Following the Missionary Spirt was the title of the Fresh Expressions conference held at Holy Trinity Brompton today. It was a conference intended to review where the fresh expressions movement is now and to help point the way forward. The target audience were those involved in Fresh Expressions and in pioneer ministry.
After a little promotional/ informative video explaining where the movement is now Jonny Baker stepped up to give a book review/ outline of the most recent literature. He gave verbal support for the following recent texts:
Fresh! by David Goodhew, Andrew Roberts and Michael Volland
Church for Every Context by Michael Moynagh
Fresh Expressions of Church and The Kingdom of God Edited by Graham Cray, Aaron Kennedy and Ian Mobsby, (which Baker has blogged a review of today – and which I intend to post a review of in a few days when I’ve finished reading it).
He also made reference to another recent post of his which outlined five things he’d learnt as a CMS pioneer trainer. In that he had noted “not fitting in is a wonderful gift.”
There were then a couple of speakers involved in FX projects in Germany and Barbados before a time of worship led by Tom Smith and the HTB band. Then it was on to the key note speech which came from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. He spoke movingly on belonging and a quiet revolution which has been taking place about how we think of the word church. His talk contained the following key points:
Whilst church is renewed from the edges not the middle because no where was more edgy than the hill of Calvary God seems to be moving in from the edges to the centre.
He moved on to talking about missional opportunity and issues around how and why people connect. He made the point that the gospels are about Jesus reaching out to those who feel they don’t belong. When he calls for people to repent it isn’t about finger wagging, it’s more gentle asking people to turn around and seeing that they do belong and are welcome.
He continued that the early church was a network of belonging which could not be mapped to any particular social group. Then he bought it to the present. Fresh Expressions should have as a starting point the question “why should church be interesting for anybody?” If church in whatever form is just a hobby there is no point, we need to get back to missional opportunity where belonging is still an issue. In a society where people still panic about strangers there is a genuine issue of how we view the “other”. He said we need to have a biblical vision of being relational and belonging. He said in a church which speaks of possibility all can belong together and we need to turn around and trust.
At this point I was wondering in light of this weeks events and wider issues in the church whether he was being somewhat idealist, but Rowan is a realist with hope. He went on to make the point that we do still have to sometimes be careful about which churches we refer people to, which is why Fresh Expressions can be useful. However, without the steady, faithful, mainstream inherited church FX wouldn’t be possible. We need mixed economy or mixed ecology as some describe it.
Rowan said he enjoyed listening to stories of people in Fresh Expressions and finding out how people get there. He described how often acts of trust were involved.
Rowan was followed by Martyn Atkins who is the General Secretary of the Methodist Church of Great Britain. He said there is a tension of being on the edge and that there is a value in permission giving and letting people know it is ok to take holy risks. He said the really positive thing about FX has been saying in so many ways “it’s alright”.
He then went on to talk of trustees being gatekeepers with the primary role of holding things in trust and said in times like this it is particularly important. Trustees have a role in encouraging and permitting this holy risk taking but for this to happen a changing mindset has been required.
He was thankful that FX projects are gathering different people groups within and beyond inherited and new churches. The vision for FX isn’t just reaching disaffected radicals it’s also something the bemused regulars are getting. There is now a meeting place where vision and energy meet.
The most striking part of the talk was when he talked of how FX can’t and won’t be explored using traditional tools of theological discourse. At the moment we are analysing them in a way which is rather like using a tin opener to peel a banana. New theological systems need to emerge.
In the afternoon Rowan Williams, Martyn Atkins and Graham Cray formed a panel to answer some questions submitted by the audience over lunch. There was only limited time for these and the FX website will display some wider answers, (one presumes from Graham Cray). Within this section a key point made was that a creative approach to unity is required.
This led on to a “goodbye and thank you Rowan” session which was very moving because the point was made that Fresh Expressions is a significant part of Rowan’s legacy. In view of the way he was robbed of another part of his legacy earlier in the week it needs underlining, what Rowan has achieved with the Fresh Expressions movement is significant. He gave permission and whilst there are debates about what that aspect means for FX projects the truth is permission is linked to resources and without the support of Rowan and others those resources wouldn’t have been available.
Before Moot ended the session with some liturgical FX worship Stephen Lindridge (the Methodist FX missioner) spoke as did some pioneers before Graham Cray wrapped up with a speech which was largely a repeat of his article in last weeks Church of England newspaper. The most engaging of these speakers was a Venture FX pioneer called Gavin who is working with an arts project in Colwyn Bay.
All in all an interesting day which was useful for putting into context how FX are “officially viewed” and how those on the ground and in certain positions of authority,(gained through their knowledge and roles as practitioners and trainers), interact with the authorising hierarchy. People watching was fascinating.