Lessons from Barbados (Michael Clarke)

Monday, 14 January, 2013

Michael Clarke shares some lessons from the Church in the West Indies in Barbados, partnering with Fresh Expressions in delivering mission shaped ministry.

Barbados took part in a pilot remotely-delivered msm course delivered by Fresh Expressions Canada, to help them explore how to move on from their history as a white church occupied by black people.

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Michael Clarke: The context in Barbados is one in which we have never really focused on mission. We have... because the church historically has been a chaplaincy and we've had to come to grips with this. And some of us are still trying to come to grips with this and to understand this. And I think part of our effort to go forward has to rest in a deep understanding of our church - an honest understanding of our church. We kind of tend to sort of cover over stuff by using the gospel as in the gospel this and Jesus this and Jesus that, but there's a sense in which there is a need for us to liberate what is there first. Our church was a white church OK, and it still is a white church. It's black occupied but it's a white church. And we have to understand what that means. We have to understand what it means because then that will help us to be able to address fall-off and also it will help us to address the reality that we're not attracting in the great numbers that we might have been before. We have been able to understand some of this with respect to establishment versus disestablishment, we were disestablished in 1969. But prior to that we were responsible for baptisms, marriages, the whole works and so there was a constant flow in to our church. So we understand the gathered church, which is a chaplaincy, which is another type of chaplaincy.

Fresh expressions has a sense of how do we do church now, right, that's the bottom line question. It doesn't... it isn't an exclusion of anything that's gone before, it isn't a shooting down of anything that's gone before, but it is saying how do we go forward and what does going forward look like. And I guess fresh expressions by its very nature is stepping out in faith. It doesn't know what it's going to look like. As I listen to many of the interviews, many of the individuals involved in the programmes are saying we don't know what it's going to look like, but this is all we... this is where we are now and this is what we're doing and this is what we've received from it. And that's basically where our church is, you know, we don't know what it's going to look like, we don't know what our liturgies will be evolved to, but we know that we've got to go forward, we know that we've got to go out from here because what we're experiencing here, what we're doing here is no longer working within our Caribbean context.

One of the beautiful things about relationships and it's what I'm also looking forward to in terms of relationship between Fresh Expressions UK and Fresh Expressions Canada and Fresh Expressions West Indies is the possibility of... the opportunity to learn from each other. Because any kind of relationship is always a two-way street and we expect that there's stuff that we can bring to the table that will be of tremendous benefit to Fresh Expressions UK. There is still a significant black community within the UK, there's still a significant black community from the Caribbean that are currently in the UK and also in Canada and having worked in Canada at one point in time, you know, the conversation is still there as to how do you address the West Indian community. So there is a sense in which I believe that the Caribbean church can assist both churches: Canada and also the UK in reaching out, reconnecting to the black community. Because a significant amount of the black community will have come out of Anglicanism back home. They would have experienced exclusion when they arrived at their mother church's doors and would have left, would have gone into other areas. Now I think that there's a sense as we discover how we can move forward and as we with the context and the crucible of the Caribbean see how we can best respond to the needs of the black community in the Caribbean, there is the possibility that some of that learning can be exported as it were as we have conversations, as we do exchanges, as we engage each other and be able to help both the Canadian church and the UK church to find ways and means to respond, to reach out to and embrace the black community as well. So we're hoping that this becomes a possibility and we know it will and I'm looking forward to that.

I find the fresh expressions programme kind of brings the Missio Dei, the whole mission of God centre stage. And it impacts the importance... or emphasises the importance of the church going out. And whenever I share in a training programme, in some aspect of the course, I'm always reminded of the need to go out. And as I say, being a part of a very gathered church the whole thing of looking at what it means to be a sent church and the challenges that come with that, especially when one's story thus far has not been one of being sent.

We need to go out, see what God is doing and join. Now that's totally different from going out, thinking God may be doing something and baptising it as yours. It's different, right. It's an invitation to be comfortable, to exist in the midst of something else that doesn't necessarily carry my label, right, and to be OK because I know that, no matter what the sign says at the top of the building, that what is going on within the building is God's divine work of which I have been privileged to be invited to share in and therefore I have to be OK with that. And also that then embraces and as we're... as multifaith communities come in because that then embraces the opportunity for me to recognise that God has been working within the context of other faiths and therefore I need to be able to understand that and bring the uniqueness of my own Christian journey to there. Hence it calls for me to clarify my understanding of uniqueness that Christianity offers and not necessarily the totality of which Christianity has claimed to offer. So for me fresh expressions raises that but it can also be taught from a very narrow place and I think that's, for me, that's been the tension that I've experienced, that there is some tension between the overall ideal and the execution and I'm still wrestling with that. It's not a judgement, it's just an observation and I'm conscious as I speak out of the context of being part of a body of persons that have been excluded in the past and only being included when I transformed, then I need to understand and make sure that I never ever ask anyone to do that, so that's important for me.

So within the context of the mission shaped ministry course, fresh expressions... there is the avenue for it to go in the way it needs to go, but there's also, depending on who carries the container, it can go in a totally different direction. It will still achieve the great purpose, but it might fall short of its ideals.


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