The Rev'd Dr Bruce Kaye is a Professorial Associate in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of History at UNSW. He is formerly the General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia (1994-2004) and is the author of Introduction to World Anglicanism (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Conflict and the Practice of Christian Faith: The Anglican Experiment (Cascade Books, 2009). He recently offered a reflection on “Fresh Expressions” within the CofE in conversation with a relatively new book, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions. Some of you will recall that Steve Taylor has begun a review of the sale book.
For me, Kaye highlights for me a few points, which are important in the ongoing conversation around what I believe is a false polemic between “parish” versus “fresh expression”.
- Davison and Millbank focus in on the belief that these “affinity groups” “cannot express the full range of human experience in the host society or in the church, and that would be a loss.” I’d agree (to a point), both about the limitation of “affinity groups” to represent the full range of human experiences in the wider culture (how do we become more fully human without this wider engagement with human experience and perspective?). That said, is the full range of human experiences expressed in, for example, a traditional “monastic context” and does this ultimately stunt human growth and development? And, perhaps more pointedly are typical parish churches (as represented by their Sunday gatherings versus the wider geographical community they are a part of)) anything other than “affinity” or homogeneous groupings? Do they reflect the diversity and richness of their wider communities? Do they, and indeed, are they willing to make space, to be hospitable, or do they in fact give expression to the same reality that is critiqued in “fresh expression” affinity groups? That said, I think Kaye is right when below he writes: “…Even granting this, the territorial parish does provide the possibility of encompassing the differences that exist within its territory in a way which is simply not possible for congregations created on the basis of extraneous social interests or connections…[Kaye]”
- Theologically too, are typical parishes – in reality – actually taking seriously, for example, the incarnation and its implications for both mission and worship (some of my concerns are given expression in this recent post by Jonny Baker).
- I agree with Kaye, but am again not convinced that typical parishes do this any better; “…Davison and Milbank point in the right direction when they draw a link between liturgy and ethics, since it is the presence and growth of the virtues that will be one of the fruits of church…[Kaye]” (A whole lot of theological reflection swirls around me at this point, not least as that is given expression by the likes of Daniel Hardy, Stanley Hauerwas (for a good overview see Living Holiness: Stanley Hauerwas and the Church by John B. Thomson), James Davison Hunter, William Cavanaugh, Nicholas Lash, Luke Bretherton, Sarah Coakley et al)
- Kaye reflects “Davison and Milbank also see in the Fresh Expressions movement a flight from tradition, by which they do not mean the habits of social activity that have been recently created and nurtured in popular memory. Rather, they are referring to the sense that this generation lives on the given reality of the practices and faith of previous generations, and which this generation will in turn pass on to the next…” Again, an important point which for me orbits around questions of ecclesiology, mission, spiritual formation & discipleship, and the relationship (expressed in practical ways, shared practices, theological reflection, values and virtues etc) between a congregation and the tradition(s) or the soil it is rooted in. Traditional parish congregations aren’t immune from a “flight from tradition” and indeed, scratch below the surface of a good many and there is often a remarkable lack of living connection with the tradition and the rich resources of both a specific tradition (e.g. Anglicanism – albeit this too is a diverse field over which to traverse) and the wider Christian traditions – both East and West. For example, think of the absence in many Anglican congregations of the contemplative and the mystical streams; or in many, the Charismatic or Spirit tradition, and the spirituality of the Monastic tradition. To underline the point, the question John Drane poses as the title of his book – Do Christians Know How to Be Spiritual? – gets at a much-neglected stream in many local church contexts. While interestingly many so-called “fresh expressions” are deeply rooting themselves in the Church’s so-called “spirituality” and monastic / mendicant traditions; as well as the intertwined political / social-action / ecological dimensions of a Jesus-following life.
Lots more can and has been said on the complex questions of everyday practical theology (cf. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Cultural Trends; Let’s Do Theology: Resources for Contextual Theology by Laurie Green); ecclesiology (cf. The Hybrid Church in the City: Third Space Thinking by Christopher Baker, Rooted in Jesus Christ: Towards a Radical Ecclesiology by Daniel Izuzquiza); liturgy (cf. James K A. Smith Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation or the work of Johann Baptist Metz, and Alexander Schmemann) and the ways in which these questions need to be considered as part of a missiology (cf. Participation and Mediation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church by Pete Ward, Missional Church edited by Darrell Guder, The Church Between Gospel and Culture edited by George Hunsberger & Craig Van Gelder, Missional Map-Making by Alan J. Roxburgh, The Witness of God by John G. Flett, and The Out of Bounds Church? (Now on Kindle) By Steve Taylor) that sees God at work in the world by and through the Spirit.
You can read Kaye’s full reflection / ‘review’ here.