Fresh Expressions…honestly? Sounds like an air freshener. Reality? It is. Unfortunately, the air surrounding the institution of the Anglican church these days seems to be stagnant; as such, we need to refresh ourselves and re-evaluate who we are as CHRISTIANS. Christ commissioned us to “GO and make disciples of every nation…” Yet we seem to be fixated on the concept of “come to us, and we’ll make you disciples.” We have turned away from the mission to which Jesus has called us. Fresh Expressions challenges us to envision what being a mission people is all about at a congregational level.
I am a 39-year-old “cradle Anglican”. For those unfamiliar with that term it means I have been attending since my birth. My three sons, aged six, three and six months are also cradle Anglicans. Both my father and brother are Anglican ministers. I have been ensconced in tradition my entire life, and I have come to truly appreciate it. Having said that, I realize that for most of my peers, our ways are not their ways. Yet I still have a calling from God. Saturday, September 20, 2008, I and my six month old son, Joshua, were among more than 30 members of 5 Montreal North Shore parishes and from 2 parishes in the Diocese of Ontario who were gathered at St. James, Rosemere, for a special Vision Day. Nick Brotherwood presented Fresh Expressions, a “form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church”. With dwindling numbers in the pews, many churches are facing uncertainty. Yet, as long time members of these churches, we strive to keep our parishes afloat. Why? The spirit urges us to keep the faith. It is not that the world is neither in need of God nor of his healing and fulfilling spirit. It is simply that society is changing while the methods of the church are not. I am NOT suggesting that we tackle the issue of doctrine. I am suggesting that we need to be alive and open to the spirit and alive and open to the NEEDS of the communities in which we find ourselves. Do we REALLY listen to their needs? Do we REALLY know WHO is in our communities?
Fresh Expressions challenges us to open ourselves to methods of service and worship to which we are perhaps not familiar. In one inner city church in England, for instance, the church opens its doors at pub-closing, and invites people to come and chat or pray. In another example, a Christian skateboard complex has been opened to suburban teenagers. The teens are encouraged to explore worship through some of the skateboard tricks they attempt. Not what we as staunch Anglicans are traditionally about. But it does spread the word of God and the love and nurture of Jesus, and teenagers need that more than ever these days. My personal favourite was a Fresh Expressions church called “The Messy Church”. Here whole families are encouraged to come to worship through arts and through a communal suppertime meal. It not only spreads the word to the children (something we tend to do in a segregated “Sunday School”), but it provides the adults with a spiritual forum while being close to their young ones. AND IT’S FUN!! In Montreal, Emerge would fall into the category of a Fresh Expressions type of church. Catering to the inner city18-35 year old crowd, Emerge creates a coffee shop setting for worship. We have become such a coffee shop society, with Starbucks taking possession of every street corner, why not offer a church community to worship in that setting? The Word stays the same. Jesus meets us where we are.
It was a day to reflect, to listen, and to contemplate our future as an Anglican society. It is time to re-focus our congregations’ mission. The average age of congregations is rising and we are seeing more and more empty pews. Yes, it can be an unnerving concept to adapt to change – and by that I don’t mean either/or, but either/and. What doesn’t change, however, is the need for God’s spirit to move through our churches and to flow to the communities we serve. What doesn’t change is the power He has to change lives. What doesn’t change is His love and faith in us. Nor, then, should ours waver in Him. While Fresh Expressions emphasizes the Great Commission’s “GO”, let us never forget the last part of that Great Commission: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Peace and God’s Blessings,
Want to know more about Vision Days? Contact Nick Brotherwood, the Assistant Director of the Institute.