On Saturday, March 14 sixty-four people from across the Diocese of Ontario took part in a Vision Day held at Christ Church, Cataraqui in Kingston. The event, which was co-sponsored by the Diocese of Ontario’s Evangelism Committee and Fresh Expressions Canada, was the largest of its kind in Canada to date.
With a powerful endorsement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, thousands of people across the U.K. have taken part in Vision Days, which are designed to create a forum for Christian communities to discover more about fresh expressions of church in their communities. Having now caught the attention of church leaders in Canada, receiving nods from The Primate and our Bishop George Bruce, the movement is beginning to generate interest at the grassroots level right here at home.
The Ven. William A. Clarke, who attended the Vision Day, said he was impressed to see such a strong turnout from among the older, more established crowd of committed church people in the Diocese, “maybe they are here because of a ‘we’ve got to do something’ attitude, or perhaps they are seeing through the eyes of their children and grandchildren that the traditional model of church isn’t working for them, and asking themselves if there is a way to find something new that will get their attention and get them involved again.”
At its core, fresh expressions of church are about churches listening to who people are, and how they are, and creating forms of church that connect with their needs. Officially, a fresh expression of church is “A fresh expression of church is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.” The Vision Day was an opportunity to learn how fresh expressions can empower churches to relate to contemporary culture, instead of railing against it. Accidentally dressed alike in t-shirts and cargo pants, which they now jokingly call a fresh expressions “uniform”, the message from workshop leaders, The Rev. Ryan Sim (Parish of Kitley) and the Rev. Matthew Kydd (Parish of Oxford) was that we need to accept that the social landscape of Sunday has changed and that we can’t go back. Ryan Sim says that fresh expressions of church “answer God’s call to ‘go and make disciples’ and respond to the deep spiritual hunger that exists in our society today.”
One of the key features of a Vision Day is a character discovery exercise. Working in an interactive group setting, the exercise first challenges participants to identify a person or demographic whom they are not currently serving in their church community and then to imagine an identity for this individual – ranging from the simplest details like a name and what they might watch on TV, to more intimate details like where they might go on vacation and what they might do while away. The Rev. Blair Peever, Incumbent of Christ Church Cataraqui and member of the Diocesan Evangelism Committee said the exercise is designed to get people out of their comfort zones and to challenge them on “how much they know and how much they don’t know about the groups and demographics that they are not currently serving through their churches.”
In the second part, the groups were asked to tap into their imaginative centres and create a church for their characters. During the sharing portion of this exercise, participants were introduced to “Justin”, the skateboarder, who – sometime after his return from vacation in California – would attend a rather untraditional service right in the bowl of his local skateboard park. They might gravitate towards use of the Old and New Testaments in full-colour comic-strip form from the Comic-Strip Bible series. Another group developed a church for a homeless man named “George” who, together with his friends, would gather for communal acts of worship at mealtime in a soup kitchen. Their worship music of choice would be the “oldies” with a blues vibe played on harmonica. Because some of them might have literacy challenges, they might not use a written translation of the bible, but rather opt for the Gospel in a story-telling format. These are just highlights of the kinds of fresh expressions that were imagined as people freed themselves to envision their church reaching out to a changing society. The team’s hope is that parishes will conduct the same exercise, not with imaginary characters, but by getting to know those who actually live in their communities.
I was beginning to wonder if this level of “coolness” and Anglicanism could peacefully coexist in the real world, at which point Ryan Sim and Matt Kydd led us through a set of core values for fresh expressions that attempts to bring the “cool factor” in line with our theology and our traditions. In a conversation during the lunch break with The Rev. Nick Trussell, another member of the Diocesan Evangelism Committee, shared that “when we look at the core values of a fresh expression of church we will recognize them as the values of the churches we’re already in. Being mission-shaped, transformative, sacrificial – these are all marks of the church that we know and we can’t let those things go simply for the sake of fresh expressions. Fresh expressions need to be more than something that is just engaging or ‘cool’, they need to truly present the Gospel of Christ. We can get a community together around skateboarding, but we need to do it in a way that is done for the Glory of God”.
For more information about fresh expressions or to find out about an upcoming Vision Day please visit: http://www.freshexpressions.ca/