Category Archives: New Monasticism

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

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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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!

Attractional v Missional Models of Church

Attractional Model of Church

I have now finished two out of the three lectures I am giving at Carey Baptist College in Auckland.  Today I explored the socio-cultural forces behind neo-spirituality driven by information technology and consumerism, and then explored a Trinitarian Ecclesiology as a basis of Christian Spirituality to engage with a context of neo-mysticism.  Finally, we looked at issues around leadership as all the denominations face the challenge of reframing from a Christendom to a post-Christendom context.

It was a good day, I forcused on the need to let go of an attractional model of church born of Christendom as incompatible with a post-christendom context of neo-mysticism, and the importance of a missional relational model of Christian Community.  Matt Stone has written a great blog on this, so check that out.  So my use of New Monasticism is a form of missional model, where the communities Rhythm of life lies at the heart of the community.  So offer the model below of a more new monastic missional model.

My reflections on the training morning with Baptist Pastors, is just how entrenched the attractional model is.  There is still a desire to form sexy forms of worship to get people in, but as I said then, this just recycles Christians rather than makes an impact with unchurched people.  It is hard to conceive of the missional model if you are operating within a model of attraction within a worldview of Christendom. My hope is that the training will play a small part to enable people to shift their worldviews to be able to see the need for an incarnational and missional model of church.

So I think the world church has much to learn from the likes of Missioners such as Vincent J Donovan of an Incarnational model of church, that seeks to use a methodology using a synthetic or transcendent contextual theological model.  A good day, but we so need need to help people get beyond an attractional model of mission.

Developing an Anglimergent network in Australia & New Zealand

I am really pleased to say, that I think my small contribution to exploring new ways of being church in the context of Australia and New Zealand, has created some fruit, through some increased energy and interest in developing specifically Anglican and missional new ways of being church to engage with our post-religious, post-Christian, post-secular culture of spiritual tourism.  

Accordingly, and following discussions with people, I have just set up a new Anglimergent Australia and New Zealand group which I hope will encourage the development of new networks in Australia and New Zealand, to then develop this indigenously.

So if you are interested in joining this and contributing to developing this new network within a global network, please click here

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