The report Mission Shaped Church 1 was welcomed by the General Synod of the Church of England in February 2004. Within a few months the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had set up Fresh Expressions, a new mission agency to encourage, support and equip churches seeking to develop ‘fresh expressions of church’ (see the website www.freshexpressions.org.uk). The Church of England can sometimes act far more quickly than Methodism, and we might pray that this report receives a favourable reception at the Methodist Council when it gets there following a notice of motion at Conference this year.
The Archbishops appointed Steve Croft, one of the authors of the Emmaus course and then Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham as director of Fresh Expressions in September 2004. Meanwhile the Methodist Church was talking to the Archbishops about Methodism buying into Fresh Expressions. By October 2004 an outline agreement had been reached that the Methodist Church would fund a full time missioner and that Fresh Expressions would work ecumenically. In March this year I was appointed as the missioner - a very exciting opportunity!
So what are 'Fresh Expressions'?L~
First please note that they are 'fresh', not 'new'. This is a deliberate choice of words – some of the ways the Christian faith is becoming relevant to 21st century people are far from new: new monastic orders or translations of monastic rules for example.
Second they are expressions of church. They may arise by deliberate planning or 'by accident' (God’s providence) but they will be (or will be becoming) church in all its fullness. This does not mean Sunday worship in specific buildings. For me Roland Allen's description of church as a Christian community with four things (the scriptures, a means or tradition by which to understand them, eldership, Holy Communion and Baptism) 2 gives the best basis for a flexible description of a church.
Imagine an old tree - the picture is of the Major Oak near Edwinstowe in Sherwood Forest. This tree has stood for hundreds of years but is more than a little creaky. Its branches need propping up and it is tied together with metal bands. However it is still producing acorns! And each contains the DNA needed to produce another tree that will itself last hundreds of years. The new trees will bear the same DNA but will be different trees, shaped by their environment and shaping their environment.
The church of 21st century Britain needs to be incarnated afresh in the cultures which have emerged over the last 50 years. These churches will probably be more different from what we have known than we can imagine, but they will bear the DNA of the disciples of Jesus.
Fresh Expressions will be doing two things. We will be nurturing the parts of the tree that are producing the acorns (roots and branches). We will also be working to see that the acorns are planted, nurtured, fertilised and given room to grow. The core team is now in place. This coming connexional year we will be looking for associate missioners and a network of accompanists who will join us in the task of encouraging the new growth which God is already bringing to life.
If you want some examples of Fresh Expressions have a look at the directory on the website. There are 41 Methodist Fresh Expressions registered to date of over 200 from all denominations. Cell Church, Café Church, Alternative worship communities.... The Directory may give you ideas on how you or your church can develop new ways of expressing the DNA of church in your area.
Tom Stuckey, the President of Conference, challenged the Methodist church to do two things: to increase our confidence in God and to develop fresh expressions of church. Listen to his address on http://www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.webradio - follow the link for the President's address. If I or other members of the Fresh Expressions Team can help you – or if you can help us - please get in touch.
1. Report from General Synod page 164 the whole debate is recorded verbatim in this document and some of the contributions are excellent.
2. Allen, Roland, Missionary Methods – St Paul's or Ours