When the Mission Shaped Church report of the Church of England was published in 2004, few of those in the group which wrote it could have had any idea of what would flow from it. In a very short time, it went on to become the bestselling report ever produced by the C of E. It also had a direct effect on the creation of what was at first called by the catchy title of “The Fresh Expressions Initiative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York with the Methodist Council.”
Over the ensuing years, Fresh Expressions has morphed into a broadly-based, ecumenical coalition consisting of ten denominations and seven “associate partners.” This coalition has produced a range of training resources which are increasingly in use, not only in Britain but also in many other parts of the world, including Canada.
The impact of the Fresh Expressions movement is now being felt and measured within the church in Britain. In 2012-13, the Church Army Research Unit in Britain surveyed ten out of the forty English dioceses to assess the impact of Fresh Expressions. It found that 75% of the people involved in fresh expressions of church were not previously involved in any form of church. As a result, Christians from many nations have become interested in what has been happening in increasingly secular, post-Christian and consumeristic Britain.
Starting in 2008, on the other side of the Atlantic, Fresh Expressions Canada has tried “to encourage the development of fresh expressions of church alongside more traditional expressions, with the aim of seeing a more mission-shaped church take shape throughout the country.”
To this end, Fresh Expressions Canada has adapted the Fresh Expressions training resources from the UK as well as developing some of our own. The Reimagining Church: Shaped for Mission course has been downloaded over three hundred times, and has been successfully run in many locations by a wide variety of leaders, including four Anglican bishops.
From its beginnings, the Fresh Expressions initiative has had a grass-roots ecumenism as one of its guiding values, and Fresh Expressions Canada has done its best to honour that value in various ways:
Churches of eight denominations (Anglican, United, Lutheran, Mennonite, Baptist, Christian Reformed, and Free Methodist) have made use of the Reimagining Church
Students from at least half a dozen denominations have taken the Mission Shaped Ministry course (now renamed the Fresh Expressions Course).
The twelve Vital Church Planting conferences (eight in Toronto, four elsewhere) which Fresh Expressions Canada has co-sponsored have welcomed attendees and presenters from a variety of church backgrounds.
For the past fourteen months, a small group of Christians, including a Baptist and a United Church member, as well as Anglicans, scattered across Canada from Whitehorse to Montreal, have been meeting online in real time, for two hours every two weeks, to follow The Fresh Expressions Course (Click here to watch a short video introducing the course.) This has provided great content and meaningful collegial support for practitioners in the field.
The most recent examples of grass-roots ecumenism at work are two developing collaborations with various parts of the United Church of Canada.
The first is a project involving Chris Pullenayegem, an animator for New Ministry Development. This is an eight month project which ran from April to December 2014. The United Church moderator, Gary Paterson, wrote about the project in his blog before Christmas:
Chris has organized a cohort of people wanting to learn more about “Fresh Expressions” (that is, some of the experiments in new ministries that have been developed in England – Google it – great stuff out there!) There are about 24 people now involved, (many of them the United Church ministry leaders who went to the Greenbelt Festival last summer, where they actually experienced a variety of Fresh Expressions). Chris has connected with the lead Fresh Expressions Canada staff person, who is helping resource the cohort.
Using content drawn largely from The Fresh Expressions Course, participants from across the country have met online in real time for an hour each month with Chris and me to look at different aspects of starting new missional projects. This is then followed-up by Chris, who meets online with the participants one-on-one.
The second is a potentially multi-year collaboration with the United Church’s Halton Presbytery (centred in Oakville, ON), where church teams, perhaps ten to begin with, each with an existing mission project, will covenant to ongoing training and reflection, using content drawn from The Fresh Expressions Course. This collaboration is due to start later this year.
The church these days is trying to adapt appropriately to a rapidly changing situation, and Fresh Expressions Canada is trying to match the training needs with suitable resources. With the experience we have built up over the past six years, we are able to come alongside churches and denominations who want to develop their skills in this challenging area.
Fresh Expressions Canada is committed to sharing the lessons that are coming out of the global Fresh Expressions movement as widely as possible. In particular, the next Fresh Expressions Course will be beginning soon: if you would like to know what it would involve to be part of the new learning cohort, let me know. Email me at email@example.com for more details of this and other Fresh Expressions Canada resources.
Resources referred to:
For Reimagining Church materials, click here.
To download the Mission-Shaped Church report, click here.
To see the results of the Church Army research, click here.