History & Heritage
The roots of The Order of Mission lie in two churches, Baptist and Anglican, and their desire to take a full part in the mission of God, in the city of Sheffield and beyond. The Anglican congregation of St Thomas’ Parish Church in Crookes, Sheffield met in the premises of the local Baptist church whilst a reordering of their building was taking place. The relationship grew and became formalised as a Local Ecumenical Project (L.E.P.) with an Anglican and a Baptist roll of members.
St Thomas’ Crookes LEP, since the two churches became one has grown and developed, reaching out in local, national and international networks especially under the ministries of Robert Warren and Mike Breen. After accepting the call in 1994 to be Team Rector of St. Thomas’, Crookes LEP, Mike Breen had sensed the Lord impressing on him the word “Ephesus”:
‘When God said to me the word ‘Ephesus’, I believe he was declaring something that had already occurred but it was also something that he desired to develop in the future. The church of St. Thomas’ was to function as a resource to its city and region. It was to be a base for church planting and mission and a centre for teaching and training.’
A desire to be more effective in mission within the city, coupled with the ‘problem’ of numerical growth, led to a decision being taken (in 1998) to rent a city centre venue in which a Sunday morning service could be held. This service would run simultaneously and in parallel to the one in the parish church. Those who had a vision and a heart for the city, and those who lived and worked there, were encouraged to think and pray about being part of the congregation which met in this new city centre venue.
The following years saw St Thomas’ Church develop further as a resourcing church, sending teams out locally, nationally and internationally and attracting church leaders for equipping in missionary leadership. Other groups began to reflect on and recognize the effectiveness of the ministry of St Thomas Church .
In the Strategy Report of Sheffield Diocese (1999-2004), St Thomas’ Church was described as a Minster church . This was an attempt to place St Thomas’ within a recognisable ecclesiastical framework. (cf ‘Recovering the Past’, by Bishop John Finney, publ. DLT (1996))
Historically, an English Minster was generally staffed by clerics and monks under orders, as well as by both single and married lay members. The staff community, or familia, typically included an inner circle of (senior) priests and minor clerks, whose life was under-girded by prayer and worship. The more important Minsters also had schools attached. There, young adults would be trained for leadership and prepared for holy orders. As centres of academic excellence, the ‘graduates’ were sought after for many different roles within society.
As far as St Thomas’ is concerned, the Minster model is only part of the picture. The Celtic monastic movement provides another important element. Although it is difficult to generalize, it would appear that the Celtic monasteries more regularly sent out mobile mission teams to proclaim the gospel to the pre-Christian tribes of Europe. The Celtic missionaries (known as peregrini or gyrovagi) would simply ‘go for the love of Christ.’ Some teams would be led by a bishop with the expressed intention of planting Christian communities among the un-reached people groups of their day.
In time the congregation that was sent out from the mother church at Crookes grew. The city centre venue became an environment where small groups and clusters of people who had a heart to reach out were trained and developed. These clusters where the missionary vision was nurtured became affectionately known as ‘eagles nests’ (Dt 32:11). This was to prove prophetic, for all too soon these nests (like those in the biblical analogy) were stirred. Two years after the original renting of the venue it was suddenly no longer available for the use of the church. Such forced dispersion into different regions and more especially into the kaleidoscope of venues only served to further multiply St Thomas’ Church. This continues to the present day with small group, cluster and celebration functioning as a dynamic missionary organism.
From the experience and practice and calling of St Thomas’ Church LEP over many years we see the charism of The Order of Mission develop. From a church base always seeking to move in the power of the Spirit for the salvation of a city comes a desire to develop a pragmatic ‘Movement’ for mission, which is relevant for the twenty first century. This call began to find external and institutional confirmation in the discussions that took place in the year 2000 with the Rector, the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Sheffield.
In April 2003 (6th) The Order of Mission was inaugurated by the then Archbishop of York, David Hope. By the third anniversary of the inauguration when the first initiation of permanent members took place, over 200 people had become temporary members. Evidence that interest in a covenant network committed under God to each other for the sake of mission is growing across the world.