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Mission-shaped Church: Report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council

Tuesday 9th February 2010

A contribution from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at the General Synod, London. In his contribution to this debate, the Archbishop underlined the need to work creatively together in partnership, to readdress Church funding and to have patience in building new congregations and networks.

Read a transcript of the Archbishop's speech below, or click download on the right to listen [5Mb]

I want to make three points about the motion and about the whole area which we're discussing. And the first is to pick up on what Dr Giddings has just said so importantly in his introduction by stressing the words 'working in partnership' in Item A of the motion.

The mixed economy takes both elements seriously, both traditional forms of church and emerging forms of church, and I think it's very important that we don't nurture any illusion that there is only one really important bit of this. Needs are different in different contexts, and to say that partnership is the most promising mission strategy at the moment is to take both elements in the partnership seriously. It's tempting and easy to talk about 'the cutting edge' being in Fresh Expressions. The 'cutting edge', of course, is wherever people are brought into living relationship with Jesus Christ and when we think about how partnership best works, we must surely realise that it's when both elements are taking each other seriously and gratefully and interacting with each other. And I say that simply as a reminder to some who perhaps too readily either think that Fresh Expressions is everything, or on the other side who feel perhaps patronised or marginalised by the enthusiastic language about what's new. Working together creatively in partnership is indeed the most promising mission strategy.

That being said, secondly, I want to underline the fact about the history and development of the follow-up of Mission-shaped Church and of Fresh Expressions. For the first few years of the life of Fresh Expressions initiative, we depended very, very heavily on the generosity of private donors whose contribution to this deserves to be recorded and acknowledged publicly - it's been a wonderfully inspiringly generous history of support. But, the Commissioners and the Archbishops' Council are now (so to speak) mainstreaming this and that's one reason why it's time for the Synod to look at the whole question again and be aware that after that first phase of heavy dependence on donors, we're now asking the Church once again to own this as something absolutely part of its own lifeblood - and that's, if you like, to readdress the balance of what I said first: yes, it's important not to forget the traditional, but we're asking that partnership be mainstream in the next phase of the work that Fresh Expressions does and all those involved with it. So I want to thank the Commissioners and the Archbishops' Council also for the enthusiasm with which they have picked up this particular initiative and want to go on supporting it.

The third and last point I want to make in connection with this debate is that a great deal of the work of building new congregations, building new networks, the Fresh Expressions Agenda, is deeply counter-cultural – not only in planting Christian Churches which, as you've heard is just a tiny bit counter-cultural these days given the statistics we've heard – it's also counter-cultural in terms of the patience and discernment that it requires. There are no quick fixes in Mission. We have to be patient, we have to allow initiatives to develop at their own pace and sometimes that means patience with trial and error. Once again, easy enough to think that if you take these particular tablets then you will develop muscles overnight. What happens in the world of Fresh Expressions is very often risky, adventurous and vulnerable, (and all that is very good because it is entirely biblical), but it does mean that you won't immediately see the results that you might fantasise about. So, patience and discernment in a rushed results-obsessed culture is actually a good counter-cultural mark to put down and I hope that in backing this motion with all the enthusiasm I hope you will give to it, you will also be aware of that element of commitment to being alongside enterprises that need your patience and need your understanding and discernment in that vulnerability - that riskiness which belongs to the sharing of the Gospel in new contexts.

© Rowan Williams 2010 

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