We have, since autumn 2015, been meeting, praying, talking and thinking. We have come up with what we believe are five reasonable attempts at Fresh Expressions. They reflect some of our thinking about God’s leading us in our context and community but which are also flexible and provisional enough to change and adapt as we hear more from those who come along. This blog tries to capture what we have been thinking as we ponder these issues quite deeply, prompted by God’s Spirit and informed by what say to each other and what we hear others say to us.
Many of us met David McCarthy, the national Fresh Expressions adviser for the Church of Scotland, on 27th January 2016 when we had a whole series of interesting conversations about each of the Fresh Expressions. We were strongly encouraged to keep going and affirmed that we were not too far from the mark in our thinking. At the same time, David offered us valuable thoughts about making the most of opportunities which are available to us. Having had some time to give our ideas greater focus, we think that when a couple of folks attend the Go for It application seminar in a few weeks’ time there is a real possibility to make connections, ask insightful questions and get to grips with the business of securing funding to enable much of this work to be developed and continued over the course of the next year or two.
Those who met together with David offer these sixteen reflections on the time spent thinking about our Fresh Expressions. It will be helpful for us to bear these principles in mind in the months to come.
1. We can keep things simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
2. All the things we’re doing will be different from each other. There is no ‘proper way’ to do things. What is proper for all we’re doing, though, is that our activities should be tailored to the people of New Farm and the wider community in Kilmarnock.
3. All five of our Fresh Expressions are different and we are also all together in this. Meeting to get support across all we’re doing is really important. Some may succeed more quickly than others; we might discover some won’t go ahead. This is all fine, but we need to remember that we are all helping all these expressions to grow as they are able. This isn’t a competition or a race so much as service together. Meeting regularly, and with David every three months, should help us in this.
4. Fresh Expressions is about going out – and staying out. We cannot afford to be drawn into thinking that Fresh Expressions only draws people into traditional expressions church. The two can, though, encourage and bless each other. There’s no competition but there is a distinction.
5. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about talking about things of faith or deeper topics. Not everyone wants superficial chat, and a gift we might give (at least some) in our community is to ‘be serious.’ Not in a solemn, miserable way; but part of our ministry is to lift our eyes above the humdrum of Celebrity Big Brother to allow others space to reflect on things that matter.
6. We should be ourselves, and neither push faith issues beyond our sense of what is proper but neither to give up any sign or sense that we are Christian people and that we’re doing this prompted by faith. Often, having a faith focused opportunity for people to engage with as an option, but not a requirement, is good. So a reflection space or table at a coffee meeting with a candle, Bible and some way of enabling people to share concerns for confidential chat or prayer is entirely right. Grace at a food-based event would be entirely proper. We have started with gentle and explicit Christian practices in all our Fresh Expressions and these should continue.
7. We need to take a longer term view. So we will need patience, and not to expect – or be forced – to have quick results. We also need to be long-term for the sake of those who come along. So, for example, we should look to provide ways for people to still be involved even if their initial reason for coming has gone (that their children have grown older, or other circumstances have changed).
8. It will be key, in the next little while, to extend awareness of these initiatives through the local authority and other agencies working in our parish and through local media such as the newspaper and local radio.
9. We need to begin to develop not only applications for funding but relationships with potential funders now. That may well involve business plans and cases, detailed job descriptions, a clear view of our aims – even if we are clear that we’re not entirely clear at present! – and a sense of how we might evaluate what we are doing to determine whether we are hitting the marks we have set. We probably don’t want to put all our funding eggs in any one funder’s basket so investigating where me might get funding is another important early step.
10. Let’s get out more. It could be a real help to visit other places and see what other people are doing. The Fresh Expressions website has a lot of good stories and more are available on a DVD and it might be wor getting hold of that and having a few get-together to see what others have done and make connections with our plans.
11. It will help us to keep the understanding of Fresh Expressions development in mind. We do want to develop initiatives which listen to local people and respond to people’s needs and wishes, as well as to encourage the flourishing of Christian faith and discipleship (though we need to be ready for this looking very different to others than to us!) and, in due course, to see Fresh Expressions themselves multiply and spawn other gatherings.
12. Let’s not forget the number of people involved in all this! We are talking about quite significant numbers of people engaging in a range of creative ways with things to do with Jesus and Christian faith. Our current system and culture doesn’t allow for this to be recognised as it should, so perhaps we need to be advocated for the popularity and success of what we’re about.
13. Let’s do what gives us energy and enthusiasm. Where these are absent, let’s not do them unless there is absolutely no alternative – and, even then, could we ask someone who is less enthusiastic about spearheading Fresh Expressions to assist? We need to maintain energy, enthusiasm and excitement.
14. We can’t afford to let these become cosy clubs where power, existing friendships and the dead hand of tradition all suffocate life and faith. We have seen that before in church broadly and don’t want to repeat the mistake. We need both to invite others to join us and allow them to change and form our thinking and planning. A gift is no real gift if you keep holding all the string(s).
15. It is very encouraging and what we would expect, that whilst doing all this we are also maintaining traditional expressions of church even in the face of reduced minister resources which must hit soon. This is a busy, exciting time in our church of modest size and resources. We can hold our heads high, not in pride but confident that we are alive and eager to move forward.
16. We will need to watch that we don’t burn ourselves out by trying to do too much. We’ll need to work cleverly to achieve as much as we can with as little effort. We’ll need to support each other so we don’t spend time pulling against one another, even through ignorance. We can learn from each other if we’re open, and that will help us get on better in many senses. And we might need to stop doing other things we consider are less important if we believe we should be concentrating on this important aspect of our present church life.