Tag Archives: fresh expressions of church

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!

Participation & Mediation by Pete Ward – Book Review

It is not often I read a book that gets me excited but this new book by Pete Ward  really did in this book Participation & Mediation. In this great book Pete unpacks in well reasoned and analytical form the  journey he went on from Youth Worker to Practical Theologian.  This is the same  journey that many of us went on starting from different places, some from Youth Work others from involvement in mission initiatives evolving out of early emerging  and fresh expressions of church.  I began from involvement in alternative worship  with a passion to make these new forms of church accessible and contextual to those outside the  church.  Pete unpacks the journey that many of us have also made.  It starts from  where people are – from cultural analysis, missional and contextual theology, the  centrality of the Trinity and patristics, perichoresis through to pastoral and  practical theology.  I have never talked this through with Pete, but I am amazed  how in synergy his thinking is with my own experience and the experience I know  of others.  His book is a credible and authentic understanding of the place of pastoral and practical theology for those involved as practitioners in emerging and fresh expressions of church.  It is no coincidence that I completed an MA in Pastoral & Practical Theology as part of my ministerial education, from where I started from, becoming a Christian through an Alternative Worship Community in York.  I just wished this book was around 10 years ago – it would have made my life easier!

In many ways Pete’s book echoes, reflects and forms the bedrock of the process I follow in my explorations of Trinitarian Ecclesiology and Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church in my book ‘The becoming of G-d’.

So this book not only offers a really practical way for practitioners to engage with pastoral and practical theological reflection of what they are doing, it also offers a model and process to help practitioners work through doing complex mission in a complex culture.  Pete Ward’s book is a really helpful tool to assist Pioneers to build ecclesial communities out of contextual mission.  So I highly recommend this book to all those who are seeking to be lay and ordained Pioneer Ministers, Youth Workers and all those passionate about building emerging and fresh expressions of church.

What is fascinating, is that Pete’s analysis also has synergy with the central core process of Fresh Expressions which is drawn from Roland Allens and Vincent Donovan’s work.  See below:

So thanks Pete for such a great book. A must for all those seeking depth and reflection in what they are doing with emerging and fresh expressions of church.

What sort of Church will emerge to engage with the challenge of a post-Christian world?

On Sunday 15th March 2009, I joined a recorded discussion in Sydney exploring the above title on Australia’s ABC National Radio. In the discussions, the group explored the importance of Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church engagement with our increasingly post-christian post-secular culture. For a link to the radio show click here

Beyond Attraction – reflections on my time in Australia

Speaking Tour I have now had a bit of time to reflect on my experience of Australia, and of the Church here. I think the greatest challenge is going to be the letting go of an attractional model of church and mission. In the training days I have done here – people are somewhat resistant to let go of the strategy of ‘come to us’. This of course is based on a Christendom model of church, colluding with the separation of sacred and secular. It is interesting that this is the number one issue. The church must be able to re-imagine another way of relating to contemporary culture – much more incarnational – being IN culture but not OF culture. We must remember that the traditional church plant approach of taking some people from a church and planting them somewhere else, and then starting with worship, is an approach that recycles Christians and makes very little impact with de and un churched people. True mission is focused on those who are not members of any church.

I was really pleased that Diocese in Melbourne and Newcastle really understood this. So I hope this thinking will go deep in the DNA of these Diocese and a new form of the local church, to engage with it. I have talked a lot of the missiological approach of Vincent Donovan. We must start with incarnational projects that we hope will grow into community, that develop a fellowship that is mission centred, that then grows a contextual approach to discipleship which then finally develops contextual forms of worship, and that sacramental worship, is possibly the last thing to develop. This process, based on the work of Vincent Donovan, is crucial if we are going to form forms of church in a post-christendom and post-secular context. So below is a list I think of the essential focus for these new pioneering start up forms of projects which we hope will birth eventually, contextual and mature expressions of church:

1. Starting project needs to relate to a real collective local need – so time for listening is essential. This listening may require you to walk regularly around the suggested area of the project, get to know people, hear their stories, talk to people in bars and cafes. Time for proper listening is vital.
2. When starting a project – where it happens is important – consider creating a hub in the local community and not to using church buildings for the sake of ease. Remember that many who you are seeking to reach will be using the internet – so use the internet to help build connections with those you are not in relationship with.
3. Build a team of enthusiasts – a commitment to relationality is again crucial.
4. Develop the project so that it continues to meet the need and we hope develop some form of community.
5. As issues relating to spirituality and the Christian faith emerge (and they will), you will need to consider different ways of enabling learning through a variety of creative approaches, and you will also need to find a way of articulating the faith in the language of that context. A great tip at this stage is to ‘give on a needs basis’. No force feeding – exploring the faith in the context of people’s interests.
6. Once the project has become mission and community, you will need to explore worship. I do suggest that something around alternative worship is a good place to start, using an approach starting from where people are at or passionate about. Again this needs to develop at the pace of the community you have developed, and will in time, I am sure, develop the marks of the church.
7. When you get to 7 – then I suspect you will be facing the need to go back to 1 again as contexts develop.

For those that are interested, much of the challenge of the church in Australla relating to its increasingly post-church post-christian culture was the subject of an ABC National Radio broadcast I contributed to. To listen to it, click here

Off on the 3rd book & speaking tour

Well, its been a while since I have done this, but I am now looking forward to going back to Australia and New Zealand.  This will be probably the most complex and challenging speaking tour I have done yet.  Most will be exploring the challenge of new ways of being church for various denominations, and some exploring specifically alternative worship, forms of emerging church and my new focus, new monasticism.  So it does tie into my books, just the most varied groups of people I will have worked with yet.  

These trips always help me to go deeper with the subjects that we explore together, and hope this year will help me in my writing of a new book on new monasticism I am writing for Paraclete Press, which is a real privilege.  

So I will keep blogging here what I am up to, do check out the speaking tab if you are interested in attending elements of the tour, or to see what I am up to.  So goodbye Blighty until April…

New book: Ancient Faith Future Mission – fresh expressions of the sacramental traditions

I am really pleased that this new book that I helped to organise, has come together. Its content includes chapters by Rowan Williams, Abbot Stuart Burns, Brian McLaren, Karen Ward, Phyllis Tickle, Sue Wallace, Ian Adams and others on the whole area of developing sacramental emerging & fresh expressions of church. You can preorder it now from Amazon or Canterbury Press.

I am hoping this book will help people reimagine ways of exploring sacramentality in new ways of being church.  The book includes the address of Rowan Williams and the reflection of Abbot Stuart Burns at the recent Fresh Expressions of Church Pilgrimage to Coventry Cathedral on the 8th December 2008.  So this will be a good read, promise!

The importance of Contemplation in Mission

I have just written a joint article with Ian Adams in a really exciting multi-authored book entitled ‘Ancient Faith Future Mission’ to be published by Canterbury Press after Christmas, which include pieces by Rowan Williams, Steve Croft, Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren and Karen Ward to name but a few.  In it Ian and I explore ‘New Monasticism’ as expressed in some its Emerging Church forms.

I ahve been reminded how this refound approach is dependent on forms of contemplative prayer and contemplative awareness.  Marie Macarthy wrote a seminal chapter on contemplative awareness with the title ‘A spirituality for the twenty first century’ in Blackwell’s Reader in Pastoral & Practical Theology.  This text made a deep impression on me when I read it five years ago, and has stayed with me ever since.

Not only does Contemplation offer forms of spirituality that ‘work’, which opens up the Christian tradition to spiritual tourists, it also enables Christian communities to practices ‘action-reflection’, in seeking God in contemplation, to discern the hand of God in the world, and then to follow it.  In this way prayer and contemplation are a key resource for positive action and radical hospitality in the world.  We forget at our peril the need for a deeply sustaining spiritual life, of a relational aspect to the faith.  It is no coincidence that Martin Luther King, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa, and many more of the great movers and shakers spent much time in prayerful reflection to resource their mission and calling.

To be able to engage with the world, we need to be fully engaged in developing a spirituality that draws on the strengths of prayer and contemplation.

The Universe is fundamentally relational

I was reading the dissertation of a friend yesterday, and was struck how much science and religion now meet in the area of the relational.  In modernity, everything was solid and seperate, but now in postmodernity and with the outbreak of quantum mechanics, everything has become much more relational.  As my friend Steve Dancause said:

I think that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in what society values as ‘real’, with a heavy emphasis on relationality as the answer.  The philosophers used to say that ‘the real is rational’.  Now they say that ‘the real is relational’.  In fact, Deleuze has pointed out that ‘even the rational is relational’.  Modern science has shown us that particles exist not as absolute entities but as entities defined solely by their relationships to other particles.  People deeply want genuine connection and relationship to ground them and to give them life.  The shift to relational ontologies and epistemologies is interesting because the Church already has such a relational paradigm in the Trinity.  It is ultimately the Trinity that grounds us and gives us life, and the biblical narrative is a narrative that invites us into the divine community of the Trinity.

This is spot on, I could not agree more.  Steve Dancause has made the link between the Holy Trinity, Trinitarian Ecclesiology and the trend towards the relational at a depth I have not thought through before.

His dissertation and interview with me is to be on emergingchurch.info very soon.

Danger of CofE Emerging /Fresh Expressions of Church of becoming second class forms of church

It is five years now since the Fresh Expressions initaitve brought some good news to those who were involved in or started emerging/fresh expressions of church within the Church of England.  Many good things have happened:

1. Church Commissioners found money for start up monies for communities for 3 years distributed to Dioceses.
2. Discernment & training for non-ordained and ordained pioneers.
3. Change in church law to allow for full recognition of new forms of church as ‘Bishop Mission Orders’.

This is all good, but I have a distinct impression that in many Diocese, there is not a commitment to see our Emerging/Fresh Expressions of Church as equal to traditional or inherited forms of church.  Regarding financial resources, it seems that most Diocese are prioritising maintaining the traditional with very little commitment to funding new forms.  There are exceptions, like the Bishop of Reading, who is seeking to convert 1 in 10 of his stipended posts into an Ordained Pioneer post.  This is unfortunately too rare. Instead, I pick up an increasing cynicism about Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, which saddens me.

Some of this is partly due to the branding and commodification that some of the Fresh Expressions promotional material has generated, it does feel a little too glossy at times. Such things can feel like a fad.  And clearly there is not enough theological writing and engagement with Anglican understandings of Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church and contextual mission.  BUT, there are some very good projects, and it is hard to see projects like my own in Moot, Maybe and hOME facing real financial difficulties in sustaining what we are doing.

I completely understand that all denominations and Dioceses are facing huge difficulties financially, but a church that does not invest in mission and the future rather than maintaining the status quo, faces a real crisis.

I am hoping some how we find a way through this financial difficulty for Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church that enable us to have sufficient financial resources to make our communities sustainable.

Emerging Church attention needed to governance

Thinking about the Emerging Church and governance, I have been reflecting on how many groups have deconstructed things theologically and socio-culturally – but many have not deconstructed governance or power structures.  This may be one of the reasons who there is not a 50:50 representation of women in Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church.

One of the challenges facing the Emerging Church is how to do governance so that its structure is light and not oppressive, but encourages accountabiility in the spirit of egaliterianism.

There is an inherent danger of not having accountability structures, that things default to power being held by young charismatic people usually white men.  These forms of community and church then can end up running under the logic and ideology of the charismatic person, which is not too healthy for enabling a community with a number of voices.

Also, when a project of community say they have no structure you have to ask yourself is that true?  To be able to do services and activities some form of organisation is needed, its just not visible.  So there does need to be openness about visible governance structures. One group I really like on this, is Sanctus 1, which seeks to balance gender in their governance structures, which appears to work really well. Here there is a balance between community and individuals who serve the community with particular roles.

It seems to me, that if you do not have explictly visible governance and accountability structures, then something not so healthy may fill the gap, or something like the very thing we criticise many ‘inherited churches’ as being. This is particualrly a challenge for those groups who think of themselves as post-church or not being ‘community’.

So the challenge to us all in new forms of church and community is to balance ideology with community and structures that are light but visible and accountable.