Having been, as my friend Steve Brown would say, a professional religious person (that is, clergy) for over three decades I have seen a lot of things burst onto the ministry platform as the next new thing that will grow your church, reach people, increase giving, stop hair loss, erase debt, cure the common cold… more promises than a politician in an election year. Fresh Expressions is not a new thing but it holds a real promise for the future of the church.
I am a cradle Episcopalian and grew up in this wing of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. I was a youth minister at an Episcopal Church for five and a half years. I am an Episcopal priest. I was a Canon for Youth Ministry on a bishop’s diocesan staff. I served as an assistant at a large Episcopal Church. I have been a Church Planter launching a new congregation. Most recently I served as an Executive Director of an Episcopal Conference Center. I have a few more Episcopal / Anglican things I could list in my resume but I think you get the idea that the Episcopal Church is my home, where I was formed and grew up in the faith.
Fresh Expressions in many ways is an ancient form that fits nicely within our Anglican ethos bringing a freshness to the Kingdom of God mission. With steady decline in the Episcopal Church for going on 40+ years we could use something that is fresh and embraces the ancient as well.Fresh Expressions in many ways is an ancient form that fits nicely within our Anglican ethos bringing a freshness to the Kingdom of God mission. Click To Tweet
In the Middle Ages the church had a level of corruption, was politicized and had lost its identity as a missional entity. Abbeys and monasteries emerged in this time in response to a failing church. These missional, monastic communities were doing life together. They had cottage industries engaging the marketplace. Abbeys were centers for every kind of education. They existed as a form of healthcare ministering to people especially during the plague and more. Abbeys were connected to every aspect of society.
This is the mission of Fresh Expressions being with people in the throws of everyday tasks; work, school, home, meals; all that life is. For this reason when I embarked on my Fresh Expressions journey I chose to call what I am doing locally, The Abbey Mission. The more I study history the more I discover that in very real ways there is nothing new.
As I speak with Episcopalians about Fresh Expressions there are common questions that emerge. Fresh Expressions originated in the United Kingdom with the Church of England working in partnership with the British Methodist Church. Over the last 12-14 years more than 4000 Fresh Expressions of church have been launched in the UK with over 66,000 people involved and of those, 80% were not formerly involved in a Christian community.Fresh Expressions is a missional strategy to engage, invite, interact and connect with people where they are. Click To Tweet
Fresh Expressions will be unique to every church and community. It is not implementing a specific program (although there are lots of models and things you can try that have been successful in places around the world). Rather, Fresh Expressions is a missional strategy to engage, invite, interact and connect with people where they are.
Starbucks had a foundational marketing strategy, they wanted to be the THIRD place in people’s lives; Home, Work and Starbucks. So they created a welcoming environment, with something everyone needs: coffee! Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world next to oil. They call out your name and are glad for you to sit there all day working / playing on their WiFi.
In the same way Fresh Expressions wants to identify 3rd places in the culture and enter them, authentically connecting with people relationally and intentionally bearing witness to the life that is found in knowing Jesus Christ.
This looks a lot like the ministry of Jesus in the gospel accounts and the Apostles in the Book of Acts. Think of the story of the Woman at the Well (John 4). It is the story of a Fresh Expression of faith developing and changing a whole town. Jesus entered a 3rd place, the well where people gathered. He engaged a lost, broken, isolated woman. He built a relationship with her, listening to her, taking her seriously and having a conversation about water and then on to worship. He does not chastise her for her past or even her left-brain responses to His poetic and right-brain statements. There are signs and wonders as He reveals Himself to her as the Messiah. She runs and tells her whole town and many lives are changed.
This story repeats itself with Jesus in different ways with Zacheus, Jairus, Simon and the list goes on. This is the mission that Apostles took on and is lived out through the book of Acts in towns like Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Athens and more.
There may be questions regarding, How do we blend Fresh Expressions with Episcopal / Anglican traditional forms?
Fresh Expressions is truly liturgical. Liturgy is the public work of the people. We know it in the context of forms for the worship of the church often referring to more formal rites, services and practices. Fresh Expressions explores, enters and engages what James K.A. Smith calls the cultural liturgies and rhythms that birth formation in a person.
A regular question I get is: How do we do Eucharistic Ministry with people who are not baptized? There are two Gospel Sacraments that Jesus commanded us to do Baptism and Holy Communion. These are essential to being the church, they knit the church community together. However we actually have forms in the Book of Common Prayer for worship, prayer, teaching that are not specifically sacramental and can be led by people who are not ordained.
Fresh Expressions is merely a modern adaptation of many of our core Prayer Book values. The Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer is an Anglican cadence that invites people to discover faith, hope, love and the very grace of God. Morning and Evening Prayer when crafted and created by Cranmer in the first prayer book, were in those days Fresh Expressions of church.
Rogation Days from the church calendar and in the prayer book are directed to engage the marketplace. They were rooted in an agrarian culture but have been modernized to include commerce and industry. It fostered a connection with the land, the work and vocation of people and the identity of the common community.
These moments are sacramental in that they are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. There are many things that are sacramental; places where we encounter God’s presence and power. In Christian Celtic spirituality terms, we would describe them as thin spaces where eternity touches the temporal. A few to consider…
Creation – Romans 1:20 says… For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
The Poor and Needy – Matthew 25:31-46… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me
The Scriptures – Jesus the Word made Flesh (John 1:14) Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
God shows up in sacramental ways through people, art, music, words, miracles, oil, hands and so much more. We know these encounters in the sacred spaces of our churches. Fresh Expressions is a call to see God show up in the ordinary places of everyday life; first, second and third spaces. I believe as we are faithful in these forms of missional opportunities they will lead people to the formal sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.Fresh Expressions is a call to see God show up in the ordinary places of everyday life; first, second and third spaces. Click To Tweet
We could view Fresh Expressions as a spiritual journey, one step at a time, making progress toward the goal, to win the prize of Christ. Fresh Expressions is thoroughly Episcopalian/Anglican in its origin, values, theology, mission and more. There may be other questions for those from an Anglican or Episcopal background and I am glad to have those discussions with any of you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rev. Jon Davis PhD is an Episcopal Priest, church planter, teacher, worship leader. He is on staff with Fresh Expressions as a mission strategist and is launching some Fresh Expression gatherings through the Abbey Mission in a NE suburb of Orlando. email@example.com