It has been a stop-and-go week for me this week. I had two very busy weekends, and not a ton to do in between. But what I did get to experience has been great, and the rest has been much appreciated.
This was an amazing opportunity. I left early in the morning to catch a train to a small town called Telford. The beautiful morning fooled me, because as I arrived in Telford, it was a cold, wet and miserable day. But, I made it to the building and warmed up with some nice tea. I got there a little late (public transportation is relatively reliable, but generally not timely). But I did not miss much, and another session was about to start.
There were 10 different fresh expression church groups at the venue, and periodically a couple of them would give a seminar. They all had booths set up throughout the day to visit also. So I went to a seminar for a group called Little Fishes, which is a “Church for Tots,” or a church for children under 4 and their mums. It is really interesting that these fresh expressions are targeting whatever need arises around their community, whether it be very young children, rebel teens, discontent young adults, elderly, and people from all geographical areas (rural and urban).
After the seminar, we got together for some lunch, and I talked with several other people who were there and not running a session. Most of these people had gone through a “Mission-shaped Ministry” course and were either working in some capacity in an already established church, or were interested in this movement and possibly even interested in volunteering to start similar groups in their own towns.
After lunch I went to another seminar given by a guy who leads a youth church that reaches out especially to teenagers and older youth on the “fringe” of society. The kids who are really into drugs, some who don’t even have a place to live. We actually wound up having an interesting conversation about the American church as well, in which I was my country’s humble representative. But he had a lot of interesting things to say about what he does as well.
I decided to skip the last seminar and walk around to talk to other groups who had stuff set up. I went to another group that works with youth, I saw my friend Pall from Sanctuary again, and I stopped by to talk to a guy that I had already contacted and planned to visit later in my stay. Everyone was very excited to share what they are doing, and everyone was doing very different things.
I even noticed that people that were leading seminars would walk around and check out what was going on with other groups. I’d say this even is as much for them and to help connect different communities as it is for those who are just getting into the scene. Also, for me it was very helpful to finally put faces and a sense of reality behind the websites and emails.
We wound up finishing about an hour earlier than I had planned, but I met a lot of great people out at the front of this fresh expressions stuff and people like me who are still figuring it out (although the other guys leading these groups would probably also say they are still figuring it out).
This whole day was sponsored by the Fresh Expression initiative, from which I am still trying to contact people and learn even more about what they do. From what I can tell from this and what I have read since getting here, it is a connectional and church planting agency sponsored by the Church of England and Methodist Church (and I think another denomination just jumped on board). I am eager to continue to learn more about this though.
Rest and Research
For most of the rest of the week I stayed at the house I was at in Fleet and read up on the large amount of material my host gave me to read. I did not get through it all before I had to leave, but it was helpful in informing me more about Fresh Expressions and the general thinking about missional church here in England. I had tentatively planned to go back into London to observe a community called Moot, but after some rearranging of my schedule, I decided to stop by there later in my stay. I have been consuming not only a lot of information about church movements, but also a lot of tea!
My next big adventure was on Thursday. I went out to a small town called Gloucester to meet with a guy named Michael and the community he helps to lead called Feig. They were having a “feast” Thursday evening in Gloucester Cathedral. So I stopped by. There were lots of people from many smaller house groups that met throughout the week. They get together for this every other month and have a lot of food. Most of the people had not met each other before, and it was really an outreach thing that different leaders initiate in trying to get people they know from different contexts to come together.
After a long time of gathering, Michael welcomed everyone and blessed the food. We ate and talked for a long time. I had lots of great discussions ranging from US geography and history stuff, to what I was doing, where I had been, Obama, what my interests are, etc. (Obama seems to always come up).
Eventually, a group was going to go up to the top-most tower of the cathedral. I could not pass up that opportunity, so I went. We went up hundreds of stairs and finally came out to a spectacular view. It was really amazing. The best view in Gloucester. I continued to talk to some guys there, and eventually climbed back down.
The rest of the night was really open, people could wander just about anywhere in the cathedral they wanted to. Apparently there were several atheists there that talked with Michael and some of the others for a while (something they are very used to doing). In fact, many of these people had been somehow involved in the community for a while now. It was all a time open for exploration and dialogue. I learned later that there was a contemplative prayer area set up for people to walk through. Also, on a side note, I got to walk through the cloisters, which were used in part of the filming of Harry Potter!
I spent the night with Michael and talked to him a lot the next morning. Feig is a wonderful community that really reaches out to the unchurched and dechurched (two catchphrases in missional church work over here). Michael is actually leaving at the end of the summer and is excited to see the community have to depend more on itself and continue to grow.
On my way back to Fleet, I took a little side trip to Bath. It was great, and nice to be in such a historically rich part of England (although that pretty much describes every part of the country). I brushed up on my Latin culture that I learned in high school by visiting the Roman Baths, and had a nice day exploring the city.
Making my way northward
On Saturday I bid farewell to Fleet, and headed up to Stockport, a town just outside of Manchester. From here I will be heading on to stay at Cliff College (a Christian college specifically geared for training and sending out people involved in missional church planting, at least to the best of my understanding) for a couple of weeks.
But before that, I had a chance to meet with the people of c3Stockport, a small fresh expression community. They meet on Sundays for a worship service, which I attended. It was very laid back, and after a period of prayer, singing, and discussion, we ate lunch together. There were about 10 people, although I was told that it was a very low number compared to the typical attendance.
They are really dedicated to creative outreach. By this I mean that during the week they have groups dedicated to different types of art expression (photography, card making) that draw in people from the community. And on Sundays they try new and creative ways to worship and build community.
I had lots of great conversations with members, and I look forward to sitting down with a lady who is kind of the organizational leader later this week. They have many different people who lead each midweek group, but she is the only one that kind of oversees everything and knows everyone that is somehow involved in c3. It was also very much family-based with two families of children that were fairly young. This made the discussion time very interesting and somewhat distracting, but it also really felt like a big family.
I will be moving to Cliff tomorrow and look forward to meeting with professors there, several other communities, and a group called the Sheffield Center that are a kind of think tank and church mobilization group for fresh expressions/emerging churches (I think).