A different kind of minister
For more than 30 years, the United Reformed Church has been training and deploying a different kind of minister, not quite like anything in other churches: Church-Related Community Workers. As Reform begins a series talking to them about their work, let’s start by unpacking the big idea
Ann welcomes a Muslim woman who has come to church after receiving bad news about her health, and helps the congregation befriend her. Alison helps set up a lunchbox project, distributing free meals to more than 100 school children throughout the summer holidays. Andy starts a mixed-ability community woodworking group. Fliss sets up spirituality groups in a mental health centre. Maria helps create a neighbourhood food sharing project after the local foodbank closed.
These people are all ministers, but their work is not to lead worship. They are Church-Related Community Workers (CRCWs), attached to specific churches and released from organising worship to help the church work in partnership with others in the neighbourhood. They are trained in both community work and Christian ministry, in order to develop transformative links between the two. Their job is to bring different groups of people together in the area, in order to identify their hopes, assets and opportunites, and to collaborate in change-making local ventures.
Church-related community work is a distinctive form of ministry developed in the United Reformed Church. The first CRCW was commissioned in Bradford in September 1981, seconded to work with the Central Bradford Baptist Fellowship. By 1984, there were three CRCWs deployed and four students in training. There are at present 14 CRCW projects.
Noel Irwin, who trains CRCWs at Northern College, Manchester, describes them as ‘the best kept secret in the URC, completely focused on connecting the Church with the most deprived and vulnerable communities’. Noel says: ‘I remember having a chat with the then Bishop of Sheffield, Stephen Croft, who said: “I’ve a great idea, I think every Church of England parish should have a community worker. No church does anything like that.” I said: “Well, no, the URC does.”’…
Stephen Tomkins is Editor of Reform
This is an extract from an article published in the November 2020 edition of Reform