The Fresh Expressions movement is dedicated to helping people join in the work God is already doing. For many, discovering what God is up to around us sometimes means looking to our history and traditions and asking “what do we need to remember about the things God has done among us in the past in order to discern God’s work in the present?”
This call to build on our core identity is part of the reason why the 938 churches that make up the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church are becoming partners with Fresh Expressions US.
Their current conference theme, “Living Out the Power of We,” highlights their tradition’s “connectional” commitment. As an organization, they are looking for new ways to express their commitments to love, generosity, justice and apprenticeship.
Despite coming from an established, high-church tradition, John Wesley famously looked for ways to bear witness to the gospel in new places. As he once wrote in his journal “At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.”
After attending a Vision Day, Jason Zebert and Jane Horstman of the Mississippi Conference’s Faith Community Formation Office, saw an immediate connection because “meeting people where they are is something Wesleyans have historically been involved in.”
Jason, Jane and other conference leaders began researching Fresh Expressions. They were greatly encouraged by the accessibility of the staff, not only in the U.S., but also members of the UK team like Bishop Graham Cray. Eventually, they did a cost-benefit analysis of what it would require to identify, train and empower pioneering leaders. The possibilities of releasing individual “lay people” to reach the people in their circles was more than worth the cost.
Now, the Conference is beginning to imagine some future fresh expressions of Church and there is palpable energy around this idea. When they hosted their first Vision Day in Jackson, 65 attendees (more than half) filled out a survey saying they were interested in helping experiment with new forms of church. Zebert sees this as natural in their context because “We’re the hospitality state, we want to keep doing that and bring Jesus with us.” They see farmers markets, sports and rural areas as ripe for experimenting with new ways of gathering Christian community.
In Mississippi, their hope is to identify pioneering leaders, who, while connected to a local church take risks to share the Gospel in new ways. This dream sounds a lot like Wesley’s own words, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”
Bishop’s and FCF Director’s Statements on Fresh Expressions
From Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., Resident Bishop, Mississippi Episcopal Area:
The Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church is excited about our new partnership with Fresh Expressions USA. This partnership will provide access to outstanding resources, training and tools to our 900 plus local churches in their quest to make disciples. This partnership will also help us discover, deploy and train those laity and clergy called and empowered by The Holy Spirit to give leadership to this movement. I applaud our Faith Community Formation Team as they introduce and lead us in this partnership with Fresh Expression USA.
From Rev. Timothy Thompson (Assistant to the Bishop and Director of the Office of Faith Community Formation of The Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church):
The Faith Community Formation Team of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church is elated about the partnership with Fresh Expressions USA. This partnership will provide additional resources to “Live out the Power of We” as we make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our values of love, generosity, justice and apprenticeship form the core of who we are and through this partnership, we’ll be able to live into intentional discipleship by engaging, connecting, equipping and sending disciples that make disciples. I thank God for the Power of the Holy Spirit that calls and equips clergy and laity to fulfill their Call to make more disciples for Jesus Christ that this world might be transformed.
To explore partnership with Fresh Expressions, contact Chris Backert.