From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
Last week was the fifth and final 1-hour zoom session in the series of five “Godsend” training sessions on Monday nights through November. Fifteen people participated in this last session. Across the whole series, 20 people participated from five Presbyteries in our Synod. One of the great things about picking up zoom during COVID is that it becomes easily possible for us to meet up in this way from far flung places in the ACT and NSW.
This fifth session was about the essence of church. What an important session for our thinking, planning and acting for fresh expressions of church. A reminder that the definition of fresh expression is:
“A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.
It was an important session because a big reason for getting started in fresh expressions is that our conventional forms of church may work for us, but exclude other people who (for whatever reason) cannot connect with the time, place or manner of our church gatherings. As we experiment with additional times, places and ways of being church to connect with people who are otherwise excluded, we need to know what the essence of church is.
In the video interview for the session, Mike Moynagh drew a distinction between the essence of church and the essentials of church. He described the essence of church as being four relationships:
These relationships are at the heart of being church. For any community that thinks of itself as being church, it is useful to check how it is going with each of these relationships. At different times perhaps more attention will need to be given to one over others, but each of them is equally important. For a fresh expression of church, these four relationships are a very helpful way of understanding the essence of being church, particularly because otherwise the essentials of church end up dictating the shape of being church.
Mike described the essentials of church as being things like using Scripture in the ministry of the Word, worship, Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, leadership and the way things are done in the gathered community.
To help understand the distinction between essence and essentials, Mike gave the example of the way meals are enjoyed in western culture: a knife and folk are essential for the meal, but they are not the essence of the meal. He also gave a sporting example: a referee is essential for a game of soccer, but the referee is not the essence of the game. However, the essentials are needed for the essence of the meal or game to flourish. So too with church. The above essentials of church are needed for the essence of church to flourish. So, for example, we ask: how is our use of Scripture helping our relationships flourish with God, with the world, with the wider church and within our gathered community? Or how is the way we organise ourselves with leadership helping each of these relationships flourish?
This approach to the essentials and essence of church allows fresh expressions to grow forms of church different from our conventional church while at the same time still being church. These fresh additional forms of church are needed for those who (for whatever reason) feel excluded from our conventional forms of church.
The participants in the five sessions deeply valued the opportunity to engage with the video interview input and the discussion amongst the group. One of the participants is planning to arrange another Godsend training series for her Presbytery, and another participant is keen to grow further in her thinking and planning and acting for fresh expressions by taking part in the Mission Shaped Ministry Journey/Training next year.
Here is what two participants had to say about the Godsend training sessions:
“I am thankful for the Godsend training sessions we completed yesterday. It was a blessing to be part of this, and share ideas with each other- very inspiring and encouraging, and as I mentioned, a seed has been planted and the Holy Spirit will guide me to where God calls me. Thank you.”
“Thank you so much for the Godsend sessions. Even though I only attended 2 of them, I found them very inspiring.”
If you are interested in our Presbytery running another series of these training sessions for people in your congregation, or if you are interested in a group from your congregation joining the Mission Shaped Ministry Journey/Training next year, please contact me so that arrangements can be made.