I have been thinking a lot about story over the last few weeks, this started a while ago as I read the various stories that can be found on the fresh expressions web site http://www.
When I think about terms like fresh expressions and emergent church it makes me ask questions about 'conventional church'. Do these new examples mean that church as we have known it has little or no place in our present and future
reality? Does it mean that we've 'thrown the baby out with the bath water'? There seems to be discussion after discussion, question after question about how fresh/emergent church sits alongside 'conventional church'. There are certainly issues around about funding new ventures which could be seen to be threatening to 'conventional church'.
By no means do I want to find ourselves with just the new and fresh ways of being church as I believe there is still a huge and significant role for conventional church to play as we move forward and the stories that these churches tell are significant and must not be lost.
Certainly it seems to me that how we engage with story is significant and this is clearly being reflected upon in some of the ways that many of the pioneer ministers that I have met are working, grounding there projects in sub cultures, music and art, all of which seem to have a root in the idea of story.
I think that it's going to be important as the church learns to engage with the world that we listen to the stories of our communities and that we reflect on how we understand our own story of how God has worked in us. I wonder if we need to learn to create spaces and go to places to listen to communities and individuals to see where God's story is visible.
I heard Rev Dr Barbara Glasson speak at Greenbelt. She has listened to the stories of those around her and then begun to create spaces for stories to be shared and experienced. Here is her story from the bread church http://www.
freshexpressions.org.uk/ stories/somewhereelse .
Rev Glasson talked through some of her book 'The Exuberant Church - Listening to the Prophetic People of God'. In it she shares her thoughts about how the church needs to 'come out'. She talked about her experience of working along side someone 'coming out' as being gay. She shared that in the first instance as they meet other people they think this person is one thing and they decide to try to live in that reality for a while, but they find that over time they can no longer live in that way. As the person learns to come to terms with who they are and they realise they can no longer live with the perception that others put upon them or that they put on themselves; they then come out and so their true identity is found and they then become their unique selves. After witnessing a close Christian friend coming out as being gay I can see how that works... I believe that he is now truly himself...
Another example is reading the story of Sir Ian McKellen, he talks candidly about his experience of coming out in an interview with Michael Parkinson (found in Parky's People) he says this: 'It changes you so utterly inside. I wasn't aware of the millstone that had dropped, but it freed up my emotions enormously in life, and blow me, it freed up my emotions on stage and film. I find I can cry now. I never could cry before, when the part called for it. Everything started flowing properly. I became a normal person at last. You find this odd because you've been a normal person all your life. I wasn't allowed to be a normal. Now i feel i've joined the human race, and its wonderful'.
And so thinking this through a bit I wonder what it looks like for the church to 'come out'? To be free and be able to be its true self.
I wonder what stories will be told as we learn to come out? I wonder what elements of our past stories we will hold on to and what we will drop?
If the church is emerging, or being fresh or even coming out can we take hold of the stories from our past and our future... can we see how these stories connect with the world around us and see where the gospel connects?
How and where is Gods story being told today?