The follow are my notes from Archbishop Rowan Williams’ address to the Fresh Expressions day conference: Changing the Landscape in May 2011.
Where did the church start? At the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? At the resurrection? Was it the calling of the disciples when a first church community began? Or was it even before that? Before you know where you are, you are back to creation! “The Church is about what God wanted from before the beginning of the world”. It is not a decorative religious luxury; it is about God’s purpose before the world began. If that is right, then it is hard to identify exactly where the church as we know it began, but maybe that is ok.
Need to push away the notion of church as something to which people sign up in one go and in one way. As the church is about the journey towards the heart of God’s purpose, which is a journey that you never come to the end of.
The church begins where Jesus is with others. In the Gospels we have a lot of different types of encounter with Jesus. There are some who meet Jesus and suddenly change. There are others who are a little be scared, but follow hi anyway. Some go along as they work through their confusion. Others hang around on the edges or undercover of dark, such as Nicodemus who takes his time over whether to follow. (I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt regarding his conversion)
What holds then together is Jesus – Jesus who suggests that things are or could be different to how they appear. In effect, the landscape reorganises itself and they see. Today, we try to be sort of communities around whom people can see things differently – enterprises of vision, if you like.
What about the timescale of seeing? How quickly should we expect people to see? For some people, Jesus expects it quickly, but he gibes others a more time to work it out (such as the Samaritan woman at the well, and Nicodemus). We need to expect a variety of pace and timescale in people coming to see for themselves. Sometimes we force the pace too quickly an people run away of feel manipulated. At other times we don’t sat the right thing at the right moment.
Leadership is about helping people to see. Leadership in vision in crucial. But helping people to see presupposed that you are alongside them, not in front or behind. If you stand in front, all they see is you, not the God who you are helping them to see. (In a way, the sacraments are about celebrating moments when we see more than the expected. They are flashpoints when we see “rocks split and the dead rising”)
What kind of church might this look like, where there is a variety of pace of seeing? Perhaps it will be a lot less homogeneous than it is now, with more different rhythms of life. It will probably have many small groups of people working our relationship and understanding together – a mutual “shaping of life and possibilities” in an environment of trust. There will be informal trusting and mentoring relationships. And added to these small groups will be times, maybe occasional, when the there is a centring on a big event. The big event is still meaningful in some contexts, particularly 18-25s, as a way of “being in the vicinity” without needing to fully understand. Last weekend, Archbishop Rowan was involved in a couple of big events. One of them you may have heard about. The Royal Wedding touched people in a big way by way of them being around and about it.
This is, if you like, the mixed economy (a phrase which he occasionally regrets having coined). This is a church which will not be a ‘Balkan’ map of individual independent church groups, but a linking of moments and movements, of cell and celebration. It is a combination of styles which is held together by Jesus and the common vision of a transformed landscape.
You can watch the address here: