Just occasionally something takes you completely by surprise. The Anglican church have just published the report Mission-Shaped Church (church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context). How can I put this?.... It's fantastic! I'm so used to feeling down about the institutional church or at least that it's a struggle that to read a document so full of vision and hope for the future is a surprising (and very welcome) experience.
Archbishop Rowan Williams writes the foreword and says that the church is :
The reports argues that a 'mixed economy church' is what is needed in the new context we find ourselves in. One size no longer fits all. Parish churches and traditional models of ministry and church are to be encouraged and developed but alongside these we need a whole set of 'fresh expressions' of church. Examples talked about include youth congregations, network church, alternative worship, base communities, cell church, new monastic orders, traditional church plants, cafe church, multiple and midweek congregations, church in school and so on...
The report unifies all of this under an emphasis on all these expressions being mission-shaped at their heart. The theology for a missionary church underpinning it is outstanding both in its content but also in the way that it drives home the case that being mission shaped and a diversity of expressions of church is actually right at the heart of what it means to be Anglican. This canny move is a really welcome shift. The days of bishops saying to groups doing new things that it's fine but they don't want to know about it (i.e. 'it's fine but I'll turn a blind eye') need to be over - it's no longer good enough. This gives the church the opportunity to say wholeheartedly that the emerging/fresh expressions of church are to be celebrated, supported and welcomed as real church and not something to turn a blind eye to.
Graham Cray has chaired the group and has done a great job with a wonderful team including the likes of Gill Poole, George Lings, Bob and Mary Hopkins, Chris Neal and others.
The report goes to synod on 10 February and is directly followed by the Pastoral Measures review both of which are proposing a change in the law of the land giving bishops the ability to approve new expressions of church in other parishes etc (obviously essential if churches are to be planted in networks etc). This is serious stuff and fantastic timing that they come to synod at the same time!
The recommendations at the end of the report ask for diocesan and deanery strategies to be developed, for a shift in leadership training (we are all aware of the need for a different set of skills that leaders require in the new context), and for resources and investment (as well as the change in the law of the land). Now I realise that a report in and of itself could mean nothing but there are several things that make me think that it's going to make a splash:
Whether or not you are in the C of E this is really worth getting hold of. If you are in the C of E it is a must read - buy several copies and spread them round.
I really think there is a possibility of a huge shift in climate/mood in the Church of England. There may just be a culture of permission, creativity, and an embrace of diverse expressions of church that change the face of the Anglican church as we know it in Britain. I think Rowan is right - it is a watershed moment.
Last year I watched the film 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' (which was rubbish!). One line in the film that stuck in the mind was 'are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can't'? At the time I wrote on my blog that it made me ask about the church 'are you an Angli-can or an Angli-can't'? (and the implicit answer was the latter at the time). But it seems I might have been wrong - let the Angli-CAN church emerge!
The report is available from church house publishing for £10.95 - www.chpublishing.co.uk