The power of campervans and the type of church I long to see…

Often people of faith ask me what type of church I want to see, or to explain my take on mission or faith, sometimes more due to their own insecurities and the need to put that stuff in a box. Others who ask, I know it is about their own journey, and usually in both cases I do my best to be open real and honest. Then I sit with them in the sorrow these answers offer, as they come to terms with the fact that there is no easy path or as they put me in box that captures them more than it holds me.

There is a distinct shift happening around what is church and a shift happening around dialogue and acceptance within more general evangelicalism. When i read THIS my first reaction was probably to box each side,…. but maybe I will just keep that to myself because I am sure boxes and walls don’t matter… what I liked, was that it was localised, real, and gave you glimpses of the dialogue that must have been happening behind the scenes.

Recently we have been selling our campervan as we cant afford the move to Cumbria that we feel called to make, and the conversations with potential buyers have been interesting, as I explain to strangers the reason we are selling. More often than not, it opens discussions on the type of church and faith I want to see. These amazing humans who are fearfully and wonderfully made, open up as talk of journeys (real and metaphorical) are shared, and we joke about life, rust and holidays. I find little need to sit in the sorrow of being put in a box, but liberated to walk the road ahead knowing a few more people are tentatively exploring the path before them. Missionally trying to sell this bloodly van has provoked some of the most meaningful encounters I have had in a long time, yet i still struggle to explain myself.

In world dominated by boxes and walls often the only way to explain is to revert to types and models, so perhaps for those who need to put me in a box, or those who want to continue the journey I offer THIS as perspective on the emerging church as the type of church I want to see…

Community isn’t dead it’s just different

Sociologically community has been defined as about shared interest or shared space. Over the years particularly for youth workers, Christians, activists, and in general society community has also become a word associated with closeness, sharing life, positive warm fuzziness etc. It is the demise of this type community that people often lament as gone, because they equate commitment with attendance, regularity, and cohesiveness.

At first I bought into this lamenting, but I have been observing a shift, and think that actually the sharing life aspects of community are not less prevalent than they were before but just different and in many ways more real, and perhaps more mature.

With the young people I work with, and the adults around the fringes of StreetSpace, I am beginning to see community emerge as an attitude that is carried by individuals, that whilst they may not share space very often, or share the same interests, there is recognition of a shared humanity. A commitment and attitude of support, openness, warm fuzziness and solidarity.

I wonder if post modern fragmentation is helping us mature as people, moving beyond a forced community that grows from shared space or interest, to an attitude of being community in the myriad of relationships you find yourself in. A greater openness and honesty that is fostered quickly and community grows from this (sometimes fleetingly but no less community) and where the need space and interest become secondary, rather than primary.

I think we have a lot learn form the type of community I see emerging and fading, ebbing and flowing amongst the young people and ourselves, and it would be too easy to underestimate its power, sacredness, and authenticity, because it no longer fits the old models.

Lead us out of exile

It has been so encouraging to see the recent discussion on the role of women in the church sparked by the huge inequality highlighted in lack of women speakers as mainstream conferences. Jenny has a great post here that tracks the conversation and expands the issue.
However we recognise the representation is only part of the issue, and i want to suggest that the changes required run far deeper and may not be possible in the current paradigm. As father to two amazingly gifted daughters 6 and 16 I am always on the hunt for stuff to help them grow into the people they are called to be. I am so greatfull to know people like Jenny Baker and Sally Nash and other female leaders of great integrity, who I go to with questions and guide me to resources and books such as Maya Angelou that I can share together with my children. But there is massive lack of radical faith inspired feminist writing aimed at teens and younger girls or at least stuff I can find.

The recent discussions raises two issues for me, that are connected. The first which Jenny already highlights in her post, is the issue of mentoring and supporting young women into leadership roles. Again I think this is a paradigm issue, one of the strengths of the early feminist movement was its clarity in setting up alternative structures and spaces to the established systems. I would like to suggest that the emerging church has far more to offer my daughters and is already encouraging them towards fullness of life not because of a quota, but a commitment to inclusivity, different leadership approaches, and humanity. For example Cakeful our Sunday thing, is often led by our 6 year daughter, and recently she asked to lead a session around time, and asked for support from Tracey an adult in the group. Tracey was amazing she offered Indi a planning meeting mid week, despite a busy schedule sat down with her, and planned together, which simply made my daughter beam. Watching this process was truly emancipating for my daughter and myself. I believe it is this type of approach that if practiced consistently is the best hope for young women in the church but more that that the best hope for the church to be led from its self induced exile due it’s inherent sexism and lack of inclusivity at all levels. So the second issue (sticking my neck out here and more than a little nervous in saying this) is a call for the amazing female leaders I know and thousands I don’t, to embrace the new paradigm, to create alternative structures and spaces, radical resources and methods, that directly challenge the status quo, rupture the institutions, recapture the feminist agenda in the minds of young people, and lead not just other women but eventually the whole church out of exile.

Our best hope is not in playing by the rules of the dominant, where position, gender, wealth, and power dictate, but in embracing the upside down Kingdom, of powerlessness, servanthood and grace, and it is those who have experienced oppression of the powerful that have so much to offer.

The Dragons don’t frighten me anymore

We have been playing with the metaphor Here be dragons as a way to describe what we are up to and where we are with Church on the edge. On old maps there is that space simply described as Here be dragons. We are committed to going to a new place with young people and have been off the map for a while now.
We simply do not buy into the language of whos in and whos out, dualism, etc, We recognise the curtain has been torn, the kingdom is now and not yet, the earth and everything it is the lords, follow missio dei and refuse to see mission as a bridge into church but simply collapse the bridge.

We described our approach to being and growing church in this new land to a young person and here is what Sam (18yrs) came up with what do you think? (click it to enlarge)

StreetSpace going to a new place with young people

We build on the idea that we tack (like a ship sailing into the wind) with young people on a journey to become fully human and in the process we discover what it means to be fully human and what it is to be/grow church. In the process I think I have learnt that actually the dragons aren’t that scarey anyway.

The arch-bishop, the gruffalo and StreetSpace links

Today the Arch bishop of Canterbury is visiting Coventry, where StreetSpace has linked with Urban Hope Coventry as an Alongside project. Yesterday I went to meet with Greg and the team to discuss them, increasing their involvment with us and becoming a partner with StreetSpace so we can offer a bit more support and structural help to the youthwork at Bardsley House and detached in the city centre.

UH is a great emerging expression of church who set up Coffee Tots. The work Greg and the team do is excellent, and has gone through various stages starting with detached work, drop in, through goth church to Coffee Tots and Urban Hope as an expression of church that has about 50 people linked in. I asked Greg if they organised around mission and the answer was yes and I think it has to be one of the nest examples of a missional church in the UK. Missional church is a church that defines and organises its life around its real purpose as an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organising principle is mission. Therefore when the church is in mission, it is the true church. The church itself is not only the product of that mission but it is obligated and destined destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus. Hirsh “The Forgotten Ways” Brazos 2007 p238

gruff
I have know Greg for years and I love the parallels of the story of Urban Hope and the Gruffalo which the Arch-Bishop will be reading to the children at Coffee Tots today as part of his scheduled visit today. In the gruffalo story, a mouse is on a journey and on the way meets various creatures (a fox, a snake and an owl) that want to eat him, so he imagines the gruffalo to help him escape their hungry tummies, and with each encounter the mouses imagination grows as does the picture of the gruffalo in his head. At times for Greg and the team they were breaking new ground, and trying to explain to the powers that be what was happening and imagining the way head as they went. This future hope was powerful, it drove them on and enabled others to give them the space that was needed to the mouselike groups emerging.
When the mouse actually encounters the Gruffalo there is a point when it all seems about to go horribly wrong, but the journey has given him a confidence and robustness to bluff his way out, and it actually turns out the Gruffalo is much more fragile than first thought. Greg and team will encounter the Gruffalo today in the form of the arch bishop and all that he represents as the leader of the Anglican union and Rowan is so right for the role not only with beard and voice, but also with the humility and fragility that will read a story to bunch of children of parents who would never come near the established institution he represents, without the courageous journey of the mouselike Rev Greg Bartlem, who I am pleased and privileged to know and gives more to StreetSpace than I feel able to return.

Incarnation and Disruptive experiences

Last week in after reflecting on Petes interview and our practice around TAZ (check out Kester), Flow and our approaches around being and growing church, that collapse the idea of the idea of mission as a bridge into church I tweeted

“The process of being and growing church should be a disruptive experience that is a series of encounters with the other”

I have been thinking for a while how we are so fixed in our own paradigms that we often take an approach and deceive ourselves that we are using it as intended. A classic example is Messy Church – where people so often use it as an outreach tool into ‘proper’ church. They think they are doing something different but when pushed will not leave established services to free up time to invest in being and growing church in the Messy context.
It is interesting to look at incarnational youth work and how this spawned notions of relational youth ministry – much of which was simply a tool like youth alpha or a youth club to get young people into ‘proper’ church. As such when Pete suggests there does have to be an IN he is right.
However when we think around incarnational youth work to be and grow church (and to help us discover what the church and gospel actually are as we encounter others) there is no in. In order to make this a reality this needs to embrace both the relational nature of the incarnation and the disruptive. This is not a new to my thinking Here I wrote that faith is about the redemptive processes that consistently ruptures our worldview (inc our faith paradigm) and is a series of revolutionary moves that form and shape a new (at the time) but growing (in hindsight) understanding of God.

At the moment I am very hopeful of the work going on around the openness to genuine change both around the missionary encounter with other (Ian Adams posted a series of quotes from Christianity Rediscovered that got people talking) and to changes in the liturgical space Pete mentions that Ikon experimented with. The challenge to not allow the gravitational pull to suck us back remains, and we need to counter this by asking mission/kingdom shaped questions rather than church shaped ones.

Put your wetsuit on

It is not often I write out of a sense of frustration, and accordingly I have held off this post for a while. However I have growing sense that the majority of the missional conversation is still paddling in the shallow end and asking the wrong questions.

Norman Iverson blogged about a sense of a lack of real change around Fresh Expressions and church. It is interesting to see an insider raise some the same questions those on the edge have had for a number of years about the FE Movement, perhaps it is time to review those questions. My comment on the post was “The unwillingness to embrace death (of ideas, orthodox Ecclesiology , power) will mean a lack of interest on real change, so the sense of cognitive dissonance that things that FE bring will be embraced instead. But like the institution I fear they too are not really interested in real change.”
Another place of paddling in Fresh Expressions and the emerging church conversation is around the idea of relevance. As if we listened to the community we would discover how to become a relevant expression of church. But we will never really hear the community whilst we are so rooted in our current models of church and orthodox Ecclesiology . An example was a recent post Is your church too cool. My comment again was rooted in the need to practice a completely new way of being and engaging with the question. “Church can never be relevant in our understanding of the word whilst it remains rooted in a concept of gathering outside of the wider community for a supposed experience of worship. Articles like this are asking the wrong questions”
It is easy to fall into the trap of meeting with other christians and thinking we are doing something new, doing something differently. However this, gathering in an exclusive way (i think we often kid ourselves that we are more open than we are) outside of a wider community is part of the gravitational pull that produces the sense of cogitative dissonance that means a lack of real change and keeps us in the shallow end. It is rooted in our false history that we can suggests we can get closer to G-d through a worship service. There is a brilliant article here exposing this myth and its problems.

I am part of a number of emerging (note not gathered and most of which have christians as a minority) communities, and more and more I am convinced that we need to loose any ideas of coming together for a time of prayer, a time of worship, or a church service. They all simply produce a sense of security that stops us finding out what it really means to love and serve. That is not say we give up meeting together but we meet head on the myth that god is present in the gathering more than anywhere else and work out what it means to put our wetsuits on and ask better questions and swim deeply with G-d.

Best Guess typology of current church context

Jonny put me onto Arbukles book Refounding the church, and just posted today about several of his thoughts. As ever with these type of things they never quite fit the context I am in, but it had an interesting typology of church that I have adapted. I am not that worried about pinning down what I think about church but it did get me thinking enough to try and re-contextualize it into where we are now in the UK. This is just my best guess and I actually found the process a helpful follow on from the last couple of posts about sobornost.
A pdf of my best guess
Typology of church I think I am most closely aligned to the right column, but recognise that this is probably more a reflection of where I am than the emerging church, as I think many would have a higher view of orthodoxy and tradition, than me. Hence only using (emerging) and (FE) and using different titles.

church on the edge – community in practice

it was great to have people around last weekend, to see the young people who had come up through the project, linking with the professional people who help form the management committee, volunteers, their children and partners. building new forms of church isn’t rocket science, it is being real, open and relational.
People had space to be themselves, drawing away from the main group to chat, or smoke, or play. People had time to mingle over food and argue over which pudding was best, or education policy.
Here were a group of people journeying together from different startpoints towards christ. Helping to build kingdom (but not all understanding that sort of wording), and called together for a purpose. The practice of an open sobnoristic community meeting together around food, or if you want to get theological about it “a banqueting table”.

Space for newness

Following up on the last post and subsequent comments here and Pete’s post around radicals and conservatives and Kester’s on Newness I wanted to explore some issues around creating a space for newness.
I would be with James that very little new has emerged in the last few years and Petes post seeking definition on the terms highlighted for me that finding newness within our current context was highly problematic, due to the strength of the christian cultural context we find ourselves in. As I commented I am unsure if radical theology can emerge in such a context and as such maybe defining terms such as radical and conservative is a red herring as it reinforces the place of this cultural context, and thus hinders new voices from emerging. How many teenagers or children, people not coming from a faith tradition would want to part of that discussion?
Community organising suggests all action is in the reaction, and I wonder if this one of the things that has shifted. In the early experimental days there was plenty for people to react to, as people in community developed new forms of connection through the Alt worship ect it created an experience that people could react to, discuss and dialogue. As such there was far more equity, and I remember great conversations with children and young people or faith or none that I took to Greenbelt events, and their comments greatly informed my ecclesiology.

(I recognise the irony of continuing to write in the light of what I have said so far but want to pursue another reason about creating space for reason.)

Bourdieu who builds on an earlier ideas of Habitus – cultures way of behaving and norms making society possible, which we are socialised into. Bourdieu suggests that habitus was more than this and that through our participation we contribute to the unfolding “habitus” i.e. it is a two way dialogical or iterative process. Is part of our problem is that as we have moved from experience/activity to dialogue and discussion that not a wide enough people demographic are participating to allow something new to unfold. More than this as I explored in Reconnected that if as Elaine Graham argues “the task of rebuilding Christian theology in a more authentic fashion requires a critique of the points at which tradition has misrepresented the spirit of the gospel; and then a reconstruction of theology according to emancipatory principles”. It can equally be argued that when these emancipatory principles are told, or the tradition critiqued, that it must be accompanied by the liberatory story, and voices of those outside that initially gave rise to the need for change, if it is to have any hope of getting through the layers of misrepresentation that have accumulated over the years.
I think there is model for this- the russian concept of Sobornost, “Spiritual community of many jointly living people” or one that is rooted in practice, action, dialogue and community but that is for another post.