Ben Edson shares the story of always-incomplete community building with Sanctus 1 in Manchester.
I recently gave a presentation to some Australian visitors about Sanctus1. When it came to the time for questions one of them asked: 'How do you manage so much change?' I hadn’t realised that we had been through so much change, but now as I look back on seven years of Sanctus1 I realise that change is part of our narrative.
We have moved from a Cathedral to a parish church and now moved again to an arts café. We have seen the community grow from four to fifty; then from fifty to twenty and currently from twenty back to fifty. We have experimented with mid-week groups, small groups, groups on Sundays and no groups. We have been involved in running club nights, in mind body spirit fayres, in art exhibitions and a night café. Change is part of our story.
And perhaps, it is this sense of change that sustains us. Sanctus1 has been established for longer than many fresh expressions of church and it seems that as soon as the change stops we being to go stale. Fluidity is kinetic and change involves movement. If a fresh expression is to remain fresh it must keep moving, keep changing, keep evolving.
Each new person that comes to Sanctus1 changes the community; their unique presence brings a new dynamic, a new set of experiences and new areas of wisdom. This 'openness to the wisdom of the new' means that the old is permanently being refreshed.
As I have continued to reflect on the question posed by our Antipodean visitors I have realised that Sanctus1 is always provisional and will always be journeying towards being church. This is particularly emphasised by our geographic location in the City centre of Manchester, and the demographic of this people group, but it is also an ecclesiological stance that says we will never fully arrive. It seems when we think that we have arrived we discover that we are further away than we thought and that we have simply taken one step on our journey.
This context of provisionality raises many questions regarding future vision and planning. How can you have a plan for the future if the present is always provisional? Provisionality can be an empowering place to be, it means that present certainty does not define future dreams, but that future dreams define an uncertain present. An uncertain present creates space for creative thinking and action as we realise that the dreams for the future are, in fact, the dreams of today.
However, within this positive stance to provisionality how do we ensure that the story of Sanctus1 is carried into the future? One way that we think this has been achieved has been through the defining of our values.
The values need to remain provisional so that each person who comes to Sanctus1 feels that they can influence them so that they reflect the current community. Further evidence of our desire to carry the story of Sanctus1 forward is our desire to be structurally recognised through a Bishop's Mission Order, (BMO). A BMO has provisionality built into it – initially a BMO is for five years with the maximum time being ten years – structured provisionality. A certain short-term future and a positive stance to provisionality means that the present becomes an opportunity for missional engagement and connectivity with Christ.
Within this culture of provisionality the story-tellers and the story-carriers become very important as people who carry the narrative of Sanctus1 with them so that when the future is planned it remains consistent with the story of the past. It is often the case that the leader of a community becomes the central story-teller, however a less dependent and mores sustainable way is for the community to become a story-telling community.
When a community shares and lives the story they then they will go on to write the story, to start a new sentence and dream the next chapter. This has happened within Sanctus1 by the leadership being shared between a team of up to five people, with that team being a mix of clergy and laity; male and female. This team aims to be fluid enabling people to commit to it for an appropriate time-period rather than indefinitely. The story-tellers of Sanctus1 are then not only the leadership team but everyone involved in living the story of the community and serving the city centre of Manchester. To carry the story means to carry the centrality of word and sacrament, the affirmative yet critical approach to contemporary culture and mission as being central to our existence. There is of course a provisionality to this all, knowing that we are still journeying, still incomplete, still trying, still becoming church...