Woo hoo! Why we’re growing and why it matters

I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate all the new interest we’ve had in what’s going on at the Urban Theology Union.

Our membership has increased every month since September and it’s easier than ever to sign up.

We have developed a new Graduate Study Seminar which means that people can more easily access doctorate level support and we’ve seen a significant increase in applicants for our doctoral level services with a brand new cohort of seven or more expected to start in September.

Our MA program and we had only one student who is studying mostly in Manchester but we’re projected to have between 6 and 8 new MA students this September. If that continues we’ll have double that number studying the MA together every year by the following year.

We’re getting an increasing number of invitations to speak at events and lead workshops with invitations from Leicester Diocese, Birmingham Political Night PrayerOne Body One Faith, Incarnate Network, Hodge Hill Church, Luther King House, Wolverhampton and Shrewesbury Methodist District, the Methodist East Central region and others. These are paying clients who value what we have to offer and want to work with us to equip the church for social justice and urban ministry.

We’ve seen a great deal of interest in our development of an apprenticeship to encourage new, young, lay leaders to become community theologians, which we plan to launch in September 2018. We’ve also been really pleased to host the Methodist Vice President of Conference and Chair of the Joint Public Issues Team, Rachel Lampard, MBE at our unit in Sheffield as we brought together Muslims civic and faith leaders with young people and hosted other provides of lay theological training.

We’re working with church leaders in Sheffield in particular either through our monthly ‘Colloquium’ or other events and with Sheffield’s branch of Church Action on Poverty and Sheffield University Chaplaincy as they tackle poverty and food poverty in particular.

In just a few months, our facebook page has gone from launch to nearly 500 ‘likes’ and a reach that can be over 4,000 people. Our mailing list has grown with both new members and supporters on a weekly basis too; widening our conversation.

Why does it matter? 

Bigger is not always better and when it comes to churches the neurosis around size can be stressful and unhelpful. But our growth at UTU is vital to both our financial and theological wellbeing. UTU is running a deficit that is now projected to end in just a few years time. This means we can continue to support urban and other ministries into the forseeable future. We think our member-led model of theological education is a good one and we want it to continue. So our growth in student numbers keeps us doing what we do best and helps us invest in future training.

More than this, growth for UTU means diversity. We have a reputation as being ‘left-leaning and liberal’, and some of our members would happily claim one or both of those labels. But if we are going to be a theologically exciting place we need to be open to challenge and change, theological: new ideas and new people make us think all over again about what we’re doing. We are an ecumenical charity and can say with integrity that our membership reflects that and with each new member or student who joins us the whole is altered to welcome them in.

I once heard someone say that the difference between a community and an institution is that when you join an institution you have to change to fit into it but when you join a community it changes to welcome you in. If we continue to be alert to this challenge then UTU will continue to celebrate growth in numbers and commitment to one another: out of our diversity we find the God-shaped space that fills our souls.

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