Thursday, May 11, 2006

Steve Croft & Fresh Expressions (of church)

Rev’d Dr Steve Croft (the former Warden of Cranmer Anglican Vicar College, Durham), the Archbishop’s Missioners and Team Leader of Fresh Expressions preached in college chapel today from Acts 4 and led a 2 hour session for trainee vicars at afterwards.

I thought Croft was marvellous. He is obviously very able. He goes to St Andrew’s church in north Oxford where Rev’d Andrew Wingfield-Digby is the vicar, an evangelical church. In an academic bureaucrat, he had the great advantage of having spent 13 years as a parish minister (I think he said). Maybe he just knew what we’d like to hear and said it to us, but I was taken in. He really answered questions and didn’t dodge the difficult ones. All power to him. Well, maybe his current role continued for a while, anyway. It seems like a very hard job that causes him to have to cover the whole country and travel around a lot.

Fresh Expressions seems like a mixed bag – partly deliberately – but basically a good thing. Certainly encouraging people to do what they do better.

A DVD is available from Church House Publishing telling the story of 14 Fresh Expressions projects, which should be in the college library.

Croft has a staff of 12; 3 full time clergy and 9 part timers.

480 Fresh Expression projects are registered (via the web site). 25 000 people including 8000+ children or young people are involved. The projects are thus rather younger than average. Relatively large proportions have no other contact with a church and little church background. This might be 1/5 or 1/10 of the whole informal picture. They want to see lots of little things not a couple of flag ship initiatives.

Some of the projects are: The Bridge church in a school and pub; taste and see coffee shop; east west Asian church which runs Sanctuary in Birmingham; Legacy XS church for 15 year old skaters in Benfleet; Messy Church once a month Sunday session in a school for adults and kids; The Living Room Church for students in Southampton; Cell Church Network in Gateshead.

I don’t know how all this fits in the The Emerging Church movement.

The Queen told synod that church should be contemporary and relevant without losing what is good from the past. The Times leader of Christmas Eve ’05 puffed Fresh Expressions. John Drane wrote about it in The International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church themed issue of March 2006.

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, was asked on Today today whether or not the Church of England is in meltdown. It seems to me that the traditional Anglicanism is in terminal decline and will have a lingering death. Evangelicalism is growing, even in the C of E.

A whole new stream of Fresh Expressions Pioneer Ministers are being trained who will be ordained to the presbyterate. 12 are currently recommended for training. Most DDOs and dioceses have candidates for pioneer ministry. There will be slightly different criteria for their training. In principle, it will be possible to train at any accredited Anglican college full time for 3 or more years. There will be more of an emphasis on on-the-job training and learning by doing. Placements and practical courseworks in a college context. Pioneer Ordained Ministers will serve their titles in a pioneer context. It is likely that lay pioneer ministers will be appointed and trained too.

Bishops will be encouraged to appoint 4 full time stipendiary clergy to be licensed to deaneries for specialist pioneer ministries.

From next year there will be no set rules for training for ordination. Tailor made programmes will be decided by panels. This seems to be to give the panel a dangerous amount of power. There need to be pretty strong guidelines about the skills and knowledge which all presbyters need.

Croft analysed much of the argument about emerging church as being a matter of the Trust / Anxiety dilemma. How much can people be trusted to get on and do what is appropriate or how much must they be controlled?

In about 2/3 of dioceses, Mission Shaped Church / Fresh Expressions Report has been embraced and there are no problems. In some cases there are tussles. St Andrew’s, Chorley Wood and Holy Trinity, Brompton have upset people by planting across parish boundaries. About a dozen serious disputes exist, all about parish boundaries, most are conservative evangelicals, one is charismatic.

We had a one-to-one conversation about Richard Coekin’s case and, although I could be wrong, Croft seemed to by sympathetic to Coekin not to Rt Revd Tom Bulter, the Bishop of Southwark, who has withdrawn Coekin’s licence to preach because of various alleged legal irregularities and disputes about the Bishop’s authority and canon law. There can be no question but that Coekin is a fine and noble Minister of the Gospel who has been greatly used by the Lord in bringing many others to faith, maturity and service. Croft said he did not know Archbishop Rowan’s position on the whole thing as Rowan Williams had not spoken publicly on the question as there are legal issues.

Fresh Expressions are currently seen as an extra not a replacement. Every parish church in the country should still be having a standard main parish Eucharist by the book every Sunday morning. Yet the Fresh Expression projects are not just evangelistic incubators from which people are channelled into a proper church. The projects hope to grow to be mature churches. Its hard to see how a youth congregation at a skate park will do that. This is the homogenous unit principle gone mad.

Fresh Expressions sounded to me like church in the pub ignoring the rules. More often it seems to be in a coffee shop. The idea is to see a thousand flowers bloom. Are some of them weeds?

Having a church in a coffee shop seems to be the formula for success. The coffee shop should be nice and well done and appropriate socially to the potential clients. Church must be welcoming, warm, friendly, non-threatening. Relationships should be emphasised. People should be able to opt in and opt out as they wish. But in the end complete commitment can be decided upon. There should be good food. It should all be seeker friendly without Anglican or churchy trappings.

Ministry under the Fresh Expressions banner must be legal, it must use the Authorised Forms in all its ministry and it must be connected to the Anglican Declaration of Assent from the front of Common Worship. In practice, this just means Services of the Word and this isn’t a problem. Where it gets edgy is in Eucharistic provision. There is a certain amount of turning of blind eyes. Lay presidency will upset some. Probably the C of E will not authorise lay presidency but will ordain more people.

The core theological requirement for Fresh Expressions is Life in Christ. Perhaps Life in the real Risen Christ. (The real) Jesus Christ (of the Bible) is Lord would be better, but that’s not bad, is it?

I didn’t realise the Methodists are involved in all this. I’m not sure what the C of E gets out of the Methodists joining in. Union with the Methodists would give some not very good buildings with small congregations and an even greater staffing crisis, I think.

I don’t think Fresh Expressions have to be ecumenical or theological fudge necessarily.

A fear about Fresh Expressions might be that it undermines the parish (local congregation) and the diocese (and Bishop) for the sake of the deanery or other collaborative partnerships.

A new measure before synod (The Diocese Mission and Pastoral Measure) would remove the power of veto from parish incumbents to prevent other Anglicans ministering in their parish. This would be good for evangelicals who want to plant in other peoples parishes – although obviously others might come and set up (false ministries or more effective ministries) in theirs too. We need not worry about open competition since we are right and our product is the best. Parish boundaries would become easier to reorganise and ignore. Bishops could make Mission Orders to appoint non-parish clergy licensed to minister in deaneries to serve network churches.

Croft said that Anglicans lack an ecclesiology and we badly need ecclesiology PhDs which will have relevance for Fresh Expressions. It seemed there would be cash for that. PhDs such as mine, perhaps. How do we apply Ministry of Word and Sacrament and relate them in Evangelical Anglican congregations today? What are the implications for Fresh Expressions where its just Services of the Word and no Eucharists (when they keen it kosher Anglican).

Fresh Expressions (of church) should not simple be thought of as Church or church. We need to think about what a church is. When have you got a church? In other words, what is the essence, the irreducible core. As I’m not sure Croft said, we also need to think about what perfect or ideal churches are in their fullness and what a mature church is in practice. What is a 24 carat shining gold, bold, underlined, italics, capital letters CHURCH.

Croft has offered to email his presentation and was happy for us to send it around. He only gave a small fraction of it and the rest looked good too. Most of his time was spent responding to questions. We missed out most of the theological section which stresses an incarnational model of ministry, with proclamtion as an essential part of that. John Brook is going to organise this and put it up on Acorn.

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