The groundbreaking programme was set up to deliver high quality training on how to become ambassadors of the church in an area local to the apprentices - most often in a parish with a high level of deprivation.
Falling numbers in church attendance led to the scheme’s inception in 2011. And in 2017, a third cohort of Mission Apprentices (MAs) were brought in to make a big impact in local churches and communities, thanks to funding from Benefact Trust, and included Mandy Widdas, the Benefact’ Mission Apprentice in Amington, near Tamworth.
The Mission Apprentices have now completed their placements, and although the project is finished, the impact of this work has been felt by the parishes they have served and will set a strong foundation for future mission work in the Diocese of Birmingham.
All the MAs have a much clearer view of their vocation following the scheme – one has been accepted for training for ordained ministry, another has become a lay church planter and one has even been employed by the Diocese of Birmingham itself, as the Intercultural Intern.
The regular learning days and retreats supported the latest cohort of leaders and gave them the confidence to reach out to their communities: “I feel equipped to invite un-churched and de-churched people to the new activity I have set up. So far 27 people who had no connection with our church have visited our place of welcome”
The project has placed the MAs in a wide range of situations which have tested their ability to identify new opportunities, and from this they have created a ‘Breathing Space’ where all are welcome to come and be, an after-school club for secondary school children called ‘Krunch Seniors’, a live nativity, a ‘place of welcome’, and even a church plant!
“I’m supporting a mother from our toddler group who has not previously attended church. Following a conversation together, she started to attend Messy Church and Café Church. We agreed she could message me any questions she had about faith with the understanding I don’t know all the answers! With encouragement, she has since become a regular worshipper.” – Mission Apprentice
Some of the MAs took naturally to the challenges presented in connecting with the local community, whilst for others it was an important learning curve.
Their combined efforts meant that at the end of the programme the diocese identified 81 new members of the worshipping communities and 136 volunteers were involved in the new activities – three times the number of volunteers the diocese was expecting!
The scheme has not been without its setbacks, with two MAs not completing the scheme and the COVID-19 restrictions meaning the remaining Mission Apprentices had to be furloughed in April.
Despite this, the positive impact of the project has been undeniable and there is now a clear focus on mission work among the parishes.
When it is safe to do so, each parish will relaunch activities, led by trained volunteers, to support and re-engage their communities and build on the trailblazing work of the Mission Apprentices.