#breakout – Day 2: what I didn’t want to hear!

22 09 2011

Day 2 of Breakout has been good but I’m beginning to feel a little conference fatigue! If you want a fuller set of notes about what Johnny Baker has been saying then visit Andrew Dunlop’s blog here. I haven’t taken any notes (because I don’t do that kind of thing) and unfortunately, my mind has been taken up with an awkward undercurrent of thought:

You know when you think you’re on a trajectory and you feel comfortable and at peace with the direction and speed of that journey?

Then you hear something that sits uncomfortably with that trajectory?

And then you hear someone else say it (and there is no way that they could have conspired)?

And then another?

And you start to wonder is this some cosmic mind? Or just the trending conversation?

And then you think ‘well even if it’s the trending conversation’ and nothing to do with a greater force – surely I need to take it seriously’.

Well that’s kind of happened to me!

As regular readers know, I have struggled with the idea that the inherited church (which for me is The Methodist Church of Great Britain) has released a few pet pioneers into the world and told them to be brave risk takers only then to tell them that if, in the end, it doesn’t look and smell like a Methodist Church it ain’t a church! or at best if it doesn’t look and smell like what they say a church should look and smell like – then it isn’t a church!’

And I’ve struggled with the inequity of theological discourse where inherited models of church have chosen both the model and the place of theology (which, as a colleague pointed out to me, is how you win battles!) and so, I felt that what pioneer ministry must do, and what would be the end result of this process was the birthing of something new, something that would not be Methodist.

But! Throughout the Breakout Gathering I have been hearing a new song, at first I thought it was the Anglican’s who just weren’t radical enough (which might well be true), but then I started to hear it in other places too, and it started to resonate with my growing understanding of who I am and what I am called to do. And then Jonny Baker went and said it from the platform! Cheers Jonny!!! I’m paraphrasing but he specifically mentioned Venture FX and said something like: ‘I’m impressed with the Venture FX stuff in the Methodist Church, but you pioneer’s are only loosely attached to the church and if you want to make a real difference you have to refound the church from the heart!’ he was speaking in the context of dissenters (read Andrew Dunlop’s blog post).

That’s not what I wanted to hear! I wanted the project to becoming self sustaining as soon as possible and then, if necessary we could grow independently of The Methodist Church. Don’t get me wrong here – this isn’t empire building! My hope was, and still is, for a small missional community that does not necessarily grow in size but has a massive transformational impact in local communities and on people’s lives.

So now, it looks like our little missional community in Stoke is taking off (more on that soon) and I am a member of Methodist Council and other connexional committees/groups and I’ve been elected to conference 2012 and I have been appointed a tutor with a specialism in mission, evangelism, church and culture.

And it got me thinking …

Maybe this missional community doesn’t just jettison itself off in a different direction? Maybe it becomes the place that supports me and funds my imagination as I, alongside others at the heart of Methodism, seek to reclaim and refashion the narrative that is Methodism?

If that’s true then this is going to be messy – because it isn’t simply about rolling over and adopting the status quo, it’s about becoming dissenters at the heart of the community. It means me, along with other pioneers and dissenters will pick the place and mode of theology. Our practice will credit our theology bank and our vindication won’t be because the permission givers have said Yes! But rather in the very act of our performative truth claims (in other words – what we do will tell people who we are – not a carefully crafted Church Document that everyone can sign up to).

Is this the divine trajectory for pioneer ministers? Venture FX? me?

I’m hoping not …

But I can’t stop hearing it …

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11 responses

22 09 2011
Edward Green (@EdwardBGreen)

I think this is the path that those of us in the sacramental traditions are already taking. Of course there are certain aspects of Inherited Church that we consider essential to authentic Christianity that other ‘pioneers’ may not.

Along with the original vision of Fresh Expressions I tend to see renewal of the existing and new forms of church as essentially linked. http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/?e=39

Of course coming from a New Church background when I did discover sacramental parish Anglicanism it was a radical new form of church … whereas some new forms of church look suspiciously like the inherited model I had left behind. Hence Paleo-Emergent – http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/?e=48

Exciting times!

22 09 2011
elaine

Very interesting. I had a similar experience about 3 years ago when I considered applying to Venture FX. After an out of the blue conversation with some people I trusted very much, I had a 6 month tussle with God…I wanted to move nearer to the edge…others were telling me change happens from the centre. Since then, God has given me a love for Methodism that I’ve never had before. And a belief that we should not fizzle out but rediscover who we are, not as a denomination but as a missionary movement. Love to talk with you more about this sometime.
Blessings from a fellow dissenter

22 09 2011
noahsapprentice

Thanks for sharing this. I have really been struggling with my dislike for the current form of the CofE and yet what I believe to be a call to ordination. I have been round in circles thinking about pioneering or not and then asking questions like why they haven’t just implanted pioneer teaching into the core of Anglicanism. My guess is that we don’t like this new trajectory as we think it may stifle our creativity but I too feel like I may need to take the tougher road and be a dissenter on the inside of the system. Bless you as you continue to battle with these ideas.

James

22 09 2011
Edward Green (@EdwardBGreen)

All Anglicans feel like Dissenters on the inside of the System. That is because the CofE is run by Liberals / Evangelicals / Catholics (delete as appropriate!)

22 09 2011
Pete Phillips (@pmphillips)

Interesting read. But you need to be careful not to make yourself in the image of those you oppose. This sounds at times like a land grab. We mustn’t let pioneers be characterised as arrogant pioneers who think they have all the answers and are the only gifts God is giving to Methodism.

FutureMethodism must be a mixed economy where inherited and pioneer work together in the rainbow people of God. It isn’t a battle where pioneers have to take over the centre and be vindicated. It’s about us all sharing together in the mission of God and giving one another the space and time to be heard and to speak.

Pioneers, and I’d include both Venture FX and the Diaconate, have loud and clear voices in the courts of the Church – much louder than your average inherited mode Methodist – you have the General Secretary, the Reds n Greens, the Diaconal Order, the training institutions cooing after you. You have the power and clout. The chapels and suburban churches, the northern congregations who don’t get funky poststructuralism have little voice and little say in the politics of the Methodist Church.

Dissenting isn’t a battleground. It’s about dissenting from a society which says God doesn’t exist; a society bent on greed and what I can get out of life; dissenting against poverty and injustice. Dissenting should surely not be about internal squabbles within the church while the rest of society goes to hell in a handbag. Surely that’s what we all need to be doing together not setting up unreal points of conflict within the body.

Of course, I’m going to end up being deemed as part of the inherited mode of church imposing my thought structures on the church and not allowing the great Reformation which God is calling us to. That’s not the case. I want there to be space for pioneer and inherited modes. I want there to be space for innovative new congregations to be supported by secure older congregations. I want us to be a church centred on mission to those who need Christ most. I want the church to work together regardless of how missional and funky we are. I believe we can all work together.

22 09 2011
Edward Green (@EdwardBGreen)

Very wise words Pete.

Very much the same in the CofE.

22 09 2011
jona

I kind of agree with Pete but also want to disagree. Yes, we need to dissent against all that’s wrong in society and speak out against injustice. But alongside that there are some of us who feel the Methodist Church needs to be reshaped and changed in a significant way. Maybe dissent is too strong a word (but its been the language of the gathering) but the Church shouldn’t be afraid of internal disagreement, questioning and discussion. Surely part of the prophetic voice is to question and even challenge the status quo. If we all have to fall in line without the space and freedom to question and explore then surely that’s more negative and detrimental to the long term future of the Church than healthy internal space for disagreement, questioning and exploration.

22 09 2011
alison parkef

Thanks for this post. i came to it feeling jealous…those paid fxpioneers get to go to a conference i knew nothing about, as i juggle work, home, staying linked to inherited church (ch council tonight) and setting off on some new kind of ‘church‘ leadership (after 12 months of discernment and a lifetime of a god-feeling-hunch, this new thing ‘starts‘ tomorrow with a meal at mine). But i read in your blog that you feel a pull to remain. i need you to remain, i need to better connect with your mission and you with mine. pioneer ministry is becoming mainstream, i know, i am mainstream! And when i speak about my vision which is becoming real, people say “oooh pioneer!“ and i am now saying “maybe but its my normal and i am mainstream“.
I am writing this rambling message from my frustratingly crap phone to let you know that there are some of us out here in the wilds of lancashire and embedded within methodism who need the so-called pioneer work not only to remain within, but to reach out to more of us.
if i had been “in“ i might ve been able to attend the conference, but im not, so the only connection (well chosen word and spelling pondered over) i have is twitter and links to blogs! Now that is connexionalism (change of spelling) not serving me well.
thank you for being a pioneerfx geezer, thank you for attending this fab sounding conference, and thank you for speaking out from it it to wider methodism, you guys are the only link between the 2 worlds.
At risk off pissing the religious off… i am worthy the gather the crumbs from under the table of pioneer ministry, but also i thank god for the feasts god provides directly.

23 09 2011
Will Cookson

In my diocese, we don’t “do” Pioneer ministry – when the CofE introduced them Southwark has said it doesn’t want them. In effect, though, these moves of God seep out. In my diocese where that call has been suppressed you can have two choices. Go outside the structure (one group has), the other is to stay inside and refuse to through the toys out of the pram (the route I have taken). The group that went outside seems to be in permanent warfare with the CofE and the diocese (even though the new Bishop really isn’t after a fight).

With the route I have taken I am getting more and more acceptance of our position. We are being asked by more and more parishes around us to help and encourage. We have planted a congregation in a liberal catholic parish nearby (at their request!) and another is asking me how they can use a circus tent for mission!! It takes time BUT God has been so faithful. We had to wait a long time but the doors are opening so much more cleanly and with so much more good will than if I had just ploughed on (even got Rowan Williams coming for our anniversary).

If our church is God’s then I don’t think that I have a right to walk away – we may be forced – but too many seem to me to not depend on God to open the doors and seem to be about power and control and fantasy (putting ourselves as warriors fighting the odds or similar).

It sounds, to me, that you are pushing at an open door. Enjoy it, it can be great fun to see all that God might do with you and your group.

23 09 2011
gill

Yep – interesting stuff. I’m with pioneering ideas as long as the ideas themselves don’t take the place of God (and I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here by the way:) And, I believe, restoring God’s heart to the church is happening in pockets because there are people in existing churches who are constantly pushing at the door of the hearts of others, and the ‘establishment’, to open them up to a fresh experience of who God is and helping them to have a renewed vision of Kingdom living – of being the people God created us to be.

27 09 2011
SuseFish

This post has caught my interest too. I’d assumed that SofaChurch would be the way God intended me to be involved with church stuff in the future, but I’ve recently felt called to train to be a Local Preacher. I’ve been left wondering if mainstream church is what He has plans for after all.

Will be following your thoughts on this one, Si.

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