The May edition of e-expressions has an interesting piece from Bishop Graham Cray about the place of communion within a Fresh Expression of Church. He highlights the defining characteristics of a church as:
One of the ways by which we can recognize whether something is church, is whether ‘the Word and the Sacraments’ are present. Scripture is studied, so that disciples can understand what Jesus wants them to know and do, and act accordingly. Communion is celebrated to rehearse what Jesus has accomplished and set our eyes, minds and hearts on his coming kingdom. If a fresh expression is really church it will develop to a stage where Holy Communion (under whatever name a tradition uses) is part of its regular pattern of worship and discipleship. This is for the most basic of reasons. Jesus told us to share bread and wine in this way in remembrance of him. It’s that simple!
This has been an area that has caused concern for any form of innovative worship within a church that is catholic in nature like the Church of England. It seems that whenever the Anglican church tries to engage with new groups of people one of the first things that is removed from an act of corporate worship is the sacrament. This can be seen historically in the Family Service movement throughout the last century or more recently in the alt worship scene. It is an area that I looked into as part of my MA dissertation as I explored the way in which the Church of England is engaging with alt. worship. At the time there was little in the way of sacrament within most Fresh Expressions of Church and the question of presidency is a sticking point for many in a variety of traditions.
Many denominations are involved in planting fresh expressions and not all of them require an ordained minister to preside, but many do.
Previously there has been no truly satisfactory solution postulated. Bishop Graham suggests some ideas.
The leader or leaders of a fresh expression are not necessarily the ones who should preside. Leading the mission and the mission community are not the same thing as leading worship. An ordained minister can relate to a fresh expression, attend when they can without having to take responsibility and then act as a key link to the wider church when they preside. There needs to be a real connection between fresh expressions and the rest of the Church and this could strengthen it. When a fresh expression is linked in to a more traditional local church or group of churches it is possible to have a celebration of communion at one church, including, in its turn, the fresh expression and then each of the others has representatives who take the bread and wine to the other churches in the team. Churches in a more catholic tradition would be happy to use the reserved sacrament.
I suggest that we are at the beginning of the journey into fresh expressions. This is a starting place will have to look at the theological implications of the movement as it develops. We look towards christian unity and as we do this it is important that we foster links between the church historic and fresh expressions. At the last supper Jesus instituted a meal that was a sign of the inclusive nature of God who invites humanity to eat with him. It is a tragedy that many church structures turn this meal into a sign of division. With that in mind it is good that the issue is being explored as we move forward as a mixed economy church.
Each fresh expression needs to find a way forward that is appropriate to its own cultural and denominational tradition and it is the responsibility of the leaders of each denomination to address real issues being raised by innovative mission. This is not a time for breaking the rules, but it time to ensure that new Christian communities can be fed by both Word and Sacrament!