I have lived in Fluvanna County since 1987. We’ve bragged that we’re one of the fastest growing counties in Virginia, but that’s because we were so small to begin with. The entire county houses about 25,000 people – about half the size of nearby Charlottesville. But hey, we did get our first stop light in the county a few years ago.
I’ve reflected on what a “Fresh Expression” of the church in Fluvanna County might look like. A casual demographer might take one look at the rural county and assign it to the “guns and pickups” category. And yes, there are plenty of those folk here. But a more careful observer will look under the hood more closely and see many micro-environments.
Take my neighborhood, Lake Monticello, for example. The Lake was built in the late 1960s as a retirement community around a golf course and an excavated lake conveniently stocked with fish from neighboring ponds courtesy of Hurricane Camille. It languished for twenty years, until an aggressive developer marketed it to the northeast. The Lake was then stocked with another alien species of an obvious sort: Retirees from the Northeast. About that time, nesting families who couldn’t afford Charlottesville real estate traded a commute for cheaper taxes and housing. We called the Lake, “home of the nearly dead and newlywed!”
Long-time residents of old Fluvanna sometimes called the Lake, “Occupied (!) Fluvanna.” Yes—gasp—much to their chagrin the Yankees had come to Virginia. One emblem of old Fluvanna is the village of Fork Union. Built around Fork Union Military Academy, nearly everyone in this wide spot on Route 15 is associated in some way with the 900-cadet boarding school. Drive fifteen miles from Lake Monticello to Fork Union and you enter a world of different values, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations.
So back to the original question: What would a “Fresh Expression” of the church look like in Fluvanna County?
1. It would be very attentive to a micro-climate or environment. “Local” means understanding the differences between the people who live at the Lake and the people in Fork Union, for instance.
2. It would consider “affinity” before geography. Nesting families with small children and a commute to Charlottesville or Richmond might have more in common with another family ten miles down the road than they do with their next door neighbors.
3. On the other hand, one might think hyper-local: my block of eight households includes a couple of retirees from the Northeast, a couple of nesting families, A German immigrant family, and transplants from San Diego. Despite our diversity, we do have a shared identity on our little corner of a 4000-home planned community.
4. Fresh Expressions are small-scale. Think 20-70 people: big enough to throw a party, but small enough to know everyone’s name.
5. Fresh Expressions meet in homes and neighborhood gathering spots.
So, in the Lake Monticello Clubhouse for families dealing with Alzheimers? Check. In the Fork Union Military Academy dining hall for cadets whose families are ten states away? Check. Among young families at the local preschool? Check. A Fresh Expression of church could pick the low-hanging fruit in any of these or a dozen other possibilities.
I’m in! Are you?
John Chandler leads the Ray and Ann Spence Network for Congregational Leadership. He lives in Fluvanna County, Virginia.