Posted by: revtc | February 18, 2010

The Archbishop and Fresh Expressions

Have a look at this post on Jonny Baker’s blog here. It’s an interview with Archbishop Rowan about FX, conducted for a podcast by the guys at nomad in Nottingham. The interview with the Arch goes for about 15 mins, and then there’s about 25 mins of discussion about what he said by some members of the nomad community. It’s worth setting aside a coffee break for.

One of the things they talked about was the relationship between the institutional church and FX: how they get along together, whether they actually do, and how they might go about doing it in the future as the ‘mixed economy’ that the Arch talks about, develops. There’s a bit of what felt like a slight cynicism from the nomad crew about that, as I think that they instinctively felt that anything FX develops into will get swallowed up and melded back into trad church. That probably comes from their own experiences, but I wanted to say something about our own experiences of that in contrast.

St Luke’s-in-the-High St is a missional church that has transitioned itself from trad church. Our building is for sale; we don’t meet for church on Sundays, but instead run, and are present at the Farmers’ Market from 10am til 2pm; we meet for church meetings on Wednesday nights; our sense of liturgy and teaching is very conversationalist and hardly ever didactic; we share Holy Communion together each Wednesday night; we eat together on a monthly basis. We do take part in the life of the wider church by being present through the trad structures of the CofE; eg, Bishop’s Council, Diocesan Synod, Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee, Deanery Synod, Clergy Chapter, and being an integral part of the Parish of Walthamstow Team. The trad structures have been positively instrumental and supportive of what we’re trying to do, and have not tried to subsume us. In effect, we have been blessed by the trad CofE structures.

An old friend of mine from Australia, John Smith, uses the image of a tree to give some shape to thinking about how trad/inherited church and FX are part of the same organism. The growth in a tree happens right at the edge – the bark layer. You can kill a tree by ring-barking it; ie., cutting a ring of bark about a foot wide right around the tree and removing it, as the sap that is the lifeblood of the tree runs through the bark. Now, while the bark is where the growth is, it can’t exist without the wood of the tree that has formed the trunk throughout the whole life of the tree. The bark and the wood need each other to become a living tree. We, as a FX, need the structure of the trad church/CofE to support us while we grow some new wood at the edge of the tree. But if we are cut off from the tree, the tree might stand for a while longer but the life will be gone – you can see where the metaphor goes.

It’s a complicated business that we’re involved in, and has all manner of implications including long-term sustainability issues. I’m looking forward to attending a FX conference in Lincoln on 5 March, where the Arch will be speaking to FX practitioners about some of these issues, and where we can engage with him, each other, and the issues in an environment that is taking seriously the integrated nature of church and mission. Let’s hope we don’t lose sight of the wood for the trees.

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