TURNING THE CHURCH INSIDE OUT – The gift of Hilary Ineson

Hilary Ineson was an adviser in adult and further education for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. She died recently after a lengthy battle with cancer. This article was written for the AYCE bulletin in November 2003.

“One of the difficulties we have as lay people is to recognise and own the fact that we (along with the clergy) are the church. We are not only the recipients of the church’s ministry. We are not just the people Jesus came to save and help. We are also the people called to be Christ’s body in the world here and now.” [1]

Given that she was known to many for her endeavour, rigour and enthusiasm, it would be easy to see these words from Hilary Ineson simply as a message of affirmation and encouragement to others, and thereby to miss their personal importance and intimacy. What we have here is not just testimony to a life-long vocation, but also witness to an ongoing struggle. Even the most confident, competent and professional lay people sometimes (perhaps often) feel marginal to a Church of England that is still organised, managed and run on inherently clerical assumptions. That was true of Hilary too. Her confidence was edged with doubt. Her conviction sometimes led to frustration. That was what made her so human, so inspiring and so incredibly effective as an adult Christian educator and trainer. It is also what rooted her as a praying subject, someone whose gift was faith not piety.

I was fortunate enough to work with Hilary in the mid-1990s. As a lay training adviser in the Anglican Diocese of Southwark – where she had already helped to lay foundations for a pioneering Ordained Local Ministry scheme [2] – I willingly drew upon her advice, her good humour and her seemingly endless fund of ideas and contacts. She was a ‘networker’ par excellence – but as a vehicle for building up the Body, not as a cipher for influence or status in a club. In particular, I was one of the beneficiaries of the Scheme for Professional Development that she established with Yvonne Craig and others: a way of blending self- and peer-assessment with the added understanding and experience that could only come from a ‘critical friend’ outside one’s working environment.  She ably summarised much of what was learned from that Scheme and elsewhere in the chapter co-written with Bernard Kilroy in MODEM’s first book on Management and Ministry. [3]

In 1995 my peers elected me as the next annual Chair of the Adult Education Officers’ group within the Church of England’s Board of Education.  That created further opportunities for me to benefit from Hilary’s wisdom and organisational skills. I came to understand that ‘critical friendship’ was, for her, not just a way of developing others but a way of being herself. “We need distance in our togetherness,” as she once observed in an important planning meeting where the familiarity the participants had with each other was just about to lead them to overlook an unexamined assumption about what they were doing together and what would make for a better outcome.

In that sense Hilary (while known for her organisational concerns) was also able to be what adult educators and trainers like to talk about as ‘a process person’, someone who recognises that the way we act together, the dynamics and complexities of how we blend our  personalities and attributes, is at least as important as the content, structure and framework of the work we share. In an impatient, outcome-driven age that is an important lesson. Then again, “impatience can sometimes help you avoid stuck-ness,” as she firmly pointed out when, on one memorable occasion, I was about to get very irritated with someone who had less time for our precious and exhaustively laid process than I thought he should have. You knew, at moments like this, that Hilary was talking from experience not just sound theory!

But it is as a powerful advocate and practitioner of lay discipleship that Hilary’s memory and continuing influence will go on being felt – and must be felt, if the Church is to move beyond patterns of mission and ministry which restrict its capacity to the few rather than release them for the many. In her opening essay on ‘The Ministry of the Whole People of God’, which – being always on the go – she allowed me to edit from a talk for the book Expanding Horizons, Hilary tells the story of a day she once co-led on the theology of the priesthood. The clergy present were most impressed, she recalls, by the quality of input from some lay people. One said that they weren’t really ‘ordinary lay people’ because they were confident and articulate! Re-focussing on her core theme that the Body is the Laos, the gathered and dispersed talents of all who belong to Christ, ordained or otherwise, Hilary concludes:

“So what does an extraordinary lay person look like? She is knowledgeable about her faith and able to express it in word and action. She reflects on the relationship between what she hears in church, what she reads in Scripture and what happens to her in daily life. She does not keep the different compartments of her life in separate boxes – one for work, one for family, one for leisure and one for church – but lives the whole of her life in the love of God, seeking to make connections, to see where God’s story and her story link and meet.” [4]

At a conscious level, Hilary was writing about others she knew and admired. But these words just as appropriately describe her. They are about a very direct and necessary way in which the church can be turned inside out – from itself towards the world God loves – by properly recognising and supporting the mission of its members.

1 Hilary Ineson, ‘The Ministry of the Whole People of God’, in (ed.) Simon Barrow, Expanding Horizons: Learning to be the Church in the World (Diocese of Southwark, 1995). p3.
2 See Stephen Lyon, ‘Celebrating 10 Year of Ordained Local Ministry – The Past’,  in The Bridge, vol. 7, no. 7 (Southwark Diocese, September 2002).
3 Hilary Ineson and Bernard Kilroy, ‘Appropriate Professional Support and Development’, in (ed.) John Nelson, Management and Ministry (MODEM/Canterbury Press, 1996).
4 Ineson in Barrow, ibid., p11.

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