Category Archives: Fresh Expressions

New Book launches in Feb and March 2011

From the 1st of Feb we are entering the launching of the new book of which I am the Co-Editor New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church’ part of the Ancient Faith Future Mission Series.  So there are launch events on Tuesday (1st) in London UK and Thursday (3rd) in Manchester UK, and then 17th Canberra AUS.  This will be followed by launches on 17th March in Newcastle AUS and Melbourne 25th March in AUS.

It’s a great book, with chapters by:  Shane Claiborne (Simple Way Community), Andy Freeman (Reconcile Community Reading & 24-7 Prayer Community), Mark Berry (Safe Space Community), Diane Kershaw (Order of Mission), Ian Adams (CMS Small Missional Communities), Tessa Holland (Contemplative Fire), Tom SIne (Mustard Seeds), Bp Graham Cray (Archbishop’s Mission and Leader of Fresh Expressions Team (UK), Philip Roderick (Contemplative Fire), Pete Askew (Northumbria Community), Abbot Stuart Burns (Mucknell Abbey).

I think it makes a great second book in this important series.  We have started working on a third book in the series, which Aaron Kennedy (from the Moot Community) and I are editing with Graham Cray on the whole issue of Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God.

Letter I sent to the Church Times referring to Bp Stephen Cottrell’s review of the Milbank and Davison’s book “For the Parish” which was not published

Sir, – I was really pleased to read Bp Stephen Cottrell’s informed and measured review in Issue 7706 of the Church Times concerning the recent Milbank and Davison book “For the Parish” entitled “The baby and the parochial bathwater”.

Whilst I also endorse the view that the Mission Shaped Report was not a full theological exploration, it should be remembered that it was never intended to be a full ecclesiological exposition – it is a church report!

I was also pleased to see that Bp Stephen mentioned New Monasticism as an example of good practice arising out of the Fresh Expressions initiative, which seeks to be ‘ancient future’ in vision. New Monasticism as Fresh Expressions of Church, (the subject of a new multi-authored book to be published shortly by Canterbury Press) has a comprehensive theological self-understanding and connection with the ongoing tradition and calling of monastic and apostolic mission.

Many of us involved in Fresh Expressions of Church were dismayed by the position of “For the Parish” which seemed to compare the most romanticised and perfect expression of the Parish Church with the worst ‘dumbed down’ forms of Fresh Expressions. As Bp Stephen states, this impoverishes the argument of “For the Parish”.

As well as the examples the Bishop of Chelmsford gives for what is not said in the book – I would take this argument further. Where is the missiological engagement? I read much on ecclesiology and the importance of the Church but little on missiology and the importance of the Kingdom? Too much focus on the Church and too little exploration of the Kingdom creates the danger of idolatry – ‘Seek you first the Kingdom of God’, (Matt 6:33). Where is the theological engagement with Models of Church and the work of Avery Dulles or contextual theology and the work of S B Bevans and Niebuhr and other theological disciplines? There is a conspicuous absence of a wider theological engagement. It is a great arrogance to believe that the discipline of Ecclesiology is the only real form of theological discourse, and it is disappointing that a more systematic approach has not been taken holding ecclesiology and missiology in tension.

There is a deep paradox in this book that talks up dialogue and mediation as a model but then continues to set up a dualism – parish good, fresh expressions bad, typical of a polemic that is not particularly helpful for a comprehensive theological reflection. The truth is we need a more ‘both-and’ position, both traditional and experimental, conservative and progressive.

The danger of this book is that it seems to propose a return to a specifically Christendom theological mindset, where salvation and authentic mission can only be found within parish forms of Church, with a translation model of contextual theology which arrogantly downplays the contextualisation of the gospel and the church. No one expression of church can fully be a vessel of the gospel, hence why there has been a diversity of form of church in the Church of England for sometime – parish alongside monastic and friar orders, chaplaincies and missions. This is not new. The Missio Dei is at its heart the mission of God in God’s Kingdom. It is not about maintaining ‘unity in conformity’ as a particularly institutional expression of church. This is the weakness of the model of ‘Church as political society’ or Christendom which the authors suggest we should return to in our post-liberal times.

We remember that mission and evangelism in this country in the Romano-Celtic, Saxon and Norman times was not completed largely by Priests and Deacons, but rather by evangelistic Monks, Nuns, Friars and Bishops. In more recent times, in the Oxford Movement we see a Church renewed through the resurgence of the religious life in response to cultural change and the calling of the Holy Spirit. May be fresh expressions and New Monasticism are such a resurgence of non-parish forms of the Church led by the Holy Spirit in response to our increasingly post-secular context.

Surely the way forward for the wider Church is a renewed partnership of the best of Parish and the best of Fresh Expressions in ‘mission-informed’ engagement to a culture which is increasingly post-church and post-Christian. Mission and Evangelism are part of our apostolic calling. We need to avoid setting up false-dichotomies.

Revd Ian Mobsby

Moot Priest Missioner, Associate Missioner to the Archbishop’s Fresh Expressions Team and member of the Church of England’s College of Evangelists.

The Moot Community
St Edmund the King Church
Lombard Street
London EC3V 9EA

Initial response to the Book for the Parish by Milbank and Davidson

Last month, the new book “For the Parish, a critique of Fresh Expressions” was published by Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison from a catholic Radical Orthodoxy perspective by Canterbury Press.

Although I found the forward and introductory chapters infuriatingly irritating in its tone and a tad polemical with the real danger of making far-reaching statements about all fresh expressions coming from the same stable (which is completely dualistic and somewhat untrue), there is much in this book that I welcome as a first real critique that questions the theology and practice of fresh expressions of church.  They are right to point out a number of weaknesses concerning ecclesiology and practice, something I first looked at some time ago in my research and book “Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church” which also looked at what it meant to be authenticially church and Anglican. Some of these concerns have been the reflections of the Fresh Expressions Roundtable Number 5, which involves Theologians, Ordinands, Priest and others coming from a Catholic and Contemplative perspective.

They are right to question whether some of the experiments in being fresh expressions of church are sufficiently asking the right questions how to be ‘in culture but not of culture’.  It has been a frustration of mine for sometime that somethings called ‘fresh expressions’ are really not fresh expressions of the church. They raise big issues in Missiology but I have to say with very little engagement of missiology, this book is very much saying that modern Anglican post-liberal theology is about ‘going back to the church’ and therefore puts the Church at the top, so that Ecclesiology as a theological discipline becomes more important than missiology and pastoral theology, as everything is about the Church.  Unfortunately there is no real engagement with contextual theology or models of church, this is the classic combination of Church as Political Society (Christendom) using Dulles’ terminology modelled with a translation model of contextual theology using S B Bevans terminology and a thoroughly attractional model of church.

I will respond to some of the key elements of theology in this book when I have had time to think about things which I summarise as: The Kingdom and the Church, Salvation and the Church, Mission and the Church, the apophatic understandings of belief, Anglican identity, and the balance of belief with spiritual practices.

Like I say, at times I think this book will be known as “the book you throw across the room in irritation” but saying that, I completely welcome the need to sharpen up mission and ecclesiological thinking and practice.  At best some of the things I see done in the name of fresh expressions are clumsy and ill-thought-through, and bordering on syncretistic with culture.  So I welcome the critique even if I find some of its understandings and assumptions of fresh expressions to be ill-informed and over-stated.  It is never a good idea just critique a whole initiative based on a somewhat out of date church report, much further research could have been included, but that would have meant less of a polemical and non-dualistic engagement. This is a critique mixed in with a rant.

As I said, I will be blogging about some of the areas the book addresses above.

Nomad Interview

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Back in the Spring I met up with Tim Nash to explore the whole emerging and fresh expressions of church initiative in the UK, and to explore more deeply my book the Becoming of G-d.  They have made a great podcast out of the discussions and included a book review, so do check this out here.

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Spirit and Gift Giving

The book I wrote a while ago now – the Becoming of G-d, was a really demanding task.  It was the first book I wrote.  At the time I really sensed the importance of the need to make the connection between thinking about the Trinity and the practices of church and mission.  So the book came out of prayer, hard work and a hope that it would help me understand more, and help others through the struggle to articulate truths about God.

So I was really moved today, to read how Sarah, who randomly picked up the book in a fresh expressions stall in Australia, has been reading the book, and how God has been using the book in her thinking and explorations. It is stories like Sarah’s that give me a real excitement about how God is drawing us all into deeper understandings and experiences, and that the Trinity is important. To see the first post of what Sarah has been writing, see here – so far Sarah has written three posts.

Research Appendices for my book Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church

Now that the moot website has been redeveloped, access to the transcribed interviews from the participative actions research I completed are no longer accessible.  I have decided therefore to publish them here for people to conduct further research or to reference them for essays or further study.

Initial Letter

NAOMIE Action Research Checklist

Initial Proposal

B1 Interview Transcript

Sanctus 1 Interview Transcript

Moot Community Interview Transcript

Church of the Apostles (COTA) Interview Transcript

MSN Final Group Interview Transcript

So what is happening with the emerging church in the UK in 2010?

I have been reflecting for a while on how things are progressing with this question, and now feel able to articulate something, but want to start by telling the story as I see if from the late 1980s. Some will know that I became a Christian through an early alternative worship come emerging church community in York.

Looking back, I can see that many people like me were searching for a deep spirituality in the late 1980s, and for some younger churched people, the gap between church and the sensibilities of a post-modern culture had set the scene for two streams for experimentation.

The first stream was very ideas driven, drawing in the humanities and especially philosophy. People were not happy with the prevailing theology of many churches, so philosophy became an opportunity to critique the language of church which was predominately modernist and foundationalist. Understandably, this stream was thinking driven, where this was focused on a post-foundationalist ideology, using a strongly philosophical narrative. The groups and communities that grew out of this stream were focused on deconstruction, seeking to explore the area of spirituality and alternative worship. Many of these groups burnt themselves out after a while, but their contribution to opening up the spiritual landscape and possibilities, were enormous. These included the Late Late Service in Glasgow, Holy Joes, Parallel Universe, Live on Planet Earth, Thursdays, NOS, Abundant and others.

The second stream was driven less by philosophical ideas, but the desire for community and a more creative and artistic response to post-modernism. Again, many of these groups would self-define themselves as alternative worship communities. Many of these have continued into the present, groups such as Visions, Grace, the Epicentre Network, Foundations and Gracelands.

There were in these early days, a few groups that straddled these two streams, Vaux being a very good example, but most I would say, straddled these two streams.

Somewhere around 1993, the term emerging church became more apparent. This being because some in these two streams were increasingly happy to use the word church. This was not however a consensus decision. Some of these communities had expanded what they were doing to cover worship and community, and some, were now exploring the need for mission to an emerging new social group, never churched post-secular spiritual seekers. So initially the two streams expanded to three streams, and many groups called themselves emerging churches whose worship was alternative worship. It is I think fair to say, that largely most of this new emerging church grouping came from the second stream, because most in the first stream perceived themselves as post-church and some post-Christian.

So where are we now? Well I think I want to say that there are three streams still. Groups such as the Garden in Brighton and Ikon in Belfast are good examples that the first stream has continued. Vaux I would argue has moved firmly into this first stream. Judging by their pull at the annual Greenbelt Festival, these groups still have a big role to play with the dechurched.

The second stream I would argue is now predominately emerging church, and now many of these also see themselves as fresh expressions of church, but at the radical end of fresh expressions, many of which are still very committed to alternative worship at least as part of their expression of worship, mission and community. This second stream has also diversified in focus, in response to local contextual needs. So some have become more focused on catholic and sacramental resources for worship and mission, groups such as Contemplative Fire and Visions are good examples. Others such as Moot and Safe Space see themselves as New Monastic Communities with a commitment to reframe the ancient into the contemporary, drawing heavily on the contemplative traditions. Others are seeking to be café church communities, where such public space becomes the loci of relational mission. So this second stream has expanded a lot since 2003, and has become the largest element of those who would call themselves ‘emerging and fresh expressions’ of church. Increasingly, this group are interested in the ‘un or never churched’ as much as the dechurched.

With the advent of fresh expressions in England and now increasingly in Scotland, I want to argue for a third stream. This grouping is reacting less to post-modernism, and more to the consequences and impact of post-modernism on contemporary culture - the highly consumptive and technological culture that has emerged. There are numbers of experimental and missional communities within CMS, Church of England, Methodist Church, United Reform and Baptist denominations. So fresh expressions of church, where there are unique communities, have not been on the same journey as those of a more alternative worship/emerging church DNA, however, their contribution is increasingly significant. This stream are predominantly focused on the ‘un or never’ churched, and may operate as a community attached to a traditional model of church.

So reflecting on all of this, the emerging church is still alive and kicking, helped I am sure by the emergence of fresh expressions of church. It will be interesting to see how things progress next, in a culture under pressure, and a Church increasingly resistant to fresh expressions of church let alone the emerging church. We shall see where the Spirit of God leads next!

USA Edition: Ancient Faith Future Mission – fresh expressions of church in the sacramental traditions

Really pleased to say that the first book of the Series Ancient Faith Future Mission is now on Sale in a North American version in the USA. This includes the original authors Rowan Williams, Stephen Cottrell, Ian Adams, Sue Wallace, Karen Ward, Brian McLaren Richard Giles, Carl Turner, Phyllis Tickle, Paige Blair, Michael Volland, Philip Roderick and Tessa Holland, Karen Ward, Simon Rundell and Abbot Stuart Burns. But additionally includes chapters by Thomas Brackett, Stephanie Spellers, Christopher Ashley, Marie Harkey and Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

To order this in the USA & Canada please click here

Interesting post by Mark Lindores

Image Recently I spoke at the Resource training course weekend representing the Moot Community, where we explored mission to a post secular culture of spiritual seeking and new monasticism as a particular model. Mark kindly bought my book I think to follow up what I talked about.

He has now written a couple of blogs concerning my book “The Becoming of G-d” exploring what I looked at last year. To see what he has written click here

I am currently attending a residential training course on preparation for incumbency through the DIocese of London. It is an excellent course, and I found it interesting how the concept of managing chaos and complexity returns to the themes of a fluid understanding of life, and some of the elements of a Trinitarian Ecclesiology which was so elemental in the book “The Becoming of G-d”. So very interesting how our learning takes us similar cycles revisiting things as life and vocation changes.

New Books in Preparation – New Monasticism & Spirituality in the City

Well its now a new year, and I am now well on the way to completing the manuscript for my next book exploring New Monasticism, which I am writing for Paraclete to be submitted by the end of February 2010.

Writing  this book has really helped me think quite deeply about this important model of church, and I have enjoyed interviewing a number of people including a Benedictine Abbot, a Franciscan Friar and a number of new monastics including Shane Claiborne, Mark Berry, Ian Adams and others.

I have also written a chapter in a book exploring spirituality in the city, which is a multi-authored book which I think is being published by Continuum.  In this chapter I explore the increasing phenomena  of post secular spiritual tourism, and in particularly that evidenced by the many flower shrines you see where people have died.  It names something very important symbolically. So I hope that contribution assists people to explore the subject.

I am also pleased to let people know, that I am involved in three other books. All three are all multi-authored books in the Ancient Faith Future Mission series published with Canterbury Press.  These will cover Fresh Expressions and New Monasticism, the Kingdom of God and Small Missional Communities.

So I seem to have become involved in a number writing projects!

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