the uk is privileged to have a collection of people who have pioneered thinking and practice of church planting and mission over the last 25 years. they are a generation older than me and i see them as heroes (i always think the best heroes are real flesh and blood people you know rather than media constructs). i am thinking of people like bob and mary hopkins, graham cray, stuart muarry, michael moynagh and george lings. those of us involved in emerging mission and church owe these guys a huge debt.
george lings directs the sheffield centre, the church army research centre which amongst other things researches fresh expressions of church and church planting. one of the ways it makes its findings available is by the series of booklets encounters on the edge. they are about 40 pages in length (similar to a grove booklet if you know those) - i.e. short but not pithy. they produce three issues a year and you can either subscribe or buy individual copies. see the web site for a list of titles. they blend a mix of story with comment which works really well. a lot of time and care goes into each one.
i have read a few over the years. when i was at the sheffield centre a couple of weeks ago i picked up a few i hadn't read. one of the most recent ones looks at new monasticism with a particular focus on the northumbria community - No 29 Northunbria Community: Matching Monastery and Mission. it really is a brilliant little book. i have made some references to the resurgence of interest in monastic spirituality and mission before. its amazing how many groups i know of are drawing inspiration from monasticism whether by developing an ethos/rhythm/rule which captures the aspirations and life of their community or something more developed than that with vows and an order and so on. george suggests that new monasticism may be one of the most significant fresh expressions of church because of the depth of spirituality and its relation to mission.
he suggest that new monasticsm has arisen as communities of resistance in the face of a culture of excess and a church that has lost its distinctive. he tells the story of the northumbria community and its rule and practices and rhythm of life. i won't go through that in detail. you can get the book but a few things did strike me...
i like their description of their rule as a set of spectacles - the point is to look through them not at them.
alone and together is a section george writes which stresses the importance of solitude and community. it made me think that aloneness is probably underrated in our culture as we confuse it with being lonely.
there is something very healthy that comes across in the balance between mission and spirituality. the community has a strong spirituality of worship and prayer that has a renewing effect. but this is also coupled with a missional focus - this balance is captured by the two words monastery and mission. the ebb and flow of the tides is a picture for the way the community moves between these two important parts of its life. george contrast this balance with some other fersh expressions/emerging churches that are so focused on mission and evangelism that they burn out as they don't have the depth of spirituality to sustain them in their mission. this is a really valuable insight. it chimes in with my own instincts. i love alternative worship because of the way it fuels my faith and spirit and i also love the missional stuff. i get frustrated when people into one or the other put down the other - it's more a case of 'both and'. the northumbria community have two leaders - an abbot and bishop - one to focus on monastery and one to focus on mission to ensure that the community carries both concerns close to its heart. i found george's observation about worship interesting. he suggest that their liturgies fit well for mission today in contrast with anglican liturgies about which he says "most anglican liturgies arise from a christendom pastoral context and do little to nurture the calling and charism of pioneers and evangelists. no wonder there is some drive for more creative acts of worship amongst the fresh expressions. they are rightly looking for what will feed their calling and identity."
there is then an interesting discussion about whether the northumbria community is church. george suggests that we are in a climate of looser ecclesial definitions and for some northumbria communtiy is their church and for others it part of being church while they are also in local congregations. maybe the language of expression of church helps us get away from problems of definition. (we have had this dilemma for years in grace - for some people it is church, for others part of their being church). it is clear that northumbria community has reawakened faith for people who have struggled with church or drifted out of it or found that congregational church has dried up for them which has to be good news whatever we call it!
for anyone engaging in emerging church/church planting/fresh expressions this booklet and the resurgence of interest in monasticism is really worth looking at.
roy searle from northumbria community is taking part in a blah learning day in london on november 25 focusing on new monasticism with gareth powell and sue wallace also taking part. i think it should be a really interesting day. i'd be there if i wasn't at a wedding (well actually i'd be at the ReSource weekend in manchester which is also that weekend but if i wasn't at that either...)
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