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Sabbatical, Day 10

Two miracles in the last twenty-four hours: first of all, I slept well last night. Moving the bed away from the wall helped. I still can’t understand why the college thinks it’s a twin room, though. Not unless Snow White was moonlighting as an architect for friends. Thankfully, I’m alone in the room.

Second miracle: a meal tonight in the refectory that actually came with vegetables. After three consecutive meals accompanied by salad, this was a cause for thanksgiving. Not that the salads were bad at all – they were fresh and edible – but it’s good to have some balance in the diet. Besides, excess salad while snow is still around seems a tad strange.

Lectures have been good today. Two this morning from John Finney, the retired Bishop of Pontefract on the subject of personal and church renewal. Wisdom from an experienced church leader.

Two later from Stephen Skuce, the postgraduate tutor here. Controversial and provocative. He thinks the British church is done for, rather like the North African and Turkish churches of past centuries. We need to learn survival strategies, he says, in the way that the Chinese and Russian churches did under communism. He sees the emerging church movement as a group of lifeboats getting as far away from the sinking Titanic of the mainstream church as fast as possible. However, he thinks there are only twenty emerging church congregations in the UK. He should be in a position of authority on this, as Cliff College is the only place in Europe to offer an MA in Emerging Church studies. He doesn’t rate the idea of the ‘mixed economy’ church advocated by Rowan Williams as part of the Fresh Expressions movement. Fresh Expressions don’t generally count as emerging churches – I think I’m inclined to agree with him on that point.

Tonight he taught for an hour on William J Abraham‘s book ‘The Logic of Renewal‘. As much as anything, though, his purpose was to show the MA students how to research an author and a book. He happened to use a book that is on the theme of the week. It was interesting to see the students being taught these methods.

This evenng, I’ve been indulging my pleasure of offering technical support to someone with her laptop. I managed to get her wirelessly connected when the computer was hiding from doing that. I’ve also been listening to nervous students who’ve had tutorials today where they’ve had to present ideas for their next assignments. I made a suggestion to one woman about a possible book, but the tutor ripped the proposal to shreds.

Tomorrow, two of the students who will soon be celebrating ‘significant’ birthdays will be treating the rest of us on the course to coffee and cakes at the village tea rooms.

Plenty of other students tonight are watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine on DVD on a large screen via a digital projector. Me, I’m typing this instead. Sad? Maybe. Now, then, everyone together: “There’s Klingons on the starboard bow …”

Fresh Expressions: Emerging Church And The Historic Denominations

Going off at a tangent from a post by Pete Phillips, Fresh Expressions is a joint initiative of the Church of England and the Methodist Church to support ‘new ways of being church’. In a strangely modernist way they have identified twelve categories of new expressions of church!

But the thing is this: the historic denominations are increasingly interested in new forms of church. Is it for creative reasons? Is it desperate? Is it the Holy Spirit? What seems to be being swept under the carpet is the huge potential for clashes of values.

For example, won’t we have to start facing some sacred cows such as entrenched doctrines of ordination? Don’t existing ones play the power card in a way that postmoderns and Jesus-followers should be highly suspicious of? You don’t need to go the whole ontological way that the Anglicans do, just take the Methodist view that although ordination confers no separate priesthood, nevertheless it is ‘representative’ (which is pretty close to specialised priesthood) and it confers presidency at the sacraments on the grounds of ‘good order’. That may have been a pragmatic way of restricting presidency to the presbyters in years gone by without officially conceding a sacerdotal approach, but how does it read now? Let’s play reader-response in the 21st century with it. Who can keep good order? Normally only presbyters? What does that say about everybody else?

(Of course Methodism now allows ‘extended communion’ where authorised people can take communion into homes. It started out as something for the sick, but the Big Bad Rule Book can be interpreted to allow this for home groups. Nevertheless it’s only seen as delegated from the presiding minister at a Sunday service, and the people still need to be authorised.)

How far we have come from a Last Supper modelled on the Jewish Passover that was celebrated in the family. And how far we have come from a Saviour who took a towel and a bowl of water.

Although you can’t say the emerging church is all of one mind on every issue (it’s a ‘conversation’, it likes to think) nevertheless it’s pretty clear that it embraces an understandable postmodern suspicion of the link between truth and power, and it is deeply attracted to the radical picture of Jesus in the Gospels.

So this post is really to ask whether the emerging churches and the historic denominations can fully embrace each other. Either there will be compromise of principles on one side or the other (you can bet that those who still perceive themselves as powerful will expect the others to conform to them). Or there will be persistent conflict: the romance will break up. Or the new wine will break the old wineskins.

Someone please tell me I’ve got it wrong, and why. But my spiritual gift of pessimism comes into play on this issue.

Radical Change For The Church Of England

Doing away with professional clergy; meeting in homes rather than Grade 1 listed buildings; redistributing money from the rich to the poor. All sounds very Gospel, doesn’t it? It certainly sounds very ’emerging church’. Not quite what you’d expect from a report to the General Synod of the dear old C of E. And it’s on the front page of today’s Times.

What a shame that a financial crisis has prompted this report, rather than creative missional thinking and prayer. Still, God uses all things for good for those who love him. Let’s pray this is a providential moment, and not only for the Church of England but for the wider Church.