a huge change has taken place in the church of england. i think it was officially adopted yesterday...
this has been to develop a way to recognise new forms of church within the structures of the church of england that don't fit the existing parish system. the piece of legislation is called the pastoral measure. this is now law in england. this talks about a bishop's mission order being created to enable a new form of church that isn't within parish boundaries. a code of practice (downloadable here) has been published for dioceses that lays out how this can work in practice. the fresh expressions share guide has a page on bishop's mission orders that summarises what it's all about. but here's my sense of it from reading the code of practice.
- a diocese should set up a group with a lead person to consider bishop's mission orders.
- anyone thinking that applies to their scenario should then liase with that group.
- through that process, consultation will need to take place and consideration of a number of issues such as leadership, finance and sustainability, worship and sacraments, identifying how support will happen etc.
- assuming all of that goes well, a bishop then gets a mission order created for a 5 year period. at the end of the 5 years another one can be issued.
- after that hopefully the fresh expression of church will have a maturity so that it can either become an entity with the church of england's structures or if there is no model that fits a permanent mission order can be issued.
the code of practice is wonderful. it may seem dull to some of you - i don't know. but it does set out good guidelines and takes seriously the negotiations needed around other people and anglican worship and so on. this is so different from the practice for years of bishop's turning a blind eye as no other option has been available. sample bmo's and skeletons (i.e. frameworks for particular types of order) will be made available. it will obviously take a while for dioceses to set up groups and so on to take it forward in their area and inevitably some diocese will be more into it than others. but i believe the spirit in which this has been set up is as a mechanism of permission giving rather than control. there really are no excuses now - the permission is there for you for newness.
mission shaped church, the report that was published in 2004 made recommendations and this is a direct result of those recommendations. this is the way it is described in the code of practice...
Mission-Shaped Church identified the need for “a new inculturation of the gospel within our society.” Fresh expressions of church, and other mission initiatives, are part of the Church of England’s response to that challenge. Inculturation, rooted in the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ, is not a new concept to the Church of England. It underlies the parochial system. The current context of greater mobility, and of networks as well as neighbourhoods, requires a reapplication of this underlying incarnational value, not a departure from it. The Church’s historic parochial structures are still effective in mission but require supplementing by new mission initiatives. Properly integrated these enable a “‘mixed economy’ church.”
i'm kind of pinching myself - this means that in four years the church of england has managed to take a report on mission so seriously that it has opened up a new pathway for ordination recognising that some people are called to be pionnering and entrepreneurial rather than a pastor/teacher sort of gift. and now the parish system has been legally blown open. stephen croft (head of fresh expressions), paul bayes (national evangelism officer in c of e) and others have spent time, energy and patience negotiating the tricky politics and sensitivities of the church and drawing up the hefty documents and so on that accompany these changes. they have done an incredible thing here. it's such a gift to the church. this must be the biggest change in the church of england for many decades. rowan williams carries a vision for what this legislation makes real - a truly mixed economy church.
now if you are thinking to yourself this is an april fool, it isn't! it just happens to be the day after this practice became official. and i'm still travelling (now in the US speaking at an episcopal retreat on young adults spirituality and how the church here should respond, woken up way too early because of the time difference so writing this in the middle of the night) so my blog is still the quietest it's been for some time...
not everything will need a bishop's mission order. grace, for example, doesn't as it sits pretty well within the structures as part of st mary's in ealing, but i can see lots of other communities for whom this could be a good and important way to go. suddenly it seems as though the journey that many of us have been on through alternative worship, emerging church, fresh expressions and so on has created a momentum that is going to have a longevity. this is scary at one level and i'm sure feels too institutional for others (and we still need a radical edge that pushes the church in different ways so hopefully there will also be plenty of people creating new stuff who want to push beyond this as well), but this is a very hopeful moment.
church house publishing have a book that was due to be published yesterday - a beginner's guide to bishop's mission orders that i couldn't find on their web site but which no doubt will appear. i'll add a link here when it does.