What is a Fresh Expression of (Anglican) Church?

When people hear I’m planting an Anglican church, they either imagine the form of Anglicanism most familiar to them being transplanted into a new community, or they imagine something quite opposite, designed to be as unAnglican, or unChristian as possible. It’s all the more complicated when planting with a historic denomination and all its complicated history. One person with little appreciation for Anglicanism asked me this week – are you planting a church, or an Anglican church?

In fact, my aim is to plant a fresh expression of church, for young commuting families in Ajax. Not a copy of an older expression of church, or an anti-church, but a fresh way of living out something quite old – simply being church in a new culture and context.

Are you planting a church?

I was recently given a copy of an Encounters on the Edge booklet that had some great material. It was their 50th booklet in the series, looking back at how fresh expressions of church have developed in the time spanned by the booklet series.

The most valuable material was the section describing what can be legitimately called a fresh expression of church. I have always referred to this definition, myself:

A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.

  • It will come into being through principles of listening, service, contextual mission and making disciples.
  • It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.

Source: Share the Guide

It’s an intentionally charitable definition, which is both a good thing, and a bad thing. It’s good, in that it creates space for creativity within important constraints. It’s not so good, in that I’ve found people freely using “fresh expression” to describe all sorts of things that don’t make sense.

What I found helpful in this new booklet was the list of criteria the Sheffield Centre use to identify what to list in their database of Anglican fresh expressions. They are:

  1. Was something Christian brought to birth that was new and further, rather than an existing group modified?
  2. The starting group tried to engage with non-churchgoers.
  3. Does the resultant community meet at least once a month?
  4. Is there a name that gives an identity?
  5. Is there intention to be Church?
  6. Is it intended to be Anglican, or there is an Anglican partner in an LEP Local Ecumenical Partnership?
  7. There is some form of leadership recognised within, and also without.
  8. At least the majority of members (who are part of the public gathering) see it as their major expression of being church.
  9. There is aspiration for the four classic ‘marks’ or ecclesial relationships: up (holy) in (one) out (apostolic), of (catholicity).
  10. There is intent to become three-self: self-financing, self-governing and reproducing

Source: A Golden Opportunity

I think this resonates because they match my experience of planting reconnect. We intuitively began with, and remained committed to all these principles in one form or another from Day 1, even when they were misunderstood or challenged. I’ve never seen them articulated in one place like this, but this describes exactly what we were going for, so it’s affirming!

Are you planting an Anglican Church?

The author elaborates on each point, so it’s hardly fair to just list them here. I’d encourage you to buy the booklet! But I particularly appreciated a few points on Anglicanism, Under #6.

By Anglican, we mean the bishop thinks it is part of the family, not whether it uses only centrally agreed texts, or has legal territory. We know there are genuine fresh expressions of Church in many denominations. Our work deals only with Anglican examples.

Source: A Golden Opportunity

That’s really helpful! It’s easy to mistake Anglicanism for a liturgical text, form, music, buildings, theological fads, traditions, etc. It fits with my Archbishop’s use of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral when asked “What makes a church Anglican?”. The four points of the quadrilateral are:

  1. The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation;
  2. The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), as the sufficient statement of Christian faith;
  3. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
  4. The historic episcopate, locally adapted.
The fourth point relates to my booklet’s assertion that something is Anglican if it’s recognized by a Bishop as being part of the Anglican family. Nothing about liturgical style, texts, theological fads, etc.  This point about the episcopate seems to be the only point that distinguishes Anglicanism from other denominations – the other three points simply make it a Christian church!
As you can see – there is a lot of space for fresh expressions of church, articulated in these definitions, and soon to be lived out in a new church in Ajax!