At diocesan synod on Saturday, after the inevitable and painful discussions of the budget, we heard a presentation on Fresh Expressions from +Graham Cray.
I'm rather in favour of Fresh Expressions myself, though it did seem to me that +Graham managed to make them sound a bit like a dodgy form of car insurance...but what really struck me was the force of anti FE feeling that was abroad.
It seemed that some simply could not hear the assurances that we were moving into a "mixed economy" church, where fresh and traditional expressions can and do co-exist happily.A catholic colleague serving a rural benefice was certain that fresh expressions were a purely urban phenomenon, (this was firmly refuted, but it saddened me that he was so instinctively opposed that he hadn't explored the many rural contexts where new ways of being church are being born).Another in a deprived urban parish raised serious and legitimate concerns about network church in the sort of poor communities where no networks seem to exist. That is certainly an issue for the estate part of Church in the Valley, where our current impact is minimal, where we don't have much contact even through occasional offices, where some sort of fresh expression might well need to emerge.
The great blessing of an open-ended committment here is that I don't immediately have to worry that no obvious way in has opened...though I do have to be careful that I'm not so up to my ears in everything else that I can't take it any opportunities, or enable others to do so, if that's part of God's plan for this place.
One tweedy gentleman who was rather older than me claimed that thanks to liturgical revisions and unhelpful publicity, nobody now knew what the C of E was, or why it existed. As he talked, it seemed increasingly possible that he had no expectation that belonging to the church, might imply a relationship with God...His sights were firmly anchored on the institution (not entirely sure if that's a mixed metaphor?) without a recognition of the Church as Body of Christ. He talked about moving too fast, about confused identities, but never paused to recognise that Jesus "is already gone ahead of us into Gallillee", that God "makes all things new". Combined with the reaction of a couple of people to the very mild liturgical revision we tried out at Church on the Hill yesterday, I found this profoundly depressing.
I am utterly committed to the existing ministry of the Church. At a time when I'm so stretched personally, with funerals and death-beds taking up most of the working day, the comfort of knowing that I'm part of an army of faithful priests who have simply spent their lives loving and praying for their people and celebrating the Sacraments is immeasurable,- but I'm passionate too about the Church's calling to be an agent of transformation, - of individuals, congregations, communities.
There is a picture at Holland House, Worcester diocesan retreat house, with swirling circles of energy and colour
"We are followers of the running God, who goes to the periphery to make it a centre of light"
Sometimes keeping up is very hard work, but I know God will wait for us, that we won't be left for long wondering "which way now?"