Friday, 5 March, 2010

Norman Ivison reports on the Changing the Landscape event in Lincoln, featuring Rowan Williams, Martyn Atkins, Chris Russell and Elaine Lindridge.

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Norman Ivison: Almost 500 people from throughout the United Kingdom attended this conference at Lincoln's Epic Centre, on sustaining fresh expressions of church. Amongst them was Roberta Rominger, the General Secretary of the United Reformed Church.

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church, Martyn Atkins, reminded delegates that appropriate resourcing of new forms of church was key to the sustainability of the movement.

Martyn Atkins: ... in a time of decreasing resources, whether of people or finance, we've got to resist the temptation to continue to resource what we've long had, without asking serious questions of it, and then immediately withdrawing support in tight times from things which are just coming to be. The church cannot be a place where last in, first out is the rule. Consequently we must face the sharp challenge that those expressions of Christian church that do not appear to enable groups of human beings to worship, love and serve God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and live out their life as Christ their Lord would choose as authentic disciples, cannot continue to automatically expect or command the lion's share of the resources of an official organisation. The church, whatever else it is, is not the self-preservation society.

Norman Ivison: And the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was keen to remind those leading fresh expressions of church what they were really about.

Rowan Williams: fresh expressions gets more successful, more widely known, more active and innovative, it’s very important to remember that fresh expressions is not first and foremost about capturing a new market for a product. It’s not even about signing up membership in an organisation, it’s about transformation; the transformation of human beings into Christ like-ness and the transformation of the whole Church into a more open, imaginative and courageous style of living.

Fresh expressions is not a quick fix. It’s not an instant solution to the Church’s problems of membership and support, or whatever – it’s not a quick fix for the issues and needs of those involved.

Norman Ivison: Chris Russell of St Laurence Reading leads a fresh expression of church working primarily with young people. But he had anxieties about one missional method.

Chris Russell: Franchise church planting isn't what we're called to. Franchise, like Subway, like McDonald's, you just get the same wherever. I can't see that that's what our calling is, just to see what's working somewhere else and just go oh this is how you cook the chips here as well. Same uniforms, that kind of stuff. I can't see that franchise churches in 2010 is where it's at. Because I think it's about what's God doing amongst these people in this place. The Spirit always has an address, the Spirit's always doing particular things in particular people, and for us a church we've got to catch up with that, we've got to discern it and we've got to harness it.

Norman Ivison: And Elaine Lindridge, who founded Mind the Gap, a cell church network in the North East of England, said keeping going when you're leading a fresh expression is not easy.

Elaine Lindridge: Those years with Mind the Gap were exciting and they weren't always easy as you can guess. In fact there was one year when so much went wrong I really thought everything was going to implode, including myself if I'm honest. As I say, establishing a fresh expression of church, leading a fresh expression of church, has not been the easiest of journeys but would I do it again? You bet I would.


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