Postcards from England: Fresh Expressions in Leicester Diocese

Over the next two weeks I have the very good fortune to be spending some time with key leaders in Methodist and Anglican Churches in parts of the United Kingdom, along with joining the Australian team at the 2017 Fresh Expressions International Learning Community alongside delegates from around the world.

Along the way I’ll fire back a postcard every couple of days to share some of what I’m learning and reflecting on as it relates to our own work within the Uniting Church in Queensland. In my conversations here I’m focusing particularly on topics such as leadership development, discipleship, fresh expressions and church planting. Your questions and comments are welcome below. If you’re not that interested in church and faith, you might want to skip these next few postcards.

Today’s first day included a briefing with Jonathan Dowman from the Leicester Anglican Diocese. Jonathan, along with Madds Morgan and Matt Pitt are the Diocese’s resourcing team for the developing fresh expressions of church in and around the communities of the diocese.

For those for whom fresh expressions might be a new concept, the standard definition used is that 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.  In Queensland we’ve been exploring and encouraging the notion of Fresh Expressions through the conduct of the Mission Shaped Ministry Course which has been offered by Moreton Rivers, South Moreton and Bremer Brisbane Presbyteries in partnership with the synod over the past 3 years.

In a rich conversation, two things stuck out for me in this conversation with Leicester Diocese.

The first is that the Diocese have big, ambitious goals with respect to fresh expressions of church. They plan to have one fresh expression of church for every parish church within the diocese by 2030. That’s a total of around 300 fresh expressions. At this moment there are around 60 in existence, together with another approximately 100 mission initiatives that are exciting, but don’t quite bear all the hallmarks necessary to meet the diocese’s definition of a fresh expression. That’s a big goal. An unashamedly big goal. And to achieve it is going to take a huge investment of time, energy and resources, together with a willingness to dismantle anything in the diocesan system that might prevent them from progressing.

Are we quite so ready to discern and name such an ambitious goal? Are we willing to measure it? Monitor progress toward it? Put the necessary resources in place to help us achieve it?  Discerning and then naming ambitious targets can be a confronting task, and one that doesn’t always come easily for us. In the case of this diocese, it’s providing a sharp focus for the work the diocese is doing.

The second thing I found particularly interesting was a decision by the diocese that its mission resourcing staff would spend 75% of their time resourcing and supporting fresh expressions of church across the diocese, but be set aside for 25% of their time to lead a particular local fresh expression. That means their resource team are not only consultants and coaches, but practitioners who are on the ground trying to discern, plan and lead new expressions of church.

I couldn’t help but wonder might happen if we tasked presbytery and synod mission resourcing staff with using 25% of their time to discern, plan and lead a new expression of church in our own local context.

And naturally, I got to wondering what I would do if I was given permission to commit 25% of my time to a local project. Which idea that occasionally nudges to the forefront of my imagination would I throw myself into? Or which team that are already engaged in mission in my local area would I join to support and encourage?

Could we be so bold as to encourage our presbytery and synod mission resourcing staff to be practitioners as well as coaches, mentors, educators and consultants?

Big goals, big commitments. These are the factors that I found myself wondering about after a day with Leicester Diocese.

In the next postcard, I’ll reflect on a conversation with the leader of an Anglican Church Missionary Society project called Partnership for Missional Church. See you back here in a days or two!

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on meals, community, love and jesus

A message shared with Toowong Uniting Church in July 2017. Read John 13:31-35 first.

Last week, June 29 was Eat Together day in Canada.  A day when Canadians were invited to eat with neighbours, friends and colleagues, to see what happened. Watch this:

The official website introduces the idea like this: “When we eat together, good things happen. Whether its poutine, pad thai, paella, or pemmican. Nothing brings us together like eating together. We’re on a mission to make the world a better place by sharing a meal. It is time to stop watching and start acting! Join in on June 29th for Eat Together Day. Whether you eat with your neighbours, friends or family, make a time to eat together.”

It’s an invitation that is extended as part of Canada’s celebration of its 150th year as a nation. Other elements of the celebration include National Aboriginal Day, St Jean Baptiste day, Canadian Multiculturalism Day and Canada Day.  The film we just watched introduces the concept of eat together, and tells its own story. It’s a beautiful film, filled with funny, poignant moments. And it reflects many of those other elements of Canada 150.

I’m sure you that you, like me if you cast your mind back, can think of some memorable meals. Times and places where the table was the centre of a wonderful community time. Where conversation flowed as food was shared. Where the bonds of friendship were formed or strengthened.

There is something wonderful about sitting around a table and sharing together.

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small change…big deal

In recent weeks I’ve become somewhat enamored with America’s Cup sailing. If you haven’t seen any of it, then I should let you know (spoiler alert) that New Zealand defeated USA in the finals (both boats skippered by Australians!) to bring the Cup back to NZ.

The boats that are sailed (and I used both terms loosely) in this year’s America’s Cup are incredible. They’re catamarans that rise out of the water on adjustable hydrofoils. Getting the boat up out of the water (called “foiling”) means a massive reduction in drag from the hulls being in the water in the style of a traditional sailing boat.  Add an enormously effective sail (that’s more like an aircraft wing tipped on its side) and the boats are amazingly fast – sailing at 3 times the speed of the wind (or more) in the right conditions.

To understand a little better how it works, watch this (it’s worth it, they’re amazing!):

The part of this video that caught my attention is about how much difference a tiny variance in wind speed makes to the performance of the boat.  At 6 knots of wind, both hulls will remain in the water and the boat will be sluggish – at best generating 6 knots of boat speed. At 6.5 knots, the catamaran will be able to lift one hull from the water, and just that 0.5 knot additional breeze suddenly enables the boat to race to 10-11-12 knots of boat speed. Go up another 0.5-1 knot of wind speed (to around 7-7.5 knots total, and the boat will fly on its foils – increasing speed dramatically up to somewhere around 20 knots.

Such a tiny difference in wind speed, such a massive difference in boat speed.

Naturally the challenge for boat designers is to generate that critical lift at ever lower wind & boat speeds to get the jump on the competition – and to then keep the boat up on the foils and sailing as fast as possible. They’ll make minuscule changes to the shape of the foils, and to the systems that control them to generate better boat performance. That’s how NZ won the Cup.  If you want to hear more about the tiny changes they’ll make, here’s another video (I told you I got hooked!):

It strikes me that maybe, just maybe, there are similarities in life. That sometimes just small change to habits, to decisions, to approaches to life’s challenges can make an enormous difference to the outcomes. A small change to diet, or sleep patterns, or the words I use as I talk with family, friends or colleagues (to name a couple of examples) might make all the difference

And, just as in the America’s Cup, maybe it takes a team to find and make those changes. They have designers, engineers, builders and sailors working together to find and make the right changes to boat designs in order to fly the boat sooner and faster.

And so I wonder, who are the team that I (or you) turn to? The colleagues, the mentors, the friends, the family? And what opportunities do I (you) look for to make the small changes to life that might enable me (you) to fly?

What’s the tiny change to help make things fly?

on birthdays with a zero…

My youngest is just days away from a very special birthday. The one in which she reaches the magical double-figure mark. She’s bounding around the house with barely contained excitement, the anticipation of the big day breaking forth in unexpected moments as she thinks about a party with her friends, a day with her family, and her first electronic gadget (the iPod has become a de-facto rite of passage at age 10 in our house…please go gentle on the judgement of our parenting choices!).

Lots of birthdays hold significant meaning when you’re young. Double figures. Teenager-hood. Sixteen. The 18 year old adult. The 21st. Time honoured significance in each of those birthdays.

It seems that once you reach a certain age though, birthdays lose something of that magic. Sure it’s nice to have a special dinner with the family, and to receive some best wishes from friends, but it’s not quite as enchanted as when you’re a kid.

Except if the birthday in question has a zero in it.

Maybe its just not possible to keep up the enthusiasm year-in and year-out for birthdays, so we ration it to once every ten years instead. Turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and the grand old century mark, these are special days.  Often we think of them as marking a transition point too, onward to the next stage of life.

Zero birthdays give us pause to reflect not just on the last year, but on the last stage of life, the last decade or more. And to think far more than 12 months ahead, pondering what is to come, what choices we’ll make, what the next stage of life holds in store for us.

Anniversaries are a bit the same. Oh Sheri and I will definitely mark the passing of our 22nd anniversary later this year, but we’re already planning toward the 30th in a much bigger way.

A zero is just one number among ten, but somehow the zero makes it special

All of which comes into sharp focus this week.

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when numbers hurt

Some days, numbers are wonderful things.

When your favourite band hits #1. When your favourite athlete gets a high score. When you run or ride or walk a personal best. When your newborn has their longest non-stop sleep. When the number signifies an important anniversary or birthday.

Some days, numbers are wonderful.

And some days, numbers hurt.  Today it seems to me is one of those days.

The number killed and injured in a highrise building fire in London climbs inexorably higher, and itself is outweighed by the number killed in a Bangladesh mudslide.

The number attached to the Australian government’s legal settlement with Manus Island detainees is a reminder of the horrors of the conditions those asylum seekers are treated to, at the hands of the country we call home.

Some days numbers hurt.

This morning I had the privilege of sharing a breakfast table with World Vision‘s Tim Costello, in Brisbane to speak at an annual Churches of Christ gathering today.  The conversation ranged far and wide, but again it was a couple of numbers quoted in different parts of the conversation that left me startled.

At one stage we talked about gambling in Australia, and poker machines in general. Costello is a passionate advocate for managing this insidious, addictive blight on our society.  The number in question was 20%.  Australia, home to just 0.3% of the worlds population, hosts more than 20% of the worlds poker machines. 20%. Machines that are specifically designed to take money away from those who use them. And that are most often located in communities that can least afford that loss. 20%. If you want to see some more numbers about poker machines that hurt, go here. Oh, and I was also reminded that one of the biggest profit-makers from pokies in Australia is Woolworths….that’s right…the fresh food people.

And then we talked about South Sudan and Uganda.  Australia, one of the richest nations on earth has since 1947 accepted something like 800 000 refugees. It’s a big number. And if it wasn’t for our recent record it could make us feel all warm and gooey inside. Uganda, at the other end of the global rich list has willingly accepted 1 000 000 refugees from South Sudan in the last 7 months. 1 000 000 in 7 months. And provided land to build a home and grow crops, and access to education and hospitals (such as those things are in Uganda).  Together with NGO’s like World Vision (supported, it has to be said by the generosity of ordinary Australians) they’re tackling what seems like (and may well yet prove to be) an insurmountable problem.  It’s an extraordinary effort, but for all that the effort is amazing, the numbers still tell of a world of pain and brokenness.

I don’t post this today to start a political debate. Simply to say that some days, numbers hurt….and today those numbers remind me that in our country, and in our world, we have a long way to go, many challenges to overcome.

Hopefully those same numbers can motivate us to act.

on leadership…again

If you’ve hung around here for a while you might recall that this is far from the first time I’ve posted about leadership. This time though, I’m not writing, but talking. And sadly for you all, it’s on video! 😉

Recently I sat down with Ben Rogers, editor of Journey magazine to record a chat about leadership – and specifically about Christian leadership.  Below is the video of our chat, and here’s the article that precipitated the conversation.  And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s some more of my potentially baseless musings on leadership.

Your comments are welcome.

on balance, and rocks, and beautiful places

On the weekend just gone, Sheri and I took our kids out to Girraween National Park. If you haven’t been there…you should go. Just saying.

Girraween is just out past Stanthorpe in what is known as the Granite Belt. And it’s known as the granite belt for a good reason – it’s a giant playground of granite boulders of varying sizes.

Some of the boulders are small enough that you can lift, or sit on them. Some are the size of your car, or your house, or some are literally whole mountains made of granite. It’s an incredible place to explore and enjoy. And not even some rain on Saturday ruined the weekend for us as we played and wandered.

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One of the incredible features of Girraween are the ways these boulders are piled up, or balanced upon one another.

Take this one, for example. It’s called Granite Arch.  Kind of a natural Stonehenge looking feature, with the capstone balanced on the lower two. Amazing.

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Nearby are a couple of mountain-sized lumps of rock called “The Pyramids.” The first one is walkable, the second is technically off limits. They’re incredible to look at, and even more so to explore.

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High up on the first pyramid, the one you can climb by following a marked path, is a boulder generally known as “Balancing Rock”.  See if you can guess why when you look at the photo below.

The kids, along with some friends, joined the long, long, long list of people who’ve tried and failed to topple this rock from its perch.

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It’s perfectly balanced, standing on its end, on top of a mountain.  And as I stood and looked at it, I couldn’t help wondering what probably everybody else who’s made the climb thinks: “How does it stand there?” It’s centre of gravity must be just right, and the fact that it is perched on a firm foundation keeps it there, through rain, hail, wind and the attempts of 12 year old kids. It’s been there day after day, year after year, decade after decade, probably century after century. This rock is balanced, perfectly.

The challenge to visiting Balancing Rock, of course, is climbing up, and then back down this mountain-sized monolith to see it. On this journey up and down the steep slab-sided pyramid it’s a case of the balancing person. Keeping a firm footing, a balanced centre of gravit, avoiding obstacles or damp patches, and keeping focused on the path ahead are the key. Balance matters to us as climbers, just as much as it does to the rock that stands.  Balance matters as much when we are in motion, when we are living life actively, as it does when we are just trying to stand firm.

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Balance, centre of gravity, firm foundations: these things matter not just to rocks. But to people, to communities, to you and I.

As I walked I wondered what it means to be balanced in life as while walking, as while being a rock standing on top of a mountain.  What does it means to be on firm footing?

For me one of the things that means is that I wonder what the story of Jesus has to say into that space (for you it might be something totally different). Jesus on multiple occasions talked about rocks, balance and firm foundations. He used a metaphor about the value in building our house (our life) on rock, not on sand. He talked about building his church on a rock. He talked about the importance to balance in life of seeking God’s kingdom first – that other things will take care of themselves.

Balance. Firm foundations. Rocks.

Where does balance come from in my life? Where are firm foundations found? What does it look like when everything is in balance? Is it all in balance right now? If not, what’s missing?

Those are the questions I’ve been pondering this week. Maybe they’re of interest to you too.