Can Denominations do Grassroots Church?

A CORRESPONDENCE 

Hi Paul,
I agree with much of your posts about the potential synergies between the inherited churches and fresh expressions. I do not share your same optimism that they can comfortably living in the same world. In my diocese church plants and “fresh expressions” are viewed with a lot of skepticism. Our synods have passed no protocols for planting or for fresh expressions. I could care less except it means that I have been ordained nearly twenty years. Yet all of a sudden I have to operate “under the care” of a priest who has been in orders only seven years? You ask why? Because he runs a parish church and I lead a fresh expression! How is anyone supposed to read that?

My brother Thomas (you know him through Shapevine – I think) has been in parish ministry even longer than I have yet (along with every priest or worker serving in a fresh expression or conventional church plant) he has to operate under a “temporary licence” from the “Archdeacon for fresh expressions”. So after twenty plus years in the ministry Tom’s work doesn’t even have a bishop’s imprimatur! Structurally it is virtually off the map. Scarcely what I would call a vote of confidence! That is our experience in dioceses known for being “friendly” to fresh expressions. What then must it be like in the unfriendly ones??

The Brits appear ta long ways ahead of us on this. Those of us that are planters get looked at like we have created a problem when we strike out on misssion and anybody with a heart and soul for a fresh expressionis automatically believed to be a poor churchman who cannot possibly understand “the tradition”. Obviously we are amateur churchmen otherwise we would be following all the established and entrenched conventions! No further evidence is required!! Maybe I am a little over sensitive on this but that is the attitude I pick up on. So brother, though I wish I could, I do not share your optimism.

 John W
(USA)

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Hi John,
Thank you for sharing what you have. It’s a painful truth that no pioneer is ever going to sit comfortably with the status quo! I guess that’s par for the course! Perish the day when planters are good “churchmen” eh! Like you I regard the Anglican tradition as one full of innovations!! But the place of the pioneer is not an easy one to occupy and that’s for certain!

I agree that with their BMOs and translocal episcopal jurisdictions the Brits have been pushing the boat out much further. And good on them. My local Anglican diocese in Australia is echoing that move with the use of Episcopal MOUs as a form for authorisation, cover and assimilation. I have to say that I do share your concern about using the parish system as the exclusive web of entry points into any region. My mentor Bishop David Pytches famously described the parish system as the church’s condom to prevent church planting. and he often commented that his diocese (Chile, Bolivia and Peru) was one without parishes. (It had scattered missions at that time.) I prefer the plural approach of earlier centuries (as I have outlined in the post above).

Parish priests are vital – to the parish churches. But parish clergy do not have to be the gatekeepers for an alternative (and often very different) model of ministry – or even the “supervisors”? That would not be a plural approach. I just wonder whether (and could you ask your bishop?) perhaps the parish angle has been chosen in your local diocese – and the archdiaconal route in Tom’s case – in order to avoid getting snowed under legislative approaches and issues? Dare I say that to ask synods to produce new protocols, legislation and ordinances might not be the most freeing way forward!!

The benefit of Tom’s situation is maybe the “temporary licence” is really truer to the exploratory and experimental nature of a good fresh expression or plant(?) Perhaps to accord every project an episcopal licence is to put Saul’s armour on David? I guess you see it as the bishop hedging his/her bets? Could it be his/her way of allowing greater liberty? I have no idea in Thomas’ case. But it’s possible that’s why the archdiaconal route has been taken there.

Brother, it is not an easy road and whatever you do I know you won’t wait until all the protocols have been ironed out before you step out and do something new! (See my other post “Innovators innovate”) There are no caveats or sublauses in the Great Commission! And if I can be so radical as to point it out – no mention of episcopal, archdiaconal or any other kind of authority! Let me quote another American friend of mine, Canon Jon Shuler of NAMS. He pointed out the other day in his blog, Jesus prefaces the Great Commission by saying, “ALL AUTHORITY in heaven and earth has been given TO ME! THEREFORE GO!” Could it really be that simple? Would it be fair to say that the sending of the 72 while the 12 were still having so many issues shows a quite different order of priorities to the ones we generally follow in today’s churches? Jesus seems to be able to live with a little untidiness!!