Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition
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Mission Shaped Church, the groundbreaking report published in 2004 has sold over 20,000 copies and has changed the way mission is done. Fresh Expressions, which sprang into being in its wake, is now an established and growing presence in the church.
Fresh Expressions conjures up children's clubs, cafe church and innovative youth work, yet this is not the whole story. Churches from the traditional wings of the church are being equally creative and imaginative, exploring alternative ways of worshipping and being Christian communities. Their focus may be more contemplative than action-packed, but the place of encounter with God needs space and silence.
Practitioners from such churches tell their stories and reflect theologically on the initiatives they are exploring. Some of the very best names in the field have contributed to this book which will make a unique and important contribution to the understanding and practice of mission today.
This title includes many well-known contributors: Rowan Williams, Brian McLaren, Steven Croft, Stephen Cottrell, Richard Giles, Phyllis Tickle and priest missioners from traditional Anglican parishes and emergent churches in the US.
Mission takes time. Like all great achievements it needs time and effort even if it is also the work of God. There are no quick fixes since it is about building communities, and relationships take time to build not least that with God himself. That insight recurs across the work of eighteen thinkers and pioneers from the catholic tradition of UK and US Anglicanism whose contributions are assembled in Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition.
The book starts magnificently with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s December 2008 address at the Coventry Cathedral Fresh Expressions pilgrimage Eucharist. Rowan Williams sees the Anglo-catholic view of mission as primarily patient and community oriented, valuing action - including sacraments - more than words. The book moves on, a shade unevenly, between mission theory and practice - more theory than practice - to end with a Benedictine Abbot’s warning. Letting God be God rather than what we would like him to be indeed takes time, but it is the key to mission and unlocking the spiritual energy that drives it.
The book represents an awakening among Anglo-catholics to the challenge of fresh expressions which traces back to the 2004 report on mission-shaped church. As Bishop Steven Croft notes in his chapter, Anglo-catholics seem to have held back initially, like Gamaliel, to see whether the national initiative much favoured by Evangelicals would go anywhere. They are also concerned about the lack of sacramental vision in the 2004 report. Now a sacramental network exists within fresh expressions and has sponsored this publication.
Alongside short tasters on alternative worship, new monasticism, Contemplative Fire etc. this compendium draws out a basis for forming new ecclesial communities through contextual mission that commends patient endeavour geared to make space for God’s action. Fresh expressions of the church must be more than human constructs. To be so they need to be fully sacramental. As the Archbishop puts it, having priests 'is not a matter of mechanical requirements imposed on a spontaneous human gathering, but a matter of how the human gathering remembers that it isn’t just a human gathering. Properly understood, the sacramental life in a congregation is inseparable from the impulse to silence, adoration, willingness to receive – all the things that break us free from the tyranny of hectic activism and trying to achieve'.
The same point is made in the chapter written by Contemplative Fire leaders, namely that the discipline of order and adherence to age old Christian disciplines can foster spontaneity and freedom. Creativity and playfulness emerge best out of deeply structured situations. Brian McLaren expresses this in his quotation on the cover of the book: 'the road to the future goes through the past'. Both Sue Wallace and Phyllis Tickle pick up on how reading the trials and achievements of the saints intrigues, excites and energises the pioneers of our day.
Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition is a timely resource as the Archbishops' Fresh Expressions initiative changes gear and leadership 5 years on from Mission-shaped Church. This book should inspire, intrigue and invite fresh energies into a new phase of Christian outreach that is both contextual and true to the faith of the church through the ages.
Fresh Expressions website
'This is a highly informative and well written book by a collection of contributors who make the more technical theological explanations very accessible.'
'Fresh Expressions conjures up children's clubs, cafe church and innovative youth work, yet this is not the whole story. Churches from the traditional wings of the church are being equally creative and imaginative, exploring alternative ways of worshipping and being Christian communities. Their focus may be more contemplative than action-packed, but the place of encounter with God needs space and silence. Practitioners from such churches tell their stories and reflect theologically on the initiatives they are exploring, with contributors including Rowan Williams, Brian McLaren, Steven Croft, Stephen Cottrell, Richard Giles, Phyllis Tickle, Karen Ward and Ian Mobsby'. Expressions, Summer 2009
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