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fresh-expressions-logoSometimes things aren’t what they seem.  One of them might be Fresh Expressions.

If you’re unfamiliar with this recent Anglican – Methodist initiative, please see A beginner’s guide to Fresh Expressions.

As promised, here’s a closer look.    

First, a little background.  Last year, a few clergy tried to define Fresh Expressions (and fresh expressions) for me.  They went into very little detail: ‘Basically, Fresh Expressions is whatever you want it to be.  You can have church wherever you like whenever you like.  Isn’t it great?’

Then, a page-long article about it appeared in our parish newsletter.  It, too, was vague.  Yet, the author was someone involved with it locally.  This is why, one year on and none the wiser, I wrote the beginner’s guide post.  My alarm bells go off when I see either too much vagueness or too much complexity.  It’s as if someone were trying to hide something in case it met with general disapproval.

The two different spellings for Fresh Expressions appear to be a type of witty postmodern comment, an inside joke. Their self-referential quality is bound to lead to confusion.   

Fresh Expressions’ success depends on building a group of faithful and less on worship.  That said, it has received some criticism over the past few years, particularly with regard to liturgy, or lack of it:

  • Too much ‘pandering to modern Western culture’, e.g. lack of sacraments and other essential aspects of church
  • An unclear relationship to existing churches and the sacraments
  • Whether emerging churches are forms of Fresh Expressions or vice versa.

With regard to the last point, apparently Fresh Expressions becomes part of the emerging churches only when its fresh expressions do not come out of an existing parish or church.  An infamous early example of an emerging church was the Nine O’Clock Service in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s.  (Those of us approaching middle age know how that ended.  You can read more about it here and here.  Since then, the Church has taken more control over the behaviour of those leading new movements.)  Nonetheless, it does bring us back to the notion of church being ‘whatever you want it to be’.  That can sometimes turn out to be misguided and harmful. 

The loose structure of the fresh expressions is postmodern.  They appear to be a rejection of the traditional ways of bringing church to the people and reflect a reluctance to bring people into church.  fresh expressions seem to want to stay outside.  They don’t appear to be part of a mission with one presence in the secular world and another at the Communion rail. 

Also, is there a moral relativism? Does the concept of sin falls by the wayside?  What about the idea of redemption?  How is the Gospel taught? 

Fresh Expressions suggests aspects of liberation theology, in that it seems to focus on creating a brand of church for the those at the margins. This brand of church is comprised of what are known by liberation theologians as basic ecclesial communities (BECs), or neighbourhood grassroots groups.  Isolating groups of people could potentially create future conflict between BECs and churchgoers.  Are the myriad of fresh expressions going to bring us all together as Christ would have wanted?  What happens 30 years from now? Does dialectical materialism come into play eventually with one group overtaking another in some sort of class struggle for church or no church?  Does Fresh Expressions view those churchgoers as imposing a cultural hegemony — ‘middle class’ worship — on those outside of church?  (Churchgoers’ money helps to finance these initiatives.)

It’s easy to laugh at these questions now, but think back to what your world was like growing up and compare it to that of your grandparents.  Think of all the times a new social ‘movement’ or ‘theory’ took root.  People had questions.  The stock answer was a chuckle followed by, ‘Don’t worry about it.  Everything will be fine.’  Now we look back and see that things aren’t fine. 

It’s precisely Fresh Expressions’ amorphous character that makes me recall so many social experiments from the 1960s and 1970s which led us to the parlous state we’re in now — the point where we even need something like Fresh Expressions because there are so many unchurched people.       

It really seems as if we are using the tenets of critical theory — which has informed our thinking for the past 40 years and made a right dog’s breakfast of so much in our society — to compromise the teachings of the Gospel and the Church.  To counter this assumption, it would be helpful for Fresh Expressions to give real answers about liturgy and the sacraments in their initiatives.

Some of you reading this might be involved in Fresh Expressions.  If so, I would really like to hear from you.  Thanks in advance.

The outcry over the University of Notre Dame (ND) extending an invitation to President Obama to speak at their Commencement on May 17 shows no signs of letting up.

Although Father Jenkins says the University will not rescind the invitation, the number of signatures on the Cardinal Newman Society petition continues to grow.  Over 83,000 people have signed it to date.

On Monday, Churchmouse Campanologist proposed that Notre Dame invite Dr Alan Keyes to speak instead.  Yesterday — unrelated development — Dr Keyes voiced his opinion on the invitation to President Obama in typically eloquent fashion:

Given that the principle at stake is the same as that which demanded opposition to slavery, I have always had a simple test when dealing with any question involving abortion. I ask myself what I would do or say if slavery was the issue in question. I recommend this test for your consideration. Ask yourself whether you would invite as a Commencement speaker an individual who abused the authority of office to provide Federal funding for the purchase of slaves. Would you consider it honorable for the University to confer an honorary degree on an individual who issued executive orders allowing US funds to be used to support slave markets? Would you let the University be used to give stature to a politician who supported the position that ownership of slaves is a matter of individual choice?

Please take a few moments to read this thought-provoking entry in full. 

Also on March 24, Bishop D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend announced that he would be boycotting this year’s Commencement ceremony:

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.

My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.

Read the full notice to understand how Bishop D’Arcy arrived at his decision. 

Back on campus, ND senior Kelly Kapshandy made her views known to the University newspaper, The Observer.  She has decided to hit the University where it hurts — the pocketbook:

…  I have never been moved enough to write a Viewpoint Letter to the Editor. However, the announcement of President Barack Obama as the Commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree shocked me.

… Not only has Notre Dame lost my respect, but they have also lost my intent to contribute to the University anytime in the near future. I have worked in the Notre Dame Phone Center for nearly eight semesters. In that time, I have spoken with hundreds of alumni and have solicited nearly $90,000 in alumni contributions because I believed in the value of a Notre Dame education …  Until now, I have had every intent to contribute to Notre Dame after I graduate in whatever capacity I could afford because every dollar does make a difference. However, unless the administration acts to prove otherwise, I now believe that my contributions will be better spent at other charitable institutions.

Churchmouse Campanologist will let you know how it all ends in a few weeks’ time.       

Steven Croft (photo courtesy of Fresh Expressions)

Rev. Dr. Steven Croft (photo courtesy of Fresh Expressions)

fresh-expressions-logoBelow is an introduction to Fresh Expressions, which you might have heard about sometime within the last year. 

Having found its own verbiage somewhat unclear, I have attempted to explain Fresh Expressions in words we can all understand.

What is this Anglican-Methodist initiative?  First of all, there are two types of Fresh Expressions.  One is capitalised and one is not.  Fresh Expressions (note the upper-case ‘F’ and ‘E’) is a new movement from the two churches to recognise new ways of worship to reach the unchurched.  The lower-case fresh expressions are various ways of achieving that goal.  So, this is a major initiative comprised of many smaller initiatives, or ways of bringing the Good News to those who are unfamiliar with it.

Fresh Expressions has been active since 2005 and has a core team of 15 people.  The Archbishop’s Missioner, the Rev. Dr Steven Croft, led the team for four years. He recently stood down from the post and will be moving to South Yorkshire.  Last week, in honour of his efforts in bringing Fresh Expressions to fruition, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented him with the cross of St Augustine.

Fresh Expressions defines ‘fresh expression’ as:

‘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.’

Emphasis on certain words is mine.  You’ll see why in a future post.

The initiative uses lots of new terms such as ‘discipling’ and ‘church planting’.  It’s all part of the Mission-shaped Church report of the General Synod of the Church of England in 2004.  The Methodist Church has a related document recorded in ‘Changing Church for a Changing World’ (Methodist Publishing House ISBN).  A few of the many examples of fresh expressions include:

Those of us familiar with the Church know that Jesus spent much of His time among everyday people of all background and ages. On the face of it, this is a great idea.   

More to follow soon.  Stay tuned!

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