Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fresh revelations?

Living in Westminster College and being surrounded by so many beautiful churches and choices of every style of worship possible, every day of the week, almost feels like living in an era of Christendom. “Why are there so many castles?” my 13 year old son Blake asked on our first walk through the beautiful ancient city. The many magnificent churches with their tall spires could be construed as “castles” built to glorify the king of kings.

Being raised in the Anglican tradition means we have really enjoyed evensong at King’s College and Trinity College. Today we are going to listen to the St John’s College Choir singing from the chapel tower to celebrate the Ascension of Jesus.

But also of real interest to me is new ways churches are seeking to engage with the ‘non-churched’ or ‘de-churched’ comprising 90% of the population in this and our country.

Last night I attended “On the edge” a “Eucharist service with a difference, using contemporary secular music to bring edgy subjects together with Christian worship.” It’s evolved from its beginnings as the "Goth Eucharist" and claims to be “for people who are on the edge of church, and often on the edge of society too, people whose lives are often difficult and edgy. We can all feel like that sometimes.”
Next week I’m going to "Thirst", a cafĂ© church run in a local school for parents (and others) wanting to explore Christianity in a non-threatening way. And then we’re off to a “pub church”.

I’ve been following the Fresh Expressions movement for years. (“Fresh because there are no new ways of being church” says Pioneer Mission Training tutor Rev Dave Male.) I’ve read the books and reports, attended conferences and watched all the videos, so it’s great to be in the land of Fresh Expressions and experience some of these firsthand.

Messy Church is probably the most widely known Fresh Expression of church due to founder Lucy Moore sharing her experience and resources through books, websites, DVD’s and training workshops. It is estimated there are now over 1200 Messy Churches operating in the UK, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

This week I have been reading an interesting doctoral thesis “Messy Church: growing missional connections through multigenerational worship and learning” by Rev Judy Paulsen, priest of Christ Memorial Church of Oshawa, Canada.

Judy was interested in seeing whether this new form of church could enable an established parish to reach de-churched and non-churched people.

“The (Fresh Expressions) movement as a whole, and Messy Church as one of its forms, is still in a dynamic phase of growth and change” says Paulsen, “serious research on the actual praxis of Messy Church and the effect it has as a new form of evangelism, discipleship training, and worship is needed.”

Her doctoral thesis includes qualitative and quantitative research from interviews conducted with 17 families all who had attended Messy Church regularly for 6 or more months. It makes for an interesting read and not surprisingly the overwhelming results reflect what so much other research shows, namely the power and importance of parents to influence a child’s faith. What is surprising, is the interest parents expressed (even non-churched parents) in learning to do this in a community of faith.

“In a highly secularized society, children receive little in the way of religious instruction, and employment and recreational demands on Sundays can be expected to further erode attendance at either Sunday worship or Sunday school. In this context, it will be essential for the Church to equip and support parents as the primary Christian educators of children. By teaching parents about this key role and supporting them with helpful resources, the Church will have a much better chance of encouraging the passing on of the Christian faith to new generations.”

Messy Church creates opportunities for adults and children to explore Christian faith together. A key attraction for the participants. Paulsen’s research also revealed the important role of grandparents in influencing their grandchildren’s faith.

Our churches are full of grandparents, grieving the fact that their children have left the church and that their grandchildren are “non-churched” (i.e. have no understanding or knowledge of the Christian story.)

Grandparents make up 30% of the Christ Church Messy Church congregation and this new form of church encourages and facilitates them to share their faith with their non-churched grandchildren.

Says one grandmother: “you know . . . going with the kids and being a part of something like that . . . that’s meaningful to me . . . and them being a part of it . . . there are some days I think [laughs] . . . , now why am I going here, these kids have parents [laughs] . . . but I do.”

As I say to the many grandparents in our churches. You’re never too old to make a difference!

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