Lessons from down under

Monday, 16 August, 2010

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

I recently spent two weeks in New Zealand, teaching about fresh expressions of church, at the invitation of the Anglican dioceses of Christ Church (South Island) and Wellington (North Island). The experience I brought from the UK was well received, but, as happens when the international body of Christ is functioning healthily, I brought back insights relevant for back home. I will mention two.

The first was a commitment to develop young leaders. In both cities I spoke at gatherings of young adults who had a capacity for leadership and a heart for mission. Like the church in the UK, the church in New Zealand is ageing and many churches have only a handful of young adults, if any. In Christ Church they are being gathered together regularly for food, teaching and encouragement and to create networks of friendship and mutual support. This has been made possible by the recruitment of able (nearly as) young leaders to head up the initiative. It was very impressive and will prove to be a vital investment in both the present and the future. In England we face the same issue and are beginning to respond. For example, the diocese of Carlisle has a ‘Younger Diocese’ initiative, involving interns and the development of a youth congregation in each deanery. Fresh Expressions has just established a Young Adult roundtable, convened by Zoe Hart. The strength of the Christ Church initiative is that young leaders do not have to cluster in a few larger churches to survive. They can be networked, supported and developed as leaders and gradually impact the whole diocese.

This is an Anglican example, as I was the guest of Anglicans, but the same principles are applicable to all traditions. My other experience was of the willingness of different denominations to work together to establish a Fresh Expressions Initiative for New Zealand. This was partly a matter of size – a smaller population makes 'go it alone' approaches less viable. But primarily it was the sense of a shared opportunity and that it would be crazy not to work as partners. Anglican, Methodist, Weslyan, Presbyterian, Baptist and Salvationist met around the table and discussed how, rather than whether they could do this together. In the UK also the ecumenism with a future is partnership in mission. It brings us together with a shared and acknowledged weakness: ageing congregations and a changing culture, with a common rediscovery that the church is missional, rather than some Christians do mission, and with a shared sense of the Holy Spirit's initiative and call. It would be as crazy not to be partners in mission in the UK as in New Zealand. Thank God for down under!



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