Margins to mainstream

Wednesday, 16 December, 2015

Phil Potter confesses to a measure of mischief.

I arrived home the other day to find my wife making Christmas puddings with our young grandchildren. Imagine all the gooey sticky ingredients liberally splattered in places other than the mixing bowl and you begin to get the picture. The true picture, however, was expressed by my wife, who jubilantly said, 'this is what family is all about; loads of love and loads of mess!' Immediately of course it was very easy to apply that image to the family of the Church - as well as the wider family of the fresh expressions movement that so many of us have come to love.

'Loads of love and loads of mess' might also have been the subtitle for the Anglican Fresh Expressions Conference we recently held. We deliberately wanted to reflect thankfully on the progress that has been made within our own denomination since the initiative began, whilst engaging intentionally with the complexity (and messiness) of the landscape we have created for ourselves. The institution has long adopted the phrase 'mixed economy' to describe it, and I have to confess to a measure of mischief in choosing the conference title 'Margins to Mainstream'.

In simple terms, the title summarised our hope that the Church has now moved on in its thinking from allowing and encouraging fresh expressions to happen, to more intentionally building strategies that develop and embed them for the long term in a mixed economy of Church. Not surprisingly, however, it also provoked a range of lively responses that summarised many of the issues we now wrestle with, like:

  • The Church should be moving to the margins, not the other way around.
  • Margins are the new mainstream anyway as mainstream becomes more marginal!
  • Who decides which is which anyway? Who holds the power?
  • Where would Jesus be?

As we gathered together, I was more struck than ever that if Jesus wants his Church to reach absolutely all 'by all means', then no wonder he is moving afresh in the hearts of everyone from the bishops to the barely babes in Christ to equip us afresh for the task.

That sentiment was captured powerfully by the very gifted young poet, Harry Baker, who took all the questions, thoughts and responses to the conference title, and led us in the following reflection and blessing:

Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins
Mainstream to Margins, Margins to Mainstream

Can you hear me?
Lean a little closer.
Let's talk!
Would you like a cup of tea?
We need you and we want you.
Wish you were here!

Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins
Mainstream to Margins, Margins to Mainstream

I Inhabit both and I don't feel at home in either
One person's margin is another person's mainstream
One person's edge is another person's centre.
Some of us were made to be edge-dwellers
We are all on the margins of something
Let us do our thing
We are so very much more than a label.
There's enough God for everyone
Come inside and learn from previous mistakes.
Come outside and learn from something new.

Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins
Mainstream to Margins, Margins to Mainstream

May we be open to embrace other people’s margins
May we be open to embrace them into our mainstream
Some of us were made to be edge-dwellers
Some of us are at home in the centre.
Margins to Mainstream, Mainstream to Margins
May we be open to conversation between the two

Thanks Harry. I think this is a great blessing to end 2015 with, and the best possible prayer for the fresh expressions movement in the year ahead.

About the author: 

Phil Potter is Archibishops' Missioner and Fresh Expressions Team Leader.

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