Tag Archives: Fresh Expressions

Stories of celebration and struggle

Braunfels

Yesterday was a day of contrasts at the Extended Cabinets meeting of the European Methodist churches here in Braunfels, Germany (pictured above).

We three Brits presented our Fresh Expressions material, which generated a remarkable number of conversations over meals and in snatched conversations. In truth, we’d been talking to people since we arrived on Sunday because the level of curiosity is really high about how to answer decline in inherited church. But of course the position in a number of countries is so different to Britain (more on that later).

In the afternoon I got my first bit of fresh air in more than 48 hours as most of us walked into Braunfels, the small town where the German Methodist church owns the retreat centre we are staying in. The chapel in the centre is also the town’s Methodist Church so we were juggling our use with a youth group last night.

Stephen_stocks

  • Pictured: a Fresh Expression of outreach? Fresh Expressions missioner Stephen Lindridge in the stock at Schloss Braunfels

The walk was another chance to talk to people about their life as pastors. In many ways we share the same dreams: to see a confident Methodism reaching out as a Discipleship Movement Shaped for Mission.

But, for example, it’s a lonely business enthusing the saints for the work of ministry when you are a minister in Finland, your nearest colleague is 160km away and you only meet other Methodist leaders twice a year. At the same time you harbour dreams of spending half your year working as a Fresh Expression missioner to Hells Angels/Bandidos and the thousands of other Harley riders in Finland, but have no way of seeing where the money is coming from.

Nonetheless, the enthusiasm for new ways of being church is plain to see and the common understanding of being connected not just by our faith in Christ but also be the worldwide family of Methodism is so strong.

Within moments of arriving here on Sunday I was being thanked for the financial support that the Methodist Church in Britain had given leaders in Siberia and other parts of the former Soviet Union to visit Oxford. I had nothing to do with it, but I represented a church that had enabled these pastors to learn.

In return, I have been humbled by hearing how people with virtually no money or other resources are so passionate about sharing Jesus with their communities. It’s not without it hardships.

While we heard about the birth of a new Methodist church in Romania, with liturgies in their own language written just this year, we also heard about the Methodist Church in Hungary’s struggle to be recognised by the government. It is now the only member of the Council of European Churches that isn’t recognised in its own country.

It used to be but, following the collapse of Communism, the new government decided to “rationalise” the number of official churches – a euphemism for reduce – and cut the number to a level which excluded the Methodists, who are now just an association. There’s a chink of light that when the law comes into force in January they may be able to get a reversal of the ruling but not huge confidence.

Celebrations in some places, struggles in others … and all the time wrestling with how to be faithful followers of Jesus.

 

Stories of hope across Europe

Day two of the Extended Cabinets meeting in Braunfels, north of Frankfurt, included a time of sharing stories.

The reason I’m here is that three of us from the Methodist Church in Britain have been asked to come and share about Fresh Expressions. I’m with Stephen Lindridge, the Methodist missioner from the Fresh Expressions initiative and one of the initiators of Mind The Gap in Gateshead, and Peter Hancock, Northampton District Chair and a founder of The Bridge in Hinckley, Leicestershire.

I’ll be talking about Tubestation in Cornwall, not surprisingly.

But yesterday we sat in small groups and heard stories from Siberia to southern Germany of how God is inspiring people to plant new churches and risk new things.

  • The Belarus pastor whose work isn’t officially recognised by the government because she’s not allowed a sacred space but where the children go to school and tell stories about how they love their mothers because they pray for them.
  • The church in Finland slowly being brought back to life after one old man sustained it and believed in his vision from God that people would come. Now they are, one by one.
  • A German church where a pastor heard the call to go and rescue a dying congregation and moved home. Now the fellowship has grown from a handful to a systainable church, mainly recalling former members but beginning to impact its community.
  • A teenager who used the Latvian version of Facebook to bring together 30 unchurched young people to begin a youth group. Now some of them are inquiring about baptism.

There were many more stories but that’s a flavour of what was shared yesterday. We also heard two lectures on why adults came to faith, much of it interesting but probably too rooted in the German cultural setting to need repeating here.

Today we tell our stories, thrilled to know that we will simply be adding to the good news others have already shared.

Praying in tongues

I’m at the meeting of the European Cabinets of the Methodist Church in Braunfels, Germany, where the leaders of Methodist communities from all over Europe have travelled to talk particularly about evangelism and Fresh Expressions.

My role is as one of three people from the Methodist Church in the UK who have at one time led Fresh Expressions – new ways of being Church – and may have something to say to the leaders here.

Perhaps there’ll be more to say about the presentations we make and what I say on Tubestation – the church on the north Cornwall coast which resonates so well with surf culture.

But what struck me tonight was the amazing worship – or at least the amazing experience of being in the opening worship.

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, one of the four bishops in Europe and our host, is holding together a community of maybe 70 people in this extended Cabinets meeting: from Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and other countries … as well as interlopers like me.

For the first evening’s worship, it meant running the worship in two languages – German and English – and therefore choosing hymns which could be sung in both. It meant providing a transcript in English of the German-language sermon, as well as a headset translation for those who only spoke Russian.

But for the time of open prayer the invitation was to use our own language and for some time we shared as people poured out their prayers. We couldn’t understand most of them and yet, in an extraordinary, we understood exactly what was going on.

The community of faith was reaching to God, holding each other up before their Father and longing for the best. It was a remarkable moment – and a great note on which to begin five days together.