Leader of “Fresh Expressions” movement in U.K. delivers Missiology Lecture
View video of Bishop Cray's lectures on iTunesU here.
Bishop Graham Cray of the Church of England delivered a lecture entitled “Turning the Ocean Liner: Perspectives from the Fresh Expressions Movement in the U.K.” on Wednesday, November 11 as part of the Missiology Lectures, a day of talks and discussions hosted by Fuller’s School of Intercultural Studies. Bishop Cray’s presentation expounded on the impact of the Fresh Expressions movement–a growing missional church initiative–on the ecclesial “ocean liner” of the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom.
Involved in the Fresh Expressions movement since its beginnings, Cray opened his talk by explaining that his point was not to offer models to follow, but to widen the range of imagination to think about church differently.
Cray told one story depicting how the shape of the church was re-imagined in a surf community in Cornwall, England. Embracing the surf culture, a dying church of six people re-opened its doors as the “Tube Station,” becoming a place where surfers could stay surfers and still come to church. Cray used this example to humbly illustrate the ministry of Fresh Expressions: “We have somehow caught a wave of the Spirit and are trying desperately not to fall off.”
The term “Fresh Expressions” reflects this eager attitude of moving with the Spirit, Cray explained. “We wanted an overall heading that said, ‘This is new, and we want to try.’” Two years after its beginning, a tentative definition for the movement had emerged: “A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the people who are not yet part of a church.”
In the United Kingdom, many people fall into that category. “Two-thirds of England have no connection to the church whatsoever,” Cray revealed. “In light of the disappearance of Christendom, we have had to develop a process of engagement.” For Fresh Expressions, this process is based on the values of listening and service, and avoids assumptions of what shape the church might take in a particular context. “The key issue,” Cray stated, “is the release of the missional imagination of the people of God.”
By focusing on the essence of the church, which Cray identified as “people gathering around the Lord and going wherever he goes,” we can allow it to take on different forms and “let the gospel transform from within.” Summarizing the ministry of the Fresh Expressions movement, Cray stated, “What we are doing is expressing fresh confidence in the historic gospel.” This confidence produces fruit as it is coupled with values such as listening, incarnational and transformational mission, and disciple making.
At the heart of these values, according to Cray, is the principle of taking up the Cross and dying to live. While the current success of Fresh Expressions is exciting, Cray acknowledges questions about the sustainability of the movement. “The real challenge is long-term incarnational mission among the never-churched,” he reported.
But those involved with Fresh Expressions will move through this challenge in the same way they have moved since their beginning—aware that they are merely catching a wave of the Spirit. “And please God,” Cray concluded drolly, “May we not fall off the surfboard.”
The lecture was followed by a panel discussion featuring Fuller faculty members Ryan Bolger, Mark Lau Branson, and Barry Taylor in addition to Bishop Cray. Earlier that morning at all-seminary chapel, Cray delivered a message entitled “Cross-Shaped Mission.”
The Right Reverend Graham Cray is the Archbishops’ Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions core team. He was consecrated in 2001 as the Bishop of Maidstone and Bishop for Mission in the Diocese of Canterbury. His special concerns are the engagement of the gospel with contemporary culture, youth ministry, and the theology of renewal.