted that it hadn’t been able to solve the deep financial challenges it inherited. However, it has achieved great progress in creating local teams and helping mission across the town.

The report concluded that Transforming Wigan was ambitious, particularly in its aim to turn round the finances of the deanery. It recognises the ongoing financial burden of old buildings is being tackled through the Right Buildings review and commented the new structures through establishing the charitable Wigan Deanery Trust have made Church Wigan financially more efficient. They have greater autonomy on how funds are spent and ability to apply for grant funding.

Diocesan Secretary Mike Eastwood commented: “We always knew that the Transforming Wigan project would be a major challenge, even without the disruption of Covid. Being the first to embark on a missional journey such as this takes courage and it has been a challenge for all involved, and we didn’t get everything right. We also knew that Transforming Wigan would produce a great amount of learning that we, and the national church could benefit from. We are determined to do that. However, we can increasingly see the missional energy and dedication to facing the challenges that lie ahead with increasing confidence and excitement”.

You can read the full story and access the executive summary and full report here

Madeleine Davies has written a substantial article for the Church Times: Wigan transformation fails to hit its targets.

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Shamus
Shamus
6 months ago

I feel for all affected by this. Really rather tragic. The lesson is surely, don’t try it again.

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
6 months ago

Davies’ article highlights the well known problems that come with top down initiatives. Nonetheless we still have 108 bishops meeting in Oxford chewing the fat and feeling very important in doing so. The people of Wigan are far from alone in voting with their feet.

Eschaton
Eschaton
Reply to  Fr Dean
6 months ago

Dear Fr Dean. Surely we can’t know that 108 bishops, meeting together, do in fact (all) feel “very important in doing so”. I have criticisms of the episcopal office, and have met some bishops I suspect have been corrupted by it, and in their turn have corrupted it, but this cannot be true of all of them. I often muse, sometimes prayerfully, on those bishops who feel disquieted, even distressed, by the state of things and who are anxious to serve the gospel and God’s people. I wish I knew how to give practical support to them.

A not so humble parishioner
A not so humble parishioner
Reply to  Eschaton
6 months ago

I have a rather simpler wish… to know who these bishops are…

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Eschaton
6 months ago

Eschaton, you’re right to challenge me on my rather sweeping comment. In my experience bishops do not concede that the CofE is in decline and nor do they seem willing to consider that there should be rationalisation in their own ranks. When it is proposed that a town the size of Wigan is reduced to being one parish and seemingly against the wishes of many of its parishioners, it indicates to me a significant hubris in the episcopacy there.

Simon Bravery
Simon Bravery
Reply to  Fr Dean
6 months ago

Bishop are in rather a bind about addressing decline. Leaders in most organisations feel they need to send a positive message to the poor bloody infantry to maintain morale. When the PBI reply ” We are running out of ammunition”, the leaders reply ” But on the other front our troops gained two square inches of territory last week at the cost of only a thousand lives. So on balance everything is going swimmingly.”

Mark
6 months ago

It’s rather shocking that the Church Commissioners were able to find nearly a million pounds to throw at what appears to have been a top-down vanity project imposed on unwilling local parishioners.

Very poor leadership has surely been at least an aggravating factor in the crisis in the Church over recent decades, and yet there is a kind of smug clubbiness about the “college” (I prefer bench) of bishops which seems to be entirely unmerited by their performance.

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
6 months ago

Actually, they should try it again. You have to ask the question why this project was needed? Because the local church was failing/withering on the wine/was no longer sustainable. So a new way was forged. This was not a vanity project. It was a project to stem the bleeding out of a local church. It was a salutatory reminder that “Save the Parish” is not the only answer. So yes – there are lessons to be learned, but if we dont make mistakes we dont grow. The more the parish and the parish priest hide behind an altar or a… Read more »

A not so humble parishioner
A not so humble parishioner
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
6 months ago

The report states that numbers of worshippers are down, giving is down by over 11%, the financial deficit has increased 8-fold and is now described as “critical” and that these new worship communities contribute little to the parish share with the bulk coming from the established churches already in place. It cost £1.2 million pounds. There are mistakes and then there are failures. This was a failure. In fact this was a failed reorganisation of the structure of the church that has plunged an area of the diocese of Liverpool into further financial turmoil. The idea that anyone confronted with… Read more »

On Andon
On Andon
Reply to  A not so humble parishioner
6 months ago

Whatever Transforming Wigan was? Well, according to the report, ‘The majority of members of the two groups shared a similar ecclesiology and desire to see change within the deanery. The lay chair was invited to meetings and had easy access to the teams, but there was no specific lay representation. ‘ And what was that ecclesiology? ‘TW has been particularly effective at establishing missional and social justice activities, including: 29 new communities, with a total of around 750 participants; House of Prayer; a Wigan-wide Alpha course with 370 attendees; and a Pentecost event in 2016, with around 5,000 people. The… Read more »

A not so humble parishioner
A not so humble parishioner
Reply to  On Andon
6 months ago

Did it achieve its objectives? The report says not. Whatever it was it was and is not sustainable or the solution it claimed to be in order to gain £1.2 million pounds of funding. “29 new communities, with a total of around 750 participants; House of Prayer; a Wigan-wide Alpha course with 370 attendees; and a Pentecost event in 2016, with around 5,000 people.” The report also says that there are fewer Anglicans in the deanery than before the project. It seems to me that any large scale engagement was fleeting and all they have succeeded in doing with the… Read more »

On Andon
On Andon
Reply to  A not so humble parishioner
6 months ago

Indeed! But hidden in the word salad is the identification of the brains behind the operation — a certain Knightsbridge-based organisation, now with outposts in Canterbury and beyond, dedicated to the ‘evangelisation of the nation’ — which translated means the evangelicalisation of the national church.

On Andon
On Andon
Reply to  A not so humble parishioner
6 months ago

Oh, I forgot to mention the outpost in Watford — too many ’missional dividends’ to keep up with!

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  On Andon
6 months ago

Wigan, like many Northwestern towns, had a long tradition of very popular walking days, both for Protestants and Catholics, on or around Whit Sunday. (In Merseyside, which does not include Wigan, only Catholics walked at Whitsun, Protestants waiting until July 12th.) So a “Pentecost” (shiboleth) event on Whit Sunday attracting 5,000 is not that remarkable. What is striking is that there is no mention of 2017, 2018, 2019. Was the occasion discontinued, or did it dwindle and if so, why?

Derick Pearce
Derick Pearce
Reply to  T Pott
6 months ago

they only did it once!
most people who attended found out it was a Happy Clappy church publicity stunt, for want of better words – pop groups playing all day!

some churches did manage combined walking days before covid but as most wigan churches are on main roads it’s almost impossible now to get temp. road closures

Barrie McKenzie
Barrie McKenzie
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
6 months ago

We could have let it decline for free, instead we paid £1.2m for the privilege!

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
6 months ago

Also, is there no rejoicing that there are now 63 new worshipping communities, and over 200 lay leaders trained and established? And 12,000 people engaged who were not engaged with the church before. That’s something that the established system was unable to do anything about.
So whilst there will be plenty of posts shaming this as a top down vanity project from smug leaders. There may well be a financial tragedy here, but there may well also be a kingdom triumph!

Daisy Druce
Daisy Druce
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
4 months ago

These facts and figures need to be proved. Despite asking several people from all around Wigan, not one person can think of any more than 3 or 4 new initiatives apart from the food banks. As for 12,000 people engaged, it would be good to know how and where they are engaged as it certainly isn’t visible to the naked eye. After 7 years of struggling, the people are now having to cope with this review of buildings which is, in itself, causing division between churches. There seems to be no understanding that the majority of people simply do not… Read more »

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
6 months ago

I note the tension between new initiatives and the downgrading of the traditional. It seems rather obvious to me that strategies need to be BOTH/ AND
And the traditional ( done well and with imagination ) might actually have quite a bit of life in them.

Tim Chesterton
6 months ago

I know nothing about ‘transforming Wigan’, but I do know it’s always easy to criticise the failures of non-traditional initiatives, while all the while being blind to the failures of ‘what we’ve always done.’

For instance, only a tiny minority of those of my own generation who were baptized as infants went on to become disciples of Jesus, which is what baptism is all about according to Matthew 28. But I don’t expect any branch of the C of E to release a report any time soon critiquing our practice of infant baptism.

Charles Read
Charles Read
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
6 months ago

Though there has been plenty of critique from Alec Vidler, Colin Buchanan and a host of others. (Critiquing how we have done it, not the practice of infant baptism itself.)

Last edited 6 months ago by Charles Read
T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
6 months ago

According to Matthew 28 nations, not individuals per se, are made disciples by baptism and being taught. If baptism on its own doesn’t produce your concept of disciples maybe the answer is to teach more, rather than baptise less.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  T Pott
6 months ago

Hello T. Pott. Firstly, in order to teach more, we would need to have an ongoing relationship with those who bring infants for baptism. I have spent forty years trying to cultivate those relationships, but I have to say that at the end of the day, unless the parents are already churchgoers, I have found very little willingness to be involved. My personal view is that the current Anglican practice of baptism is largely ineffective. Secondly, ‘my’ concept of disciples is not ‘mine’, but is based on the Rule of Life found in the 1959 Canadian Book of Common Prayer,… Read more »

On Andon
On Andon
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
6 months ago

I think ‘all nations’ means all people — ie inclusivity (ahem!)

Also, the passage speaks of baptising and then of teaching— so I’m not sure that it follows that a lack of further education makes baptism ‘ineffective’. If that were the case then we might as well just give up on the sacraments and concentrate on gathering people for worship around edifying ‘talks’…

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
6 months ago

In countries where children undergo more than a decade of compulsory schooling, it is barely credible that there can exist a widespread ignorance of Christianity. The nations are not being taught. The interpretation of Matthew 28 is key. Many think Jesus’ command was to baptise and teach disciples. They are wrong. Most modern English versions say make disciples of all nations baptisng them and teaching them. To what antecedent does them refer, disciples or nations? That is the key question. John Lawson Particle, a Stephen Fry character, got up one morning, made his toilet, sat on it, then went down… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  T Pott
6 months ago

I’m curious to know how you baptise a nation. But I note that ‘ethnos’ in Greek doesn’t mean ‘nation’ in the sense of a nation state, organised behind borders with its own national bureaucracy etc. It means a ‘people’. One of my resources says ‘(from ethō, “forming a custom, culture”) – properly, people joined by practicing similar customs or common culture.’ At any rate, the first people who followed this command made no attempt to impose Christian education on a non-Christian ‘nation state.’ They practiced it by proclaiming the gospel, baptizing those who responded to it, and then teaching them… Read more »

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  T Pott
6 months ago

Make and teach disciples is certainly the dominant evangelical emphasis, as I’ve experienced it in my Christian career. Just about every organised group I’ve encountered takes that line, as part of their teaching on committment. Admittedly, it also goes with a reasonably individualistic concept of personal salvation, rather than a national one.

And, in Britain at least, the teaching of RE is often very restricted, conversion doctrines being branded sectarian, and nowadays has to be multi-faith.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
6 months ago

The report “From Anecdote to Evidence” is now over ten years old. Things have been tried since, and evaluations such as this one have been produced. It was obvious to try some new things – but one of the new things we might try would be funding “traditional parish ministry” and seeing whether “what we do already”, if properly resourced (rather than consigned to genteel decline), is our most effective mission. That hypothesis has not yet been tested. Instead of building on the original research and following up the loose ends and questions arising, the AtoE report seems to have… Read more »

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
Reply to  Mark Bennet
6 months ago

I would agree with some of this, but I also think that there is an elephant in the room here which needs addressing. I believe that we currently have an inadequate clergy force to be part of the change that is needed. We are recruiting, training and deploying the wrong people in the wrong way (which I know is a hard thing to say when women and men are testing a vocation). But the bar is set too low. The criteria are distorted. Ministry Division are too separate from the reality of the church on the ground. Something has to… Read more »

Fr Andrew
Fr Andrew
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
6 months ago

It’s quite a broad condemnation of the cloth here. Could you be more specific, i.e. What are clergy lacking? Why are they the ‘wrong people’? What ‘retraining’ do you think is needed? I certainly think the Archbishops need to go back to school, but I’d be interested to know your vision for those at the coalface…

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
Reply to  Fr Andrew
6 months ago

A better work ethic, better accountability
A better understanding of social context, how to frame the gospel for an ever changing context, a boldness to be be a stronger part of the community, an ability to disciple congregations beyond 10 mins on a Sunday morning, schools and young people made a priority, lay training.
This for a start… I could go on. Good old fashioned visiting, communication skills, quality liturgy (from all traditions), regular enquirers groups, more weekday services. I could go on…..

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
Reply to  Mark Bennet
6 months ago

Leaving Wigan aside, I do wonder in the complex religious situation in England ( declining Nonconformity, growth of independent charismatic and reformed churches, black churches, Orthodox churches, the current situation in the RC church) we need to ask a rather basic question ,”What is the Church of England for, now”. Is there something distinctive we have to offer What sort of mission strategy and engagement is best for us with our particular history, structure and so forth. And what sort of expectations do those we want to attract have of us?

Realist
Realist
6 months ago

I would be very interested to see a similar Report from Blackburn Diocese, where the strategy has been to invest in front line parochial ministry and in provision of clergy. As a researcher I am very critical of generalising results in a way that leads to assumptions of because x worked in one place (or didn’t), trying it elsewhere will lead to the same outcomes. But we don’t have any hard evidence yet that continued or increased investment in so-called ‘traditional’ parish ministry leads to growth, or even maintenance of numbers, and financial stability in this complex, post-pandemic, world. That… Read more »

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Realist
6 months ago

Indeed. The executive summary tells us that giving from existing worshippers fell and that giving from members of new worshipping communities has not replaced that lost giving. Any parish priest could have told them that it takes a long time for a new member of a congregation to join the planned giving scheme and that long-standing congregation members vote with their wallets if they don’t like what’s happening. I also observe that it’s proving hard to recruit wardens and treasurers for the 7 new parishes. Again, many parish clergy could have told anyone who asked how easy it is to… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Fr Dexter Bracey
Gordon
Gordon
6 months ago

I thought it was a very interesting piece of work and report. Some of the targets seem to me to have been hopelessly optimistic – on what evidence was it likely to be possible to see such a massive growth in youth attendance, for example – and there’s some project management 101 issues, but critics need to evidence their counter-factual – yes attendances and giving have fallen, but I’m pretty sure that would have happened whatever had been done in Wigan – it’s just the global environment for the church in the UK. Much as many of us love our… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Gordon
6 months ago

‘Much as many of us love our inherited traditions, buildings etc (across different denominations) the sad truth is that they don’t communicate to the vast majority of the population, and no amount of subsidy will change that.’

That’s absolutely right.

Shamus
Shamus
Reply to  Peter Owen
6 months ago

I wish we could just drop the word “resilience” which seems to appear in so many job advertisements. It is just another virtue from the business world, and not a high priority Christian virtue. “Patience”, which has a long history as a Christian virtue is more appropriate. I think I detect a slight reduction in the word “flourishing”, which is all to the good. Again, another business import. Did “The Man of Sorrows” focus on flourishing?

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  Shamus
6 months ago

“Resilience” tends to mean “being able to put up with being repeatedly shat on from above and below”.

adarynefoedd
adarynefoedd
6 months ago

Hi all, speaking as someone from outside who tries largely without success to work with local Churches, I thought aspects of this report were interesting and that the report itself in some ways was unfair. Trying to communicate with many Churches is hard work especially during the pandemic and the one stop entry for ‘outsiders’ seemed excellent and the achievements in social justice were pretty good. To have won a contract for all that emergency food provision was a real achievement. So a win for the other agencies though I notice that they were not consulted. Again, usual insular thinking… Read more »

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  adarynefoedd
6 months ago

You’re advocating what is known as ‘every member ministry’ – ie standard, off the peg, biblical Christianity! The trouble is that so many people, lay or ordained can’t or won’t see it.

adarynefoedd
adarynefoedd
Reply to  John Davies
6 months ago

Thanks John I didn’t know I was doing that, I simply find the C of E Church in Wales incredibly insular at a local level perhaps a relic from the ‘establishment days’ and very hard to work with, used to ‘leadership’ rather than ‘serving’. The fact that the evaluation did not ask the public or other organisations if things were ‘better’ for them but the indications from the report were that things had got better in term of public access and joint working surely wins. The fundamental question is whether the Church continues to decline with an ageing membership and… Read more »

Dai
Dai
6 months ago

I live in Wigan. This scheme has turned a not-so-good situation into a far worse one. The finances are catastrophic. The upset caused has been horrid. It has been admitted that the scheme did not begin well and was badly handled. Treading on well-loved traditions does not go down happily in a place like Wigan. That has obviously been proved. Now they are closing churches left right and centre. What happens next? God help us. Please.

Aformerwiganpriest
Aformerwiganpriest
Reply to  Dai
6 months ago

I served in Wigan during the early period of ‘Transforming Wigan.’ As you say it was dire and the atmosphere toxic. There was ‘an us versus them’ mentality which split the clergy. Anyone who had even slight reservations or who questioned the approach was frozen out and made clear that their position was untenable. The remaining clergy were a clique of evangelicals with a token Anglo-catholic who has now left. The report spoke about successes amongst children. I presume the leadership of Church Wigan were less than transparent with the report’s writers. The reality is that they changed how they… Read more »

Shamus
Shamus
Reply to  Aformerwiganpriest
6 months ago

As I put at the top of this story, I’m so sorry to learn about this. And now, having read your summary, I can hardly imagine the stress levels for clergy affected by this. I hope happier and fulfilling times lie ahead for you and all of them.

Dai
Dai
Reply to  Shamus
6 months ago

Most of the original clergy have now gone. We, the people in the pews are left in a sorry state. Some are having to sacrifice principles for peace in order to keep their church open. This is not the church I joined and loved. Thank you for your concern.

Dai
Dai
Reply to  Aformerwiganpriest
6 months ago

What you say is so very true. I would like to know where all these new ‘worshipping communities’ are. No one I know has a clue. The standard of worship is going lower and lower down the candle. Soon we will be just a gutted mess. I understand, from someone I trust, that a local solicitor has had at least 10 people come in to alter their wills against the church due to the aggro caused by Church Wigan.

Derick Pesrce
Derick Pesrce
Reply to  Dai
6 months ago

100 % agree – i used to run the choir in one of the churches but was barred by the archdeacon for telling her that serious financial wrongdoings were going on

any excuse to rid the church of those who could see the disaster coming

Derick Pearce
Derick Pearce
6 months ago

interesting to read the words of a former priest who is obviously spot on. Whilst on the PCC of one of the churches that had agreed to the idea of a four church hub with two clergy we invited Tim Montgomery to explain how this would work. however he said instead we, as the PCC were the problem, as at all the other churches, as we didn’t do church outside church and we should start holding meetings in our homes, when two widows on the PCC said “A” we can’t afford cakes and coffee for say 12 people and “B”… Read more »

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