The UP dimension of church is about connectedness with God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This relationship is primary and because of God's grace. Christians are caught up into the life of the Trinity - in a relationship of love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The New Testament word for church, ekklesia, means 'called out'. We are only called out - church - because God in his love has called us. This idea of God calling out and setting aside a people for himself is a strong Biblical theme, caught beautifully in 1 Peter 2.9-10:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
This is a terrific piece of scripture for fresh expressions. It's all there in a nutshell. 'Called out' – to become community, to become a people – why? In order to proclaim the mighty acts of the one of who has called us out of darkness, invited us to be recipients of mercy. We don't often talk about 'mercy' in the context of our thinking about mission. Yet it is at mission's heart. What does 'mercy' mean? How does it look?
Sue Hope, Priest in charge St Paul's Shipley and Adviser in Evangelism for the Bradford Diocese
Ephesians 5.25-32 describes the church as the bride of Christ, which highlights the intimacy of the church's relationship with Jesus. This relationship is expressed in many ways, but worship is central. Baptism is the sacrament of being called into this close relationship with God. We die to our old life and are born again to a new relationship.
As we celebrate Holy Communion, we are drawn into the life of the Trinity: we remember and make present the saving acts of God by which we are called to new life. Given the centrality of worship to our relationship with God, it is not surprising that as fresh expressions develop questions about worship are coming to the fore.
These questions arise because some fresh expressions are developing innovative forms of worship, such as a 'goth' Holy Communion, skateboarding as part of worship, meal-based worship and worship online. A number are plundering the traditions of the church for symbols and liturgies that they can adapt and mix with other material. Amid this experimentation, some Christians are asking: what are the limits?
How can fresh expressions develop authentic worship?
Worship involves journeying as a community into the heart of God's love. Worshippers encounter Jesus so that they become more like Christ in their everyday lives. As a fresh expression matures into church, this journey and encounter should be at the heart of its life. In worship the community renews its focus on God, celebrates the story of Jesus and becomes open to the leading of the Spirit. We are planning a section on worship to explore in more detail some of the issues being raised as fresh expressions explore different forms of worship.
At this stage, we would make one suggestion
Those responsible for worship within a fresh expression might find it helpful to look at some orders of worship in a church prayer book, such as Common Worship in the Church of England. What ingredients are typically present? An invitation to worship, praise, confession, reading from Scripture, sermon, intercessions and so on. Are these ingredients, done in your own style and your own sequence, regularly present in your fresh expression's worship?
A sermon, for example, can be done in lots of ways. It might comprise a short talk followed by discussion, some drama that leads to discussion, interactive Bible study, or a video. Likewise, confession can be done silently, can involve a symbolic act like dropping a stone into water, or may involve the group reading out loud an appropriate passage from Scripture.
Moving away from monologue sermons, as many fresh expressions are, will require the re-training of preachers and of congregations. Exploring alternatives to the sermon may initially feel risky, unsatisfactory and demanding. Pioneers will need to press on beyond early discouragements for the sake of developing a more mature learning community. For resources, see Interactive Preaching and Alternatives to Monologue Preaching.
Stuart Murray Williams, Urban Expression
Looking at the conventional ingredients of worship need not imply worshipping in a traditional manner. These worship ingredients might remind you of what Christians over the years have found helpful in journeying into God's love. Why ignore the collective experience of millions of other believers?
Doing a rain check - 'Have we been ignoring any of these elements?' - could spark ideas about how your worship could be enhanced. 'We don't do much in the way of a blessing. Why don't we think about doing it like this?' Groups will differ over how often a particular element should be present in its worship. But having a list of ingredients that should be included at least some of the time may help you to avoid forgetting things that could enrich your worship and bring you closer to God.
What about the sacraments?
A full sacramental life should be part of any fresh expression. A Church of England bishop commented,
You can tell if a fresh expression has arrived as 'church' when it starts to baptise new believers.
A vital aspect of church would be missing if a fresh expression never celebrated Holy Communion.
But Communion in fresh expressions can be a problem for traditions that believe an ordained minister should preside, and where Communion is a focus of church life. If a fresh expression is led by a lay person, worshippers may wonder if it is authentic for someone 'from outside' to lead such an important service. A busy minister with several congregations may not have time to preside regularly at another act of worship.
These problems need not be insurmountable. Possibilities include:
A minister 'from outside' can symbolise the wider church
This can add a valuable element to the fresh expression's celebration of communion. The Anglican Province of Zambia, for instance, has a system of catechists – lay leaders for local congregations. The priest (as a symbol of unity) visits roughly every couple of months to celebrate Communion. Adapting this model would allow Communion to strengthen the 'of' dimension of church in the life of a fresh expression.
Communion might be celebrated jointly with the original 'parent' church
This could happen perhaps every month or two, with the minister presiding. The context might be a larger, possibly more upbeat celebration or a social function, such as a shared lunch in which communion plays an integral part. Again, the 'of' dimension of church would be reinforced.
The practice of 'extended communion' may be helpful
Use the reserved sacrament. The bread and the wine would be consecrated by the minister at the main Sunday service, and then distributed when the fresh expression meets later in the week. Communion would extend over time and place to strengthen the links between one expression of church and another.
Some Christians enjoy 'agape suppers
They eat together and remember Christ's death and resurrection during the meal. This is not a proper Communion, in that no bread and wine is consecrated, but it might helpfully supplement the possibilities above. 'Breaking bread' in a café or luncheon club may be a simple form of agape meal.
It may be possible for lay people to preside at communion
Some Church of England dioceses have introduced Ordained Local Ministry. A lay leader within a congregation is ordained to serve in that specific place. The Ordained Local Minister (OLM) can then preside at communion. Might this be a way forward for some fresh expressions as they mature? Lay people can be authorised to preside at communion in appropriate circumstances in the Methodist Church.
A theology of exceptions
As in the Methodist Church, a generous theology of exceptions may be necessary in the Church of England, based on:
- the fall. In a broken world we can't tie up everything neatly. Sometimes there will be lose ends, which may include the occasional Communion celebrated in a theologically unconventional way;
- forgiveness. Just as God's forgiveness includes situations where we can't do right - 2 Kings 5: 18 is an example - the church may need to be forgiving toward its members when sometimes they find themselves unable to follow the rules of Communion;
- forbearance. The Holy Spirit remains in loving fellowship with believers even when they overstep the boundaries of the Spirit's guidance. As the church seeks its way in a new context, members may need to pray for an attitude of forbearance toward those who occasionally overstep the boundaries of tradition.
Here are some ways that fresh expressions have been celebrating communion
Creating a picnic atmosphere
The Bridge, a Methodist community church run by a lay leader has increased its communion services from once to four times a year.
On one occasion they created a picnic atmosphere and re-enacted the feeding of the 5,000, with communion as part of this. By using resources from the wider church, members are working out how to be a lay-led eucharistic community.
An 'Alpha' congregation
Heyford Chapel, a Church of England church plant run by a lay Church Army officer attracted a number of seekers to an Alpha course. When the group continued meeting after the course, they began to discuss 'what church means' and to consider the place of communion. Now they are finding ways to remember the Lord's Supper, even where no priest is present.
A 'café eucharist'
A 'eucharistic parish' on the Sussex/Kent border celebrates communion even in services designed for non-churchgoers. Concentrating on simple formats, St Thomas the Apostle, Groombridge, allows schoolchildren and adults alike to experience the Christian tradition of breaking bread in ways that enable all to participate. A 'café eucharist', for example, is included in a breakfast.
Different styles in the same morning
When a north London Church of England church decided to change its pattern of Sunday services from three traditional acts of worship to a five-hour open house, its purpose was to make church as friendly as possible to both stalwarts and newcomers. Attendance has jumped by 15%. Now communion happens three times throughout the morning at Come and Go, each in a very different style.
How can we preserve theological orthodoxy?
Some pioneers find that exploring new forms of church goes hand-in-hand with re-examining their theological assumptions. The two feed off each other, influencing how they view and relate to God. This can make other Christians nervous: 'Will they overstep the boundaries?'; 'Might they bring the church into disrepute?'
Christian truths need to be re-expressed by each generation to fit the cultural context.
But distinguishing between a re-expression of truth, a re-interpretation of truth and a regression away from truth is not always easy, and Christians frequently disagree.
In practice, theological orthodoxy can best be protected if the venture is led by someone in whom the wider church has confidence and if the pioneer remains in fellowship with the church's leaders in a context of mutual support.
Accountability is vital
Leaders of a fresh expression need to be able to hold their local church or denomination to account for providing adequate training and other support, while the church or denomination needs to ensure that the leaders keep within acceptable theological bounds.
Wrong views about God can not only affect a relationship with him, but damage relationships with other Christians and distort the gospel being offered to other people. So, without being over-prescriptive, safeguarding truth is important for the IN, OF and OUT aspects of church, as well as UP.
For more on this, see 'Should we celebrate theological diversity?' in God affirms cultural diversity.