Managing provisionality in a fresh expression (Ben Edson)

Monday, 1 February, 2010

Ben EdsonBen Edson explores how to manage provisionality in a fresh expression.

After eight years of pioneering and leading Sanctus1 in Manchester, I decided that it was the right time to hand the community over to a new leader. Three months ago I left Sanctus1 in the capable hands of Al Lowe and became the Diocese of Manchester's Fresh Expressions Missioner.

However, I continue to reflect on my experience of Sanctus1 and one area that I've been thinking about is provisionality. I was recently told that the city centre residential community of Manchester has an annual people turnover of 30% - almost the entire community changes in a three year period. This was something that I observed during my time with Sanctus1 - approximately every two years 50% of the community would change. People who had been part of the community for more than four years were a rarity.

This transience created a fragility as people moved in and moved out. New people bring new energy and new life, but losing more established people all the time is draining on established people within the community. It is hard when you build community with one group and then that community disappears around you and a new one forms. Comparisons are always made with what the previous community was like and memory can be rather utopian.

A further reflection is how draining it can be for people who have been part of the community for a number of years, when they are dealing with the same questions that they have dealt with a few years earlier. Questions of identity, faith, purpose, belonging, etc, that they wrestled with before are revisited. This is an important process for the current community, but slightly frustrating for those who have been part of the community for a number of years.

It's the tension of catering to the new people whilst nurturing patterns of spirituality that sustain those who are more established

It is also often the case that those who have been established for a number of years carry a lot of the responsibility of the community. When they do not see this level of commitment being shared by others, who are relatively new to the community, frustration can occur.

These are some of the challenges of church in a transient culture. I think that one answer is to develop a corporate patterning of spiritual life - patterns that allow for the instability of a transient context and church. I don't think that we got this right in Sanctus1. It's the tension of catering to the new people, the mission field, whilst nurturing patterns of spirituality that sustain those who are more established.

About the author: 

Ben Edson is the Diocese of Manchester's Fresh Expressions Missioner.

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