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The Deanery Planning Process was launched in Durham Diocese in 2007 and has become an essential part of how forward thinking and discernment are done in the diocese, and how change is managed. Each deanery was asked to begin work on preparing a deanery plan. Quite deliberately, no template was provided, either in terms of the format for a plan, or the process that must be followed. Every deanery was asked to ensure that it looked at mission, ministry, buildings and finance, and the emphasis was on develop the capacity in each deanery to do the necessary strategic thinking, and evolve and implement a visionary plan.

In Stockton, the combined deanery synod standing and pastoral committees were asked to lead the planning process on behalf of the Deanery Synod. That has completely re-shaped the way we think and work.

A mission-led plan

We were determined not to build our plan around adapting to falling numbers of clergy. That would simply be management of decline. Instead, our plan was built on changing the way we do church, focusing on mission and serving our communities, and then making sure our finances, organisation and staffing help us live out the call of God.

Collaborative working is at the heart of the plan. Each parish and each Christian has unique gifts, and a unique call, but they are all part of a bigger tapestry of gifts, and a shared calling as the church. That is why we have been moving more and more towards working as groups of parishes, and as a supportive group of clergy.

The medium-term goal is to operate the parish in three broad areas. The Billingham Team Parish is fully up and running, with a new team of clergy. The Central Stockton parishes are well advanced with locality working. And the Outer Stockton parishes have recently agreed to explore becoming a team. For details of each individual parish, explore the links for the three localities.