The Mission Apprentice Scheme is an innovative project of the Church of England Birmingham, developing lay leaders in highly urbanised areas and exploring/building upon the experience of growing churches there. The Trust supported the learning and evaluation programme.

Revd Rhiannon King, Director of Mission for the Church of England Birmingham, writes:

There were four principal catalysts which motivated us to embark on our Mission Apprentice Scheme. First, we had a growing desire to invest in individuals from deprived areas to help raise a new generation of home grown missioners in deprived, urban contexts where leaders are often in short supply. Second, we had a strong sense that we need to be more intentional about mission in our deprived areas (where it is often hardest to see growth but where Jesus directs us) and to resource it more effectively. Third, we felt a need to learn what works best in different contexts and to be able to learn from this locally and offer this learning to the wider church. Finally, we were excited to learn of the wider church’s passion for growth and discipleship in deprived areas, demonstrated through the determination of the Church Commissioners to target resources in our direction, and were inspired to do something so that Birmingham would be at the forefront of this new direction of travel.

This led us to create the Birmingham Mission Apprentice Scheme, which develops lay leaders in seven highly urbanised areas of the diocese, building upon the experience of growing churches in these contexts. Seven promising missional leaders were matched to seven parishes with a track record of growth and/or fresh vision and leadership, with an emphasis on pioneering new initiatives to develop the church’s capacity to engage with its community and make new disciples. Three of these parishes were in outer estate settings, two were in multi-cultural inner city parishes, and two were in parishes where a majority of the population were adherents of a faith other than Christianity. Each MA was employed for 20 hours a week, beginning their two-year placements in the summer of 2012. In each case, we encouraged them to research their parish well (with a ‘Know your Church, Know your Neighbourhood’ exercise), think outside the box, take risks and take responsibility (under the supervision of the Vicar) for growing a particular area of church. We also appointed a skilled urban mission practitioner, Sam Miller of Urban Devotion Birmingham, as our Mission Apprentice Co-ordinator. Together with the steering group, his job was to support and train the 7 Mission Apprentices we recruited. We were thrilled when St Peter’s Saltley Trust came on board as they provided us with the means and personnel to evaluate the strategy as we went on and to tweak things as appropriate. There was a great deal of fun involved in running the first round of the scheme, and endless creativity in the peergroup sharing observed towards the end.

The impact of the Mission Apprentice Scheme, from the perspective of four years on is four fold. First, we were thrilled that in all 7 instances the churches where the MAs were placed were so appreciative of their ministry that they found additional funds at the end of the scheme to keep their MAs on in new roles. Almost all of them are still in these roles 4 years on. Second, the MA churches each reported a rise in the spiritual and missional ‘temperature’ in their churches as a result of the work of the Mission Apprentice. Third, each of our Mission Apprentices bore testimony to the fact that they felt the benefit of the investment in them and it was clear to those around them that they had grown vastly in confidence throughout the training. Fourth, in each of the churches, members of the community bear open testimony to the positive impact each of the MAs had on their church/community. One of the consequences of this was that our main funders, the Church Commissioners, were so pleased with the results that they decided to invest in another cohort in 2015 which is now off the ground and we know there are individuals in parishes already wanting to apply for the next round in 2 years’ time. In the second round we had over 25 churches express an interest in having a Mission Apprentice – although sadly we could only take 10.

The Mission Apprentice scheme in Birmingham was fortunate to receive both financial funding and the support of the Director of the Saltley Trust. Both were invaluable in different ways. Having the Director involved on the steering group meant that we had the benefit of someone from a rigorous and academic background who contributed insightfully to our training programme, both in the devising and delivery of it. We also had the benefit of his research skills which several members of the steering group were able to learn from and which have had a knock on impact elsewhere, such as in the approach to the larger scale Growing Younger initiative. We ended up with a report which was thoroughly and prayerfully written which we sent round with pride at the end of the scheme and which other initiatives and organisations can learn from. We had the benefit of the Director’s many other and varied skills throughout the process, all of which we appreciated hugely. The grant from St Peter’s Saltley Trust funded the costs of the learning programme which Mission Apprentices followed, and also covered the costs of the research element, so that we could tell the story of the Scheme through a seminar and report, and disseminate the findings to a wide audience. Without this financial support, we quite simply couldn’t have afforded these important parts of the project and we would have been poorer as a result.

“The Saltley Trust helped to keep us on track and helped to make the Mission Apprentice scheme the success story it was.”

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