Andy Hawes goes mission-shaped

Fresh Expressions’ is a new way of describing ‘New ways of being church;’ it continues the work of the ‘Springboard’ initiative on evangelism. According to the Archbishop’s welcome to the Fresh Expressions website the editorial board of New Directions must surely be a ‘fresh expression of church’ for it is unquestionably a place ‘where people meet in the presence of the Risen Christ and…reflect on their experience.’

It was a circular email from the diocesan office that prompted me to explore the website. A tour of the pages provides sections on different genres of ‘fresh expressions’ including the theological ideas at work, and examples of best practice. It provides an opportunity to share the fruit of others’ experience and lists sources and venues for education and training. It is an on-line think tank and ginger group.

Scrolling through the categories helped me realize how many ‘fresh expressions’ there are in the three small parishes I serve. There is the ‘midweek Eucharist in the rest home’, there is the Alpha Supper, and there are the midweek congregations – one of which is followed by a cuppa and Bible study. There is the worship in the church school and the regular Eucharist for the staff. It seems that what ‘fresh expressions’ means is a refreshed expression!

There really does not seem to be much new under the sun in the various categories. There is even one category entitled ‘traditional forms of church inspiring new interest’. There is a reworking of that form of church much loved by liberation theologians of the Seventies ‘base ecclesial communities’. The only genuine completely new expression of being church I could discern was the Oxford Diocese ‘internet congregation’. Even then, it has to be said that there are hundreds of Christian groups that function as a cyber community, Forward in Faith being one of them.

In fact FiF ought to register as an example of a ‘fresh expression’. There are certainly readers of this magazine who would see themselves belonging to a ‘cell church’, or ‘an alternative worship community’. FiF has been the cause of much spiritual growth and has encouraged the development of parishes as ‘centres of excellence’.

Recent history has shown how the orthodox constituency has had to abandon many old ways of being church in order to survive and thrive. Not least of these is the abandonment of the concept of communion as loyalty to the institution. We have become a ‘confessing communion’ alongside an older, staler one based on a jumble of loyalties.

This has had profound spiritual consequences and challenged long-held attitudes, and it has certainly freshened things up. Being confessional in foundation, the orthodox communion has developed small cells for study and mutual support. It has created a new range of educational material and a mature system of communication. There is a new sense of identity that does not recognise historic boundaries.

It is the basis for new theological initiatives that have a strong ecumenical element, and for fresh initiatives in fostering vocations. It is vital, growing and full of potential, and waiting for the next fresh expression – a free province.