It was really good to spend a couple of hours today with Bishop Graham Cray, the CofE Bishop of Fresh Expressions. He is passionate about all God’s doing through the movement and very supportive of Messy Church within the wider picture. For me personally, and for you too, I hope, it was great to be encouraged and affirmed in what we’re doing in the Mess, and reassuring that the Church ‘owns’ and ‘recognises’ Messy Church to such an extent.
Bishop Graham brought me up to speed with the wider scene of Fresh Expressions (FE): the ever-growing number of opportunities for mission that are springing up ecumenically and across different mission organisations and movements (Hope08, Catholic Charismatics and Churches Together, for instance): we both feel very privileged to be serving in the Church in this particular period of history. In a nutshell, he’s working in three areas: More, Better and Owned.
More: to encourage more FE’s to be established, especially as the open dechurched group is shrinking rapidly; making the most of opportunities to work with the 20s-30s age group; and with the third agers â€“ an increasing group in an ageing population.
Better: FE’s are very young still! We’re all learning on the job and it remains to be seen whether the shape of a FE will develop or stay the same. Questions of discipleship, finances and remaining missional are all areas where we’re still learning.
Owned: FE’s need to be owned locally and ecumenically – one means to this end is the establishing of FEASTs (alas not tables groaning with food, but Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Teams) – the whole network headed up by Steve Lindridge, and each local one (roughly county-wide) comprising of permission-givers and key trainers. Our own Messy regional coordinators should try to make themselves known to their local FEAST so that there is joined-up thinking in a region. I will give Bishop Graham a list of our regional coordinators so that he can work at it from his side.
Three branches of FE are training, communications and Share, plus prayer, headed up by Adrian Chatfield.
An interesting development is the potential for Messy Churches in schools as part of the strategy for churches supporting / working with their local schools. Mike Moynagh is heading this up and I will talk to him about it.
Bishop Graham sees Messy Church as both a true fresh expression (phew) and a resource that can be used by other fresh expressions of church. We talked about the need for people thinking about FE to LISTEN to God and to their communities before ‘cloning’ Messy Church – if after listening it is a useful way ahead, that’s great, but not to do it automatically and without prayer.
He is very interested in our stumbling attempts at basing discipleship around service and especially in the whole ‘faith at home’ discoveries we’re making.
His challenge to us all as Messy leaders is to resist the temptation to answer problems too quickly and without the creativity, prayer and imagination that characterised the original Messy Church – we shouldn’t be afraid to wait and search. We should continue to work with what God’s growing and not try to force on to Mess shapes that aren’t of God. I should use my national role to observe what’s going on – the shoots that are springing up by the grace of God and the oomph of the Spirit. So please, everyone, if you notice something springing from your Messy Church that rings peculiarly true, that delights your heart, that you can sense is Spirit-filled, funny, unlikely, serendipitous, way beyond what you were expecting, please drop me an email!