Revd Ben Norton
Ben’s a surprise! When you meet him you think he can’t be a priest in the Church of England. He doesn’t seem the type with his tattoos and piercings and spiky hair of whatever colour it happens to be that week. But then you find out he is one of these new pioneer ministers who get to create something from nothing, to share the Christian faith with people who aren’t in church. The church has realized that business as usual works for insiders but there are whole groups of people for whom church is like another planet, a different world. And it is going to take some different people to go on an adventure of the imagination to connect the Christian story with their stories in a way that makes sense. So Ben hangs out chatting to people, sharing the faith whether at school gates in the pub, on youtube, online or out surfing gently growing a spiritual community or two that doesn’t require visiting another planet called church.
Ben was born in Hull, as were his wife Becky and three kids. He has been an Ordained Pioneer Minister in The Church of England since 2007. He is based in the North East and has pioneered three different fresh expressions communities over ten years. He has studied fresh expressions of church and pioneer ministry to MA level, researching the historical, missiological and ecclesiological implications of starting a fresh expression of church. He is also a Chaplain in the British Army serving 600 men and woman of the Yorkshire regiment.
The Church of England in Kingswood
The vision for this new and exciting post has been born out of a real desire to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ to the largely unchurched residents of this developing community in North East Hull. This significant area of new housing is full of opportunities and the Diocese is excited at the prospect of a Pioneer Minister, working within a Bishop’s Mission Order, being appointed to create a new Christian Community and Fresh Expression of Church in the area. The Pioneer’s role is a new post and this investment reflects the diocesan commitment to such an initiative.
Whilst there are Christians living in Kingswood, and there is good will and support from the local churches, the Pioneer will not be inheriting any existing team. It is envisaged that the first task of the Pioneer will be to engage in a sustained process of listening, networking and prayerful discernment. There is no existing plan for how a Christian Community should best be established and it is hoped that the person appointed will be committed to this process of listening and discerning, not arriving with pre-determined plans. We look forward to God shaping his Church in Kingswood in a way that is culturally appropriate and formed by the work of the Spirit and not shaped or pre-scribed, necessarily, by existing models.
We envisage that this period of listening and discernment could take in the region of 12 months, before specific plans for how a Christian Community and Fresh Expression of Church will be developed have been identified. During this time we expect the Pioneer to begin to identify people, both of faith and not, who will capture the vision that is developing and to create a team which can begin to pray for, resource and develop the initiative with the Pioneer.
Local Churches and Supporters
The decision to appoint a Pioneer has been preceded by an extensive period of consultation which revealed considerable goodwill amongst the local churches. The area of the BMO falls predominantly within the parish of St Peter Wawne and also part of St Andrew’s Sutton Park. Both of these parishes share one Vicar, Revd Shaun Sandham, whose Vicarage is on Kingswood, and are also part of a Group Ministry with St John’s Bransholme and St James, Sutton. All of these parishes are supportive of the creation of the BMO.
The parishes of St Peter’s and St Andrew’s are committed to ministering to their existing population and it is widely agreed that the extra resource of a Pioneer Minister is welcome to enable the Church’s mission to the new are of Kingswood. Given the likely appointment of a Pioneer, the parishes have engaged in few initiatives within Kingswood, beyond ministry through the Occasional Offices.
The Pioneer and the BMO will not formally be part of the Group Ministry. BMO’s are created to give such pioneering initiatives a clear sense of independence and we recognise the importance of this. However, we are also very committed to the concept of ‘mixed economy’ in our understanding of the Church and its mission. It is envisaged that the Pioneer Minister will engage with the Occasional Offices on Kingswood which arise out of his or her relational connections, whilst Shaun Sandham retains a wider commitment and responsibility for this ministry as Vicar. Similarly, the local parishes understand that the Pioneer Minister’s ministry is to be focussed upon Kingswood and that s/he will not be joining regular rotas for Sunday mornings and midweek Services. However, as a local Minister, it is envisaged that support will be offered on an occasional basis.
It is hoped that the Pioneer will understand that these guiding principles will require healthy relationships with colleagues in the Group Ministry as they are worked out in practice. It is also hoped that the Pioneer will look to build mutually supportive relationships with the local clergy and parishes and, whilst being clearly focussed on the work in Kingswood, will not be unhelpfully independent. It is expected that this collaborative approach will also be reflected in her or his relationship with the local Clergy Chapter and wider Deanery.
In addition, there are also ecumenical colleagues who work locally, though not specifically on Kingswood, and following our consultation, are looking forward to the arrival of a Pioneer Minister. These are :
Revd Richard Bentley, Bodmin Road Church
Revd Lansford Penn-Timity, Bransholme Methodist Church
Revd Jarrod Cooper, Revive Church
"Faith is a place between take off and landing."