Patrick in England

Patrick is a senior religious studies and psychology major in Dedman College who has been awarded a Richter Research Fellowship for Summer 2009. He is in the United Kingdom studying how globalization has shaped and is continuing to shape newly ‘emerging’ churches.

My last week in London

DSCN1418.JPG I traveled back to London on Monday, July 13, to get ready for my final week of interviews, observations and fun running around the country. It was nice to finally have a little time to breathe and relax and get my thoughts in order.

In the vineyard

On Tuesday I went out to a borough of London called Surrey to meet with a guy I had been put in touch with several weeks ago. This man is named Jason, and he has planted a church through the Vineyard denomination/network. He was also a big part of the Emergent UK project several years ago, which involved some conferences for leaders and other programs to help people get involved and become knowledgeable about the whole emergent thing.

It was good to talk to him, since he again shed a whole new light on things. Coming from within an established, evangelical denomination, his views on the way to do church were slightly different than many of the people I have met. But he is in an interesting position in bridging a gap between people who are skeptical of the emerging mindset and people on the other side of the spectrum who are skeptical of any institutional denomination. It is also interesting, because he is not working out of an Anglican background, which is where this collision more commonly takes place.

After picking his brain, I returned to where I have been staying for another relaxing night. Part of me wanted to go into London and try to find some crazy Harry Potter stuff (this being opening night). But I resisted that temptation.

Back to Moot

The next day I did go back into London to visit Moot again. The last service I went to was on Sunday evening, but they also do stuff on Wednesdays. So, I went to check that out.

DSCN1393.JPG I got into town with plenty of time before it started so that I could check out the Victoria & Albert Museum (in photo, left). I am very glad I did this, because even though I was not in a museum mood, it turned out to be my favorite so far (besides the Tate Modern, which I visited the first week. It was also nice to have the building as a refuge from the rain that was starting to come down. I spent a couple of hours here, but it closed before I had time to explore everything.

DSCN1395.JPG So, I moved on to Moot. This service is a meditation service, which when I went really clicked, because they are situated right in the middle of the banking area of the city (right) with a lot of business people everywhere who are constantly stressed out. They have just started doing this recently, but already there were people coming in off the streets because of the promise of a relaxing meditation. And it was just that.

Ian, the enabler of the group and its official minister, led us in learning a little about meditation and then putting it into practice with a 25-minute silent meditation. Afterward, we talked some more.

After all this, the Moot community broke up into small groups that meet all over the city. I tagged along with Ian to the one he is a part of and got to be a part of this intimate gathering. After this we went and talked informally about the community and all sorts of stuff.

Then, the next day, I returned to formally interview Ian. I’d seen a lot of him in a short time, but it was very enjoyable and well worth it. He was very insightful and encouraging and even offered me a way to present/publish my final paper for this project on a website that is sort of a hub of emerging church activity (or at least has been in the past). They are trying to breathe some new life into the site, and he said they would gladly put up what I write, to which I was overjoyed.

I walked away with a few more books, an exciting opportunity, and a lot to think about that came up in the interview. But, I also knew that this would be my last day in the middle of London, so I tried to make the most of it. I walked all over the place, covering my tracks to see if there was anything interesting I missed as I have walked through and lived in the city. I got a couple more shots of the sights of London and ate at a place suggested to me by an old teacher.

But soon it was time to leave the city for good. It was sad to know that I may not come back (although London was not my favorite place), but a good day to end on.

Stonehenge

Since I was relatively close by and still had not gone out to see the iconic sight, I spent all of Friday traveling out to Salisbury and Stonehenge. It was a rainy day, but that did not keep me and hundreds of other people from coming to explore the mystery of the big stones.

DSCN1445.JPG I got the fancy tour bus that tells you about the city (Salisbury) and the area around Stonehenge and learned a lot. Then I stayed out looking at the site until I was completely soaked. There are more rocks there than I thought, but it was a very interesting trip.

I also stopped by the site of Old Sarum, the original center of the city of what is now Salisbury. It had some ruins of a castle and cathedral, which were interesting because they were so accessible. You could literally walk and climb all over them.

But, it continued to rain, so I went to take refuge in the city. I got to see Salisbury cathedral and the Magna Carta that it houses. I enjoyed my whole trip and spent some more time walking around the city before heading back.

A day of rest(lessness)

I spent my last day just resting at the house. I knew that it would be an early, long flight the next day, so I didn’t want to be running around. I got all packed up and watched a considerable amount of the cricket competition that is going on right now (the Ashes). It was nice to rest and relax and spend some more time with the guy, Graham, who has housed me for 3 of the 8 weeks of my trip. However, I was very restless knowing that this was my last day and that I would soon be all the way on the other side of the ocean. Also, just not having anything to do or anywhere to be was an unusual feeling for this trip.

I know I have been very busy, but it has been worth it. I have not seriously regretted any part of this wonderful opportunity.

Yesterday, I spent about 9 and a half hours on a plane to get back home, which was even more a change in pace. It is good to be back, though, and to begin to solidify my memories of my time in England. But the research and the project have really just begun.

I also hope that the relationships and conversations I have started the past eight weeks have just begun. I really do feel that this is the beginning of a whole new stage in my life; that this trip has propelled me into new and fascinating things to think about and eventually do.

DSCN1574.JPG I am ever grateful to everyone who has had a part in making this unbelievable trip a reality – from those who have gone before me and made the process feasible to those who were there to help me first spark the idea all the way to those I have recently met with and even the pilot who got me back safe.

I realize that I am only one small part in all that is going on in worldwide research and in the specific area of emerging churches that I have been studying. But I hope that whatever comes of this (or has already come) may be helpful and in some way inspiring.

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Goodbye, North UK… sort of

I spent my last couple of days in Sheffield relaxing and getting together all my plans for the rest of the week. I would be traveling literally all over the country, and I didn’t want to leave all my plans for the last minute, as I tend to do. It was really rainy all the beginning of this week, which made it even more enticing to just stay indoors.

But before I knew it, Wednesday arrived and it was time to make my last big move (with all my stuff) back down to the London area. I would be moving back to Fleet, to be precise, a small town about a 40-minute train ride west of London. This was where I stayed the second and third weeks of my time here, so it was nice to move back to a familiar place.

Familiar faces

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Thursday I had planned to visit a church in Oxford. They did not meet until the evening, so I decided to travel up a little early and see the city. Also, I knew that several other SMU students would be there in the Oxford summer study abroad program. I got in touch with a couple of friends and decided to meet up with them. It was really good to see some familiar faces.

They had only been in the country about a week, but it was also good to have someone who was familiar with the city to be able to point out all the cool sites to me. I shared stories of my travels and hopefully some helpful pointers on living and traveling in the UK and got a real-time inside scoop of the study abroad program. Although what they are doing seems very interesting, I am glad to be doing what I am doing.
(Photo right: Christ Church in Oxford)

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We couldn’t hang out forever, though, and soon my friend had to go do his own thing. But he left me with some more interesting places to visit in the town. I still had a little while to walk around and actually explore in several of the Oxford colleges.
(Photo left: Oxford College)

mayBe

Soon it was time to meet up with the group I was there to visit, so I walked out to a guy’s flat where the group mayBe would be meeting. People gradually arrived, and before long we had a nice little dinner together. This group as represented by this particular meeting was made up of several young couples with young children and a couple of older members. They were all very welcoming, and I quickly felt right at home.

After dinner, we went through a resource that they have. They focus on particular topics in 6-week cycles, and this cycle is about journeys. We talked some about labyrinths and how that can be a representation of our life journey with God. It was very much based in discussion.

After we got through the questions, we spent some time just talking while tea and dessert were served. Then we went through a printed worship liturgy. It was all pretty straightforward, but it was interesting to see how it worked, because they recently lost their leader. Different people would step in at different times to guide discussion or worship. This also had to happen, because periodically children would distract parents who were involved in the service.

At the end of it, I wound up staying with the guy whose flat we were at. He graciously let me stay at a moment’s notice. This also allowed me some more time to talk with him about the group.

Travelin’ around

Thursday morning I left Oxford pretty early to run back by my room in Fleet and grab a few things. I then headed back to the train station to get a train up to Birmingham. There is a group that I found out about several weeks ago that meets one Friday a month for some worship and dancing. This was the Friday, so I went up to visit and see how this “dance club” type of church worked.

I was basing my trip on a card I received about 6 weeks ago, and upon arriving in the city and trying to get into the place it was supposed to be, I realized things had changed in that time. Luckily, I had a number for the lady who is in charge and does the dj work. I called and got the real time and place (which was thankfully later and not earlier) and waited around for things to finally start.

It was being held in a bar, which was interesting, but I knew this one would be a little different. I will not lie, but I was a little dissatisfied with it overall. I found a card that said that there would be worship from 9 to 10, and then the bar would be open and the djs would be around for normal club dancing and partying until 4am.

When I got there, they were still setting up the sound equipment and were having technical difficulties. The dj’s microphone would not work. She said that she normally talks over the music some, but would just have to let the music speak for itself this time. She put on some music with a heavy dance beat. Some of it was explicitly Christian in content, some less obviously, and some of it just instrumental.

It was pretty empty for the first hour and a half, and people did not really start showing up until I had to leave. I knew I would not be able to stay until 4am. Who knows what happened after I left, but maybe it was more than just a dance party.

Grace, pt 2

I stayed in Birmingham with a guy I met last weekend. He and his wife were really nice, and on Saturday I got to hang out with them some as they played Mario Kart (and beat me badly in it) and went into town for the afternoon.

It was fun to spend time with them, but before long I had to catch a train back to London to meet with another group that only meets once a month on Saturdays. I visited Grace’s smaller service, Gracelet, a couple of weeks ago, but this is their bigger, alternative worship service (the one they are more well known for). I got there a little late, but they were having a barbecue so I easily slipped in. This is what they consider the end of their Grace year, and they take August off for a trip to the big Christian art festival called Greenbelt.

It was good to see some people I recognized along with a few new faces. I got to talk with some people before the service started. Then we all went into the church for a service related to getting along with people in the community who sometimes annoy you. There was some Scripture reading and creative reflection all tied together within this service and even back to the first service of their year.

At the end, we had dessert and people started to leave. I soon had to catch a train back to Fleet, but not before I had a few last conversations with some of the members of the community.

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More Traveling and York

Sunday afternoon I again hopped on a train to head out to York. There is a group that meets out there that does a service in York Minster called Transcendence. It is labeled as an “ancient future mass.” Even just having the service in the minster sets a certain tone of awe, but to add to that, the service was structurally very high church/traditional.
(Photo right: York Minster)

We were greeted and throughout had a lot of led responses, some of which were sung. All the songs we sang were very old hymns or chants, but were all sung to background tracks that were more modern dance beats. I did not understand what was going on at first, but after a while I really noticed how the two styles complemented each other nicely.

We did some processing around the church while chanting and there was a fairly straightforward sermon. After that, everyone was allowed to wander through the minster and visit different designated stations for prayer. Finally we gathered together again to close. In all, there were over 100 people there, making this by far the largest group I have visited. It included people from another emerging group called Visions, regular attendees of the minster, and many people who come from all over the place (other churches, tourists, etc.).

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I got to talk to some of the people who lead the service after it was over as we packed everything up and went to a pub. They only meet for Transcendence once a month, so it is a pretty big deal and they had a ton of equipment, but it remarkably did not feel like a show or an event.

I’ve got one more week and it will mostly be spent in London getting some last-minute interviews in, and hopefully a little less running around.
(Photo left: York Minster inside)

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A Texas connection in London

DSCN0999.JPG On Sunday, I got up very early to grab a train back down to London.

I had set up a meeting with a woman whom the people at the Sheffield Center put me in contact with. I knew that she was also from Texas and has been living here for a couple of years, but that was about it. I think the main reason I was put in contact with her was the Texas connection.

I got into London and met her at a Tube station, and we walked over to a park that was right next to a street flower market. She told me all about her move to the UK and what she was involved in on both sides of the ocean. She has not exactly planted a church here or worked within any churches, but she has been a part of several missional projects that connect with people through several avenues including art, social justice, and the market scene.

It was really interesting hearing what she does since structurally it is very different from church work. But at the base, what she is doing in building relationships where people are is very much in line with the ethos of emerging groups. She mentioned that she sees church as a verb, meaning that she does church rather than go to a church.

After a while, a couple of her friends showed up and we had a nice picnic. It was really interesting to see how well connected and networked they all were with the other people I have been in contact with. We got to check out the market while we were there, which was kind of crazy, and then went back to her place to talk some more. I had another meeting on the other side of London to get to that evening, so I had to go soon and check into my hotel for the night.

DSCN0902.JPG Grace

I made my way through the city and out to Ealing. There are some of these emerging churches that have become somewhat famous within the conversation. I knew going into this that Grace (in photo left) was one of these. I also knew that this would be one of the smaller services they do, but I was still excited to see what it would really be like.

I got to the church they meet in, and it took me a while to find them tucked into a room in the back of the church. There were about 7 other people gathered, and we went through a laid-back topical discussion/meditation about life journeys. We listened to a couple of songs and discussed some pre-determined questions with each other and ended with some time of prayer.

They also spend time hanging out at the pub after the service, so I accompanied them and got to have some really interesting conversations about some of the alternative worship stuff they have done in the past and a general history of the group. It was also good to just get to know these people better. The leader of the group was not there this week, but it was nice to see how well things carry on through the community. I do plan to come back for what would normally be their big service in a couple of weeks (and I think it will also involve a barbecue).

DSCN0905.JPG A few days off

I got back into Sheffield on Monday evening and relaxed. I started my Wimbledon watching this night, which has continued as much as possible (at least on the radio) up to the past couple of days. I walked around Sheffield some more and continued to soak up British culture by going out to get a curry. (In photo right: Flowers in Queen Mary’s Garden.)

DSCN0974.JPGThen, on Wednesday I decided to take a little trip. I realized that this would be as northerly as I would get in my time in England, and it was my best chance to jump on over to Scotland. I have never been, so I decided to take a day trip into Edinburgh.

It worked out great and I got to spend half the day in the city, and half just outside it on some hilly parkland overlooking the city.

Although I am not a huge fan of the whole tourist thing, I found walking around the city to be very enjoyable. (In photo left: Edinburgh)

Back to work

On Thursday, I had plans to go back to Telford and visit a group that meets there. The community is called Safe Space, and they met for dinner and some time of reflection and worship. It was a good evening with a lot of good conversations even just while we were eating.

After some time of communion, meditation, and prayer we all just continued our dinner table fellowship. It all seemed very organic and comfortable. The conversation slowly got more interesting throughout the night and went from some serious conversation about church and what they do there to an overview of British comedy. All turned out to be fairly helpful to me, I think. I learned a lot this night (and a lot that was not expected).

I spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with more people I had contacted, and I had many informal conversations about what different people do and what they think about what they do. It was all very helpful and much of it unexpected.

Moot
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On Sunday, I traveled back into London to visit another one of the more well-known and longer-lasting emerging communities. It is called Moot, and they currently meet in a really interesting church called St. Mary Woolnoth (which I believe is mentioned in a T.S. Eliot poem). (Photo right: In London overlooking the Thames River, with view of London Tower)

This service was much more scripted through the middle than most I have been to, but still had that very strong element of raw community. There were some stories and poems read, some music listened to, some responsive meditation participated in, and some prayers shared.

I got to talk to a lot of the people in the community, especially since their leader is currently sick and was not there. They, too, went to the pub after the service, and I got to sit and talk a little more before running (literally) to catch my train. I also look forward to going back to visit this group as they do something slightly different on Wednesdays.

My weeks seem to get busier and busier as I meet more people and get connected in new and exciting ways, but don’t have the time to meet with everyone. Nevertheless, I look forward to the last couple of weeks I have here.

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Chance encounters and good conversations

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Coventry Youth

This week started out with a bang as I traveled down to Coventry to visit the youth program at Coventry Cathedral. I had met the leader several weeks ago at the Fresh Expressions Feast Day, and after maintaining contact with him, finally found a day to visit.

So I travelled down and got there early enough to have a look around the cathedral. It is interesting because they have the ruins of the original cathedral where people can walk around in them, and then the new, functional cathedral right next door. Apparently, Coventry was hit pretty hard in the war, and I guess the cathedral was too far gone to rebuild. But, the tower was still intact and I did get to go up in it. (Photo right: the old part of Coventry Cathedral.)

But before that, I met one of the youth workers, and after grabbing a bite to eat and getting a quick tour of the somewhat run-down youth center, we both headed up to the offices and met with the entire leadership team for the group. What proceeded in the next hour was what vaguely resembled a meeting, and it was clear from the beginning that jest and tease were the languages that this team communicates through. But it was very interesting to sit through the planning meeting, and I basically got a crash course of all that they do.

Their work is built upon a strong detached ministry, where they go find where kids are hanging out during the day and just talk with them and be with them. They also have cell groups that meet during the week and a weekly large group meeting that I would experience later that day.

Soon, the team dispersed, only to meet back a couple of hours later to start the evening activities. During this time I stayed with the first guy I met, Ash, and got a better grasp of what goes on. Before too long, the doors opened up, and kids streamed in. Pool, Mario Kart, loud music, sitting around and talking made up the chaos of some free time for the kids. Keith, the main paid staff person, opens his office for a sort of counseling time for anyone who is really having trouble, and amid the chaos lots of intentional conversations were being had by the leaders with the kids. Kids continued to come in and out of this haven, where they could have some fun and be themselves in a safe environment.

Eventually, everyone gathered around, and Keith led a very interactive and participatory discussion about what it means to be a Christian. I got to talk with Keith some, and it was interesting to see the difference he sees in what they do compared to other people (such as people at Fresh Expressions). We ended with some prayer and got back to the chaos of free time in the facility.

By 7:30, we all met up again (the half that had not left yet) for a more serious and focused time of prayer, and then before I knew it the energy and excitement and craziness of the night dissipated, being taken over by the sound of trains and buses taking me back to my bed.

More friends and more time at Cliff

DSCN0862.JPG DSCN0831.JPG I headed back to Cliff College the next day and got a schedule of the many activities going on this final week for the students. I was quickly introduced to many of them. The days I was on the campus I got to basically be a student with them and participated in many of the activities, including morning prayer every day, a couple of games of roundes (kind of like baseball with a short bat), some swimming in the river, a big worship Celebration, a barbecue, several games of boules, a movie night, and a final morning prayer up the hill on top of some cliffs. This whole week was fast-paced and exciting, and I feel blessed to have been so readily accepted as a friend by all the students at Cliff College. (Photo above left: Barbecue on the terrace of Cliff College; above right: That’s me jumping into a river; below right: morning prayer in the cliffs of the Peak District.)

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But it wasn’t all fun and games at Cliff (although the serious stuff I did was still pretty fun). I also got to interview another one of the tutors, who actually really helped me focus on and in a way rethink my research question. He helped me to really think about what fundamentalism means and what a reaction to global culture entails. I have a feeling that that may have been one of the most important interviews I will have here.

Manchester

One day this week, I made my way up to Manchester. I would say there are at least three popular (even notorious) emerging churches that have to this point stood the test of time and are well known as the kind of iconic emerging churches worldwide. Sanctus1 is one of these, and that was where I was off to visit. I arrived in Manchester pretty early and had a chance to walk around the city some (which in my naive understanding of Britain seemed like a condensed, crazy version of London). (Photo below: Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester.)

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It was eventually time for Sanctus to start, so I made my way to the Nexus cafe, which is an art cafe where the group meets. It was a really cool venue and very clearly an outreach to more creative-minded people. I met a couple of the members and eventually the guy who would be leading the service. Soon, we all sat down and began.

It was different from anything that I have experienced up to this point, with a lot of emphasis on music (but not singing), visual arts, and kind of a contemplation feel. I don’t think anyone besides Chris, the leader, said anything the whole time. But, I spoke with some of the members later, and it seems that there is never a standard format for the service. Sometimes there is a lot of discussion, sometimes none. After hanging out with some of the group for the rest of the night, I went back to my hotel to crash.

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I woke up the next morning and spent the day looking around Manchester. I had to be back at Cliff later that day, so I did not have a ton of time. But I did manage to stop by the Nexus cafe again for lunch and to see what it is like in normal operating hours (I know they do a lot of their own stuff somewhat separate from Sanctus). (Photo right: Wall painting at Nexus cafe.)

I also stopped by the John Rylands Library and had a look around at some of the exhibits (like one of the oldest fragments of part of the Gospels).

A Surprise

On my way back to Cliff, I got off at a really small train station and headed to catch a bus and overheard two guys talking. I heard one guy say that he was the general secretary of the Methodist church, Martyn. Now, this was one of my first (albeit brief) contacts in the UK who put me in touch with many of the people I am meeting with now. He is also basically one of the guys at the head of Methodism here and very much involved in the Fresh Expressions stuff. So, I decided to at least introduce myself and thank him for his help many months ago. He, of course, did not remember, but was very kind and offered me a ride back to Cliff. On the way I had a very interesting discussion with him about what I had experienced so far and some new and exciting things going on in American Methodism that he had recently been over to be a part of.

I was truly amazed after he dropped me off that I randomly had this opportunity. It was a huge surprise but a very welcome one.

Now what?

Today, Saturday, I will be attending in part the graduation ceremony for Cliff and then heading back out to stay with Matt again. Next week I look to literally be traveling all across the country as I have to be in London, Telford, and back again in London, with a possibility of taking a trip up north to Scotland or maybe out to the coast somewhere.

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New friends in the north

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Cliff College

I made it to Cliff College, which is a small Christian college tucked away in the beautiful Peak District in northern England. Even on the drive out to Cliff the countryside was amazing. I got checked in and learned that the students were away this week on mission. So, I pretty much had the place to myself. It was nice and quiet, but I did get to meet some of the faculty and staff that work here.

The next day I met with one of the tutors, who had a very different view of emerging churches than anyone I have run into yet. He was very critical of the way they have been put into practice, and it was actually somewhat refreshing to get a different view. He had his own thoughts about how the church needs to respond to the present situation and had a very strong, interesting Titanic analogy for mainline churches in England.

After meeting with him (and having some of my perceptions on the emerging scene shaken slightly) I traveled back to Stockport to interview Lou, the leader of c3. I find it interesting that the leaders of these churches do not really care how they are titled. They all believe they have just found how to reach certain people and praise God in their own unique way. Whatever shape or title is given to that is secondary.

The next day I met briefly with another professor here at Cliff. He gave me a few more names of people I should check out, and said that he would talk to me more extensively later (he is very busy at the moment), and finally introduced me to one of the staff here. I had already met Matt before, but I got to talk to him a lot more this time. Eventually, he invited me to stay at his house in Sheffield for however long I wanted, especially since Cliff was so empty. I took him up on the offer for at least a couple of nights and went back home with him. It actually worked out great, because I had an appointment in Sheffield the next day.

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Sheffield Center

I made my way into Sheffield the next day and found a little building that houses the Church Army and the Sheffield Center. I do not know much about the Church Army, but I think it is some sort of training/college program for training ministers. I do know that the Sheffield Center is one of the main research centers in England that is researching churches in the emerging/fresh expressions scene. They have a regular publication and have popped up in many different books I have read.

I met with two members of the seven member team and interviewed them. It was very interesting to hear their views on the whole “movement” in churches in England, rather than focusing on a specific church.

I have been slowly gaining more and more interest in trying to distinguish between the terms emerging, fresh expressions, mission-shaped, etc. Something of a definition usually comes up in a chapter in a book or in an interview I have, but there are always contradictions. I am continually trying to make sense of what is actually happening in churches and which gatherings I could label emerging, much less church. But that has just made this trip even more interesting.

One other interesting thing about the Sheffield Center is that they operate independently. They are not sponsored by the Fresh Expressions initiative of the Methodist and Anglican churches, and they actually provide a pretty strong critique of much of what they do. It is impossible to find an unbiased viewpoint in anyone I meet with, but both the people at Cliff and the Sheffield Center have provided a nice contrast to the views of the practitioners I have been communicating with up to this point.

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Making Friends

I spent a lot of time with Matt and his wife this week and spent the night at their house almost every night. It has been great to be around people more consistently and to really interact with them. I have gotten to do a lot of fun stuff with Matt. For example, we played some touch rugby this past weekend, we got to see the new Transformers movie (and before anyone in America did), and we spent some time relaxing in the park and throwing around a Frisbee. I am very grateful for his hospitality and friendship.

I also got to attend the church he goes to, which I would consider in some ways in line with the ethos of other emerging churches. It was a house group that gathers weekly for singing, prayer, discussion/teaching, and sharing life and food together. It is very much community based and is set up as a network of churches that sometimes come together and have some interesting overlap in leaders and meetings. This was an unexpected experience, but very helpful in continuing to paint the picture of the emerging church scene across England.

After the gathering, several people from the church, including me, had the opportunity to drive out to the open countryside for a nice walk. It was really beautiful with rolling hills, sharp cliffs, and green valley. We walked up to the top of a cliff and watched the sun set and climbers making their way up the rock face. It is times like this, and weeks like this, that I am very grateful to be here and excited that I got this opportunity. Unfortunately, the battery in my camera died, but I have no doubt that this trip will be imbedded in my memory for a good long time.

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Back to Cliff

Throughout this week I came back up to Cliff periodically with Matt, but next week I think I will be spending quite a bit more time there. The students are supposed to be coming back for their final week and I look forward to meeting many of them. I also look forward to traveling to Manchester some, and talking to many more church leaders.

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From Telford to Stockport, the research continues

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.

ev-6.owa.jpeg Trip to Telford

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

ev-7.owa.jpeg 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!

Feig

ev-8.owa.jpeg 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.

ev-9.owa.jpeg 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.

ev-10.owa.jpeg Bath

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).

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Arrival in London

ev.owa.jpeg I made it!

Well, I have now been in the UK for almost 2 weeks, and it really has been a whirlwind of experiences and adventures. The beginning of this trip has, if nothing else, proved how much of a procrastinator I really am at my core. I purchased my airline tickets a week and a half before my departure and found out that the guy I was planning on staying with when I arrived was marrying off his daughter suddenly and would not be able to house me until a week later. So I quickly booked a hotel. With all this, getting to London was actually pretty easy. I had no problems getting to my hotel and settling in.

Band.png I spent the first couple of days confirming meetings and even scheduling more while I got used to all things British. I got lost a few times around the city, which only took me to more and more interesting places. I also found myself spending a lot of time in the parks and in museums around the city, which provided a lot of refreshment.

ev-4.owa.jpegI also randomly came across the royal army marching band (excuse me if that is not the entirely correct title of the group) and a mounted band. This really excited me because I myself am involved in the Mustang Marching Band and I have played drums for a considerable amount of my life. A nice treat before departing from the heart of London (although I will soon be back).

Then I had my first meeting with a church. My project is structured around visiting and observing these new church communities and interviewing their leaders. Because of this, most of my work is done on weekends and occasionally on days mid-week; although, a lot of these churches are trying out mid-week worship. They generally do not meet regularly either, so scheduling a visit to as many of them as I can is really a nightmare.

My itinerary continues to grow and get moved around as people tell me of other groups I need to go talk to. Nevertheless, I traveled up to Birmingham to observe the first one. It was really exciting, and from the moment I walked through the door I felt the most welcomed I had felt since arriving.

Sanctuary

The community calls itself Sanctuary and really see themselves as a family. They meet in the tea lounge of a large, more traditional Anglican Church (although they themselves do not claim to be Anglican) in the heart of Birmingham’s city center, “the Bullring.”

I knew before coming that this church was specifically designed to reach out to British Asians, so I was not surprised to see several Asian people there. I was a little surprised to see so many white and black people, though. There were about 30 people there, including some visitors from Africa who played a large part in the worship. The place was richly decorated with many multicolored cloths and candles.

ev-5.owa.jpeg

The leader, Pall, guided us through some prayer and reflection exercises and eventually the man from Nigeria (I think) preached. I talked with Pall the following Wednesday, and he explained that he finds symbols very important, which I readily noticed as we were invited to do a lot of reflection exercises with candles and rocks.

After the service ended (or it might be better to say that this was part of the service) we shared a meal. I think everyone stayed for it even though we went over time a little. People stayed and talked for a while, then we tore everything down and restored the place to its tea/coffee setting.

Blending east and west

Like I said, I returned to the area on Wednesday. Sanctuary also does a lunchtime service the first Wednesday of every month, so I checked that out too. It was really very similar except that it was shorter and held in the main sanctuary of the church building.

There were still lots of symbols and an obvious attempt to reach out to those with an Asian background (even those who come from a different religious background, i.e. Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, and Sikh). They did this by incorporating things that are familiar in those traditions, just in a Christian setting, or in Pall’s words, “offering them the water of life in an Asian bowl.”

They are also explicitly trying to find a good middle ground between east and west, or between practices that are too “eastern” or too “western” for British Asians to really connect with. In a sense, they are trying to find a new expression that is a fusion of cultures in the heart of a city that itself has become the merging point of so many cultures and traditions.

After this, I got to sit down and interview Pall, who is a very interesting person. I learned much more about all the intentionality that goes behind what they do at Sanctuary. I also found that Pall is but one member on the leadership and planning team and a lot of the background that preceded what I witnessed on Sunday and Wednesday.

My first move

Before this Wednesday trip, I did meet up with the man who offered me a place at his house and moved all my stuff (which I found to be much heavier than I remembered – I just packed too much) to a nice house about 40 minutes outside of London by train. This man, Graham, and his wife have been very nice and welcoming, and it has been great to talk with them.

It has also been an amazing opportunity for my research. Graham is a very central player in the fresh expressions scene and in church planting in general, and he gave me many more books and DVDs that have really helped me better understand the subtle differences in emerging and fresh expressions of church. I found out I had a huge learning curve to deal with concerning the church scene over here. I am well versed in emergent church literature, which I thought was the big deal over here, but the thing that is really exploding is what is titled “fresh expressions of church.” I guess I will continue to immerse myself in all of this in the coming weeks.

On the horizon

I am leaving EARLY tomorrow (5 a.m.) to head across the country to a town called Telford to visit a daylong conference called FEAST day, at which several fresh expression/emerging communities and leaders will be gathered. I am really excited about this opportunity (except for the waking up part), and hopefully it will bring me even more contacts and opportunities to visit places.

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