On Saturday I attended a conference in Dublin, titled FXC, or Future Expressions of Church which was an initiative of the Church of Ireland & Methodist Covenant Council. It was a fairly sizable gathering of clergy and lay people from all over Ireland seeking a way forward in new expressions of church life.
I’ve participated in any number of these conversations over the years, but this was the first one that was called by the mainline denominations. So it is to be applauded as a very useful first step.
A number of things were noticeable. Firstly, there were no clear definitions with which to begin the day. As a result there was a confusion about what was a fresh expression of mission in the church, and what was a fresh model of church. In most cases highlighted the initiatives were simply alternative evangelistic efforts, some of which were barely disguised socialisation techniques designed to prepare those who are currently outside the established order for entry into the ‘way we do things around here’.
Secondly when this issue was raised the content of the conversation revealed a very inadequate ecclesiology. ‘Creating a safe space for sharing‘ can be done by the knitting circle, but it’s not church. I recall my systematics professor speaking of the proclamation of the gospel, administration of sacraments and exercise of discipline.
Thirdly, it seems to me that even in this event there was an issue of power. (A local bishop, who is innovative in many ways, chaired a panel discussion and asked all the questions. mmmm!) Can the established congregation give itself permission not to have a say in the outcomes of any new expression? Not sure. Many churches struggle with relinquishing power over content, outcomes and outputs.
Nevertheless, despite these reservations I think the mere existence of a conference like this is significant. It made for a good start, and I look forward to how it develops.