The future belongs to Maureen.

Being involved in Gods mission means we start with asking what is God doing and its a key question many people are asking. One of the joys of social distancing being played out in the public space and where I see God at work is in those moments when you catch someones eye walking down the road and you both adjust your course slightly. In that moment and action something intimate happens as you both recognise and value the humanity, preciousness and dignity of the other person, and adjust accordingly.

Back in day aka about 6 weeks ago our our physical and emotional proximity was primarily played out in four spaces public, social, personal, and intimate. (see Halls work on Proxemics). These spaces not only helped us navigate culture and communication but also belonging. Indeed the church and other institutions often sought to foster belonging within certain spaces (eg encouraging alignment with a particular discourse in the public space of preaching, promoting connections in small groups, house groups in social spaces or prayer triplets etc in personal space). And in much the same way as the public space becomes intimate for a moment as we encounter a stranger walking towards us and adjust our path, so other spaces and peoples approaches to them have changed. The internet streaming of church services has blurred the public worship space as it enters homes and the personal space of prayer has gone into quasi social/public space as people phone it into a stranger for support. Whilst the intimate acts of compline or offices are made public as they are streamed from someones lounge or personal prayer space. Our physical and emotional proximity spacing and attitudes are changed and changing. What if this dehumanising and democratisation of spaces is something that can resource us as we prepare for the new normal. Our previous default (see Myers) as church was often to inhabit two spaces a public space (both in worship services and in social action spaces) and a social space (small groups) but what if instead of slipping back in that public broadcast space and social space (often hidden away in someones house) which together have too often fostered a dualistic separateness of the spiritual and human, we build on the new proximity emerging.

In Cumbria we have often talked about the mythical Maureen, who was faithfully part of the church for most of her life and now just retired continues to serve the local church and community. What ever we provide in terms of evangelism, discipleship and mission enabling has to work for Maureen. So when we talk about growing Fresh Expressions sparked by a question from Bishop Emma we have often said “wouldn’t it be great if every Maureen could have a FX around their kitchen table or in their living room”. I think this might now be more possible than ever. But it will not happen unless we build and learn from what God is doing now, and resist the urge to return to what was. The opportunity to merge and creatively continue to disrupt the proximity spaces to enhance a missional way of life where we live out our discipleship in every space is huge. What if all public worship and compile spaces are always on online so Maureen and few pals can gather around a table and join in in her kitchen. What if the thought for the week is streamed or printed and Maureen and different bunch of pals gather around a table that has now moved into the public space at the back of church whilst Shelia is at another table with different pals and does the same over cake. What if Maureen and friends come together and for a number of weeks in their personal space plan a way to serve the community and do this on last friday of every month. What if we hold the different spaces more lightly, and think strategically how they can resource one another more intentionally. WHAT IF and WHY NOT….

Contained by Mirrors

We had a great Mountain Pilgrims gathering last weekend. Thanks to Rob for leading. We went to Creiff where the Victorians had build a castle folly. Part of the reason for the folly was to create windows to frame the view, to tame and order the wild landscapes of Cumbria. We then slogged up the hill and used Claude Glasses. Where you stand with your back to the view and use a mirror to look behind you and again frame and tame the view. Unpacking this alongside 1 Cor 13v12 (we see through a glass/ a mirror dimly) it was easy to make the connections with how we seek to tame/box and confine G-d.
I love my current role (new job title Director of Mission Innovation and Fresh Expressions) in Cumbria and the ambition of the churches captured by the vision of God for All. But is wasn’t until a couple of days later that I joined the dots with a reflection we had with Johnny Sertin and how the God for All vision is a challenge where many are still operating within what Lamin Saneh calls the regulatory impulse. In this all our common worship, common prayer and, where mission, is shaped by this impulse to ‘fit’ good news into the existing forms we have inherited. God for All is moving from “temple” to kingdom. Our challenge is not to be subservient to historical time or even eschatological time in the guise of holding up tradition or passive towards the future but to embrace the G-d who has torn the curtain of the temple, and invites us no longer to stand with our backs towards her only seeing through a mirror dimly but to face the wonder, the opportunity, to know and be known, so that we move forward with the God who is for All in faith, hope and love.

UFOS, Fairies and Arts

Ive been having some great but random conversations with the locals on spirituality in Cumbria. The fairy tradition it seems is one of the stronger indigenous spiritually connecting points, and as ever when you find the right way into a conversation people are open, listening, and inspiring. It has really made me wonder how well the church is listening to what is going on in the community and unsurprised why our touching points so often miss the mark. In Kendal a few weeks back these installations landed, (thanks to Jonny Gios for letting me nick his wonderful pictures) and as i wondered around them the amount of people chatting to friends about “how calming they were” or “wouldn’t it be great to sit and meditate here” or “feel that vibe” etc etc was surprising. Then I had to question myself why was I surprised, I must have been spending too much time in the wrong places. so it’s been great to connect with fairies, chat to the barman on the spirituality of beer, and hang around the spaces of the seekers.

What makes the modal move..

Following on from last week there are two key issues that have been part of the process. Borrowing from the theory of change I initially used in StreetSpace, Transparent Operations and Real Relationships have been key. So whilst I have a lovely but ridiculously complicated diagram about why and how transparency and relationship function to increase capacity and impact its not rocket science.

Indeed operating Transparently and fostering Real Relationships have always been key for sodal organisations but finding the right feedback loops and processes to the modal is key if we want the the modal to take care of itself. Sodal is always about journeying into the cultural and community, about going further and deeper and making sure the stories from the frontier are fed back. Its about foresting good relationships so those stories are recognised, inspire and take root in the modal so encouraging people to give stuff a go.

I might not do anything as mad as Richard but…

I wonder if there is an argument to say that when sodal side of missional church pushes out that the modal takes care of itself. For full definitions see Ralph De Winters paper but for shorthand I borrow from Jonny Baker “modal is the local gathered and sodal the spread out focused around a mission task” I think that maybe when you do the sodal well the modal gets a jump start as well, we have seen a proliferation of Fresh Expressions of church in Cumbria close to the fringe of the established church. Many have been great, imaginative, relational and for those involved bold and brave steps, but they aren’t what I would have done, and thats okay. When I arrived in Cumbria I deliberately set up 3rd space Fresh Expressions which were more akin to the emerging church stuff I was familiar with, they were not connected to the local churches so they had space to play and work towards the right hand side of the pioneer spectrum. They included Maranantha Yoga and Mountain Pilgrims and so Ive heard it said “i’m not going to do anything as mad as Richard but I’ll give this a go…” Subsequently we have seen a modal move to action, engage their fringe really well, and yes its not what I would do but thats more than ok its brilliant.

All models are wrong

It seems that the church is looking for answers. The decline and subsequent issues have undoubtedly created a level of institutional anxiety, and in that seems to be casting around for answers, so at one level is asking great questions, but at another level looking for quick fixes. In this process I keep getting asked about the models we use up here, which in itself is problematic as I agree with my colleague who says “all models are wrong but some are helpful”. I like this statement as an activist it means we can get on and do something, but as a practical theologian and change advocate also means we need to ask some questions. Which I want to suggest is really critical if we are not going to be swept along with the organisational anxiety.

There is critical question often overlooked in the process that people seem to fail to ask which is “what does success look like?”. and I don’t mean this in terms of short term numbers, but more in terms of wider culture change. In part success for me means building a culture where people are confident with change, ready to give things a try and learn and grow as they do so. Success measured by numbers and targets is a short term fix, we can resource models, franchise programmes, and grow projects, if we are given resources. The challenge is to do those things critically and playfully to promote a wider change. If you were push me on it I would probably add that anything less is empire building rather than kingdom. It goes back to what ABC said at synod about faithful improvisation, but I think it is also about balancing evidence with making sure that we not looking for success in our own image or short terminism.

Perhaps we too easily see success in the stuff that is more like us, and then these become the models we champion. I would like to think I have a bit of grasp on the emerging church youth ministry scene, and a reasonable track record. Recently I have raised a few questions about the duplication of a model based approach, not because I don’t think these models being looked aren’t good but because on balance I think there is stronger evidence for investing in a wider non mainstream approach. For example I know the stats coming out about of some of the church army youth projects like Sorted, or FYT and StreetSpace, or God for All and NYC are amazingly strong, they are faithfully improvising approaches to mission and church that are hard to believe. However they all take an all models are wrong approach, so whilst they bear some family resemblance they are perhaps not in the image of church that the powers that be want to see, indeed they may even be asking bigger questions which is why in part they are faithfully improvising so well and seeing good results. Most people do good things, but when it comes to a wider shift we need to make sure we do the right things. It is no good just duplicating models even if these are the ones I like! We need to be better than that.

The easiest way I can illustrate it is with the current conversations around Resource Churches. A High investment, High Impact approach to mission, some of the recent stats suggest a good track record of around a 30% increased connection with people without church background, with a reasonable but fairly narrow cross section of engagement. Fresh Expressions on average are more culturally diverse and 75% engagement with people with no church background but smaller and more niche. BOTH ARE EXCELLENT BUT ALL MODELS ARE WRONG THOUGH SOME ARE HELPFUL. So why are we not making it a condition that if a Resource Church is funded that a local pioneer is appointed and connected to the resource church, and be line managed by an authority dissenter, so they the freedom to work alongside and outside that resource church. Perhaps this is the type of faithful improvisation we need from the hierarchy.

Welcome to the spacious place

Ive been thinking a lot about the intersections of place, people and relationship. I am concerned in FX we have stopped wrestling with the WHY of we do what we do, and what kind of space are we seeking to create. It can too easily become like friendship evangelism where we make friends or create places to gather but are dehumanising because they approach people as a commodity to be banked. A friend told a story of guy who became friends with someone from a local church, they did stuff together, got to know each other, their friendship grew and over time this guy shared his faith. The friend came to faith and started to get active in the church, and after a while he joined an evangelism course. The course ran a session on friendship evangelism and he recognised that this was what had happened to him and that day he left the faith. Ill blog at some point how the four values of FXs Missional, Contextual, Ecclesial and Formational help us find a different type of approach.

A while back I created a formula People + Place x Relationship = Space. I wanted to revisit this in the light of this quote I came across from Barbara Glasson below. I wanted to respond with something practical about how we reconfigure our gathering spaces, but I was drawn back to feelings of spaciousness of the community that emerged around Flow. We tend to orientate our thinking around space as the place that we control, our events, our churches our homes, when I used that formula it was around being in the places with others, encountering people building real relationship that created a space for stuff to happen that was beyond my control or a particular place, it was a space in which we all just flowed. So I am afraid I have ditched the practical and gone with the flow, and just offer a few thoughts that I hope helps you encounter the spaciousness we felt. Do let me know.

“Our church instinct tends to want to gather people in and keep them. Postmodern society tends to configure gathering in a different way. People are wary of being trapped. They need to see their exits.”

Our life together was a space made up of many different places, this spaciousness of many places gave a newly discovered opportunity to be yourself, to find a new you, and rediscover in whose likeness we are made. There were places to be and people to see, not from a rushed consumption, but from a deeper desire to be in the spaciousness that being together created. Our space that although had its similarities (safe, welcome, friendly open) was always slightly different depending on who turned up at the time, co-creation was embedded in all we did and so spaciousness abounded.

Our space was bigger than the places we met, sometimes a place came with certain boundaries, yet the formula held and the unconditional relational Flow meant even when people felt they couldn’t stay in that place due a boundary they knew thew they weren’t leaving the space, because something other flowed between and beyond us.

The space extended beyond the people, and whist people came and went they still felt part of the space, tied with loose bounds that still draw us together.

Flow was beyond exits, beyond holding, more than gathering, more than meeting it was and always will be a spacious place…

A new sort of resource church

Came across this article on Size Matters by Paul and reminded me that I had slipped in to the church commissioners report last year that our Mountain Pilgrims group (which was also cited by the ABC) was a new sort of resource church. What makes a resource church a resource church?
Mountain Pilgrims is tiny, but massive, it is shallow but deep, it is new abut ancient, it is open but centred, but most of all it is “allelon”, it is a shape and size that allows one anothering. If you want to know more on allelon read Pauls article or I have added a quote below.

Before Christmas we had our first Mountain Pilgrims leaders Tribal Gathering, in the room there were 9 people representing about 150 others, there were two tribes missing, and on the horizon we identified another three tribes were on their way to join us in 2018. We wrestled together on values, on shapes and words, we were challenged by each other’s theology and presence. The gathering included members and leaders as we are pretty blurry as to who is who, but we were one Anothering .

We have a brilliantly supportive bunch of people creating space up here for new things to happen in the county at all levels Including in the formal diocesian structures. Generally with the desire to try and find ways to make mission happen. I am so grateful to the volunteers and officers that work behind the scenes, they are brilliant people. Recently a committee for the diocese met and it was reported back to me that the question was asked About the financing of FXs. Whilst it’s small potatoes the finance officer reported that some members of MP had started giving to MP, and this was significant to the committee. It made me wonder if it is finance that makes a resource church, a resource church, as often scale is cited as a way to become self financing to resource mission? Then as I thought further maybe as we don’t have staff costs and buildings, of a normal resource church do those small potatoes mean we are already a resource church that pays its way? We are pretty much self funding, have gone from zero – 150 people in under two years with a total cost of about 2k and a bit of my staff time. So if it’s finance or numbers that makes a resource church a resource church do we fit the bill.
Maybe it’s resourcing mission that makes a resource church, We have resourced mission across the county, have new MPs groups springing up, and have resourced traditional churches to develop outdoor based mission opportunities. In the Spring one group is refounding a redundant church and starting a monthly Celtic type Sunday service that will be followed by a 4 mile walk and discussion.

Maybe a resource church has to have a big capital investment in staff and set up costs, because it’s about speedy growth. Mountain pilgrims we grew a further 20% this month alone, imagine what might have been if we had a couple 100k to play with instead of 2?

If what makes a resource church a resource church is up front investment imagine what we could have done with 100k instead of 2.

You might read this and think Richard is anti resource churches, I’m not but we do need to ask some critical questions about how change happens. If we are going to turn this big ship we need tug boats not new rudders, but you will have to wait for the next post on “was Jesus a both/and kind of dude?” When I can explain that.

Is there any theological insight into this question of church size? John Taylor in his seminal book ‘The Go-Between God’ explores the question of church size. His starting point however is not the church as we experience it, or whether this church or that church ‘works’, but the church’s essential nature as a fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit. For Taylor a primary spiritual nature of the early church is mutuality in community, expressed by the word allelon, ‘one-another’, a word that occurs frequently in the New Testament. Taylor he argues that church must be:

of a shape and size that enables this ‘one-anothering’. This is the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is a hallmark of the church’s spiritual identity, about what the church is before it is about what it does
of a significant enough size to ‘be an embodiment of the life of the Kingdom’ but not so big as to tend toward a withdrawal from that sense of church alongside and amidst others in the world.
not so big that it has to be structurally organised to the extent that it thinks of itself primarily as an institution rather than a community.

Midwifery, FXs and Punk

My job title is Fresh Expressions Enabler and recently someone compared my role to a midwife. In many ways it makes sense as a description helping people prepare and respond to what is emerging, sometimes FX are planned and sometimes they are surprise.
However as I reflected on midwifes in the bible I was drawn to Exodus 1 and the role the Hebrew midwife played. They were told to kill the Hebrew boys and when challenged why this had not happened they responded, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
As Fresh Expressions have become more main stream they have become more defined, and it is great that roles like mine have emerged but with them come certain targets and ways of doing things. The gospel seed is vigorous and grows when it is nurtured, and yet recently I spoke to someone exploring pioneer ordination and she had had two projects killed before they could mature as they didn’t “fit” the church way of doing stuff. So often things seems to grow vigoursly, organically and in directions that we might not expect, so we need to make sure our imagined targets don’t get in the way.

What I have been trying to do in Cumbria is rather than having to be hands on and deliver loads of FXs, has been to encourage a (you might say promiscuous) culture, where people feel they have the freedom to experiment. Its not quite anarchy but it is punk, developing leading edge projects, with a bit of crazy energy. Punk only lasted a few months and it was never going to the dominant music of the 20th century. But the energy broke the system of music culture that had been around, and suddenly everyone thought anyone could give it a go. This was the culture changer, and if FXs are going to have any real long term impact, it will be in helping the church move from a culture of authority to participation, freeing people to pick up whats in front of them and give it a go.