Harvest Church: Making a Difference

This September, HARVEST New anglican church’ in Thanet, on the Kent coast, celebrates its 21st birthday.

Here, its founding pioneer, Canon Kerry Thorpe (left, now a freelance mission consultant for the Churches of England and Ireland) reflects on the remarkable story of the influence that this small piece of work has had on the wider church.

“The world was different in 1998. In the Church of England there was no ‘mission shaped church’ report, no Fresh Expressions, no Bishop’s Mission Orders , no Ordained Pioneer Ministers and no strategy for the growth of mixed-economy mission across the Dioceses. Twenty-one years later all that has changed, and HARVEST has played its part in helping to bring that about.

HARVEST was born in some controversy. In 1998 the congregations of Holy Trinity, Margate were growing. Individuals were coming to faith, particularly through the Alpha Course. A further congregation had been planted on a local estate and was ready to become an independent Parish in its own right. The other two main congregations at the Parish Church were growing in different directions, with some conflicting values of tradition, innovation and style.

Despite some local opposition, a small group from one of those congregations was given unprecedented permission to start afresh, to plant-out, to explore an entirely new form of Anglicanism. Would it be possible to move beyond the inherited structures of church building, parish boundaries and liturgical requirements, whilst retaining the relationship of accountability and belonging within the historical Diocese of Canterbury?

That was the risk. A degree of opposition was understandable and representations were made to the Bishop not to allow it. After much heart-searching the then Bishop of Dover, gave it his blessing, under strict conditions. Its founding Vicar would need to resign his role as Incumbent of the Parish Church (together with its guaranteed employment and income). HARVEST would be financially underwritten for one year only, after which it would need to be self-sufficient and contributing to Diocesan funds. No advertising of its presence would be permitted in any Parish, nor even in the school in which it would meet week by week. It would grow or die by word of mouth only, and the invitations of its members to their small group gatherings. Under those terms permission was granted, and ‘HARVEST new anglican church’ was born.

The rest, as they say, is history. The HARVEST experience was closely monitored. The story told, retold, examined and reflected on. Literally hundreds of people became part of that story over the years. At least ten times, in national publications and reports the journey was logged, commented on and commended, starting with the Mission shaped church report in 2004. Eventually, even the structures of the Church of England were changed to accommodate the new reality. HARVEST helped to create the concept of a Bishop’s Mission Order (BMO), helped to write it, and were the first to apply. These legal instruments are now being issued, by the score, in Diocese after Diocese, to exciting missional projects right across the nation.”

As Harvest reaches this brilliant milestone here’s what some friends have shared about their 21 years:

“When people come to write a history of fresh expressions, pride of place will go to early examples that blazed a trail for others. ‘Harvest’, I am sure, will be one of the chief of these.” Mike Moynagh

“HARVEST has been a trail blazer in the Church of England. You have been at the forefront of fresh expressions of church, pioneering new forms of church which others have followed over the last 21 years. Thank you for leading the way.” Dave Male

“Nearly 20 years ago I visited HARVEST as a parish priest. I wanted to do a new thing where I was, but I didn’t know how. I saw your community, and I was inspired to develop my own community too. Most people can’t imagine the future where they are until they can see it somewhere else. That’s why cutting-edge and pioneering churches are so vital to the health of the whole body.   HARVEST is one of those. You showed us what the future could be. I honour you for your courage and perseverance in bringing the Gospel to the fast-changing England that God loves, and calls us all to serve. May God continue to bless you with that pioneering spirit as the next 21 years unfold!”  The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool

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