The Salvation Army’s ‘amazing spiritual ride’

Andrew Vertigan shares his thoughts on the first year since The Salvation Army joined the Fresh Expressions partnership.

In post for almost nine months as The Salvation Army Fresh Expressions Mission Enabler – and with the denomination as a partner of Fresh Expressions heading into its second year – I can honestly say it has been the most amazing spiritual ride.

Little did I realise the challenge and blessing in seeking to communicate, convince and connect the United Kingdom Salvation Army with all that Fresh Expressions seeks to do. It has been both exhilarating and demanding.

To be honest, I think the biggest personal blessing has been the joining together with kindred men and women from across different Christian traditions; all of whom share the same heart and passion to reach the unchurched with the good news of the gospel in culturally relevant ways. I've found it surprising to discover how much we have in common! Through it all there has been – and continues to be – a true sense of God's grace and unity of the Spirit.

As a movement, The Salvation Army has sought to actively put things in place, not only to embrace Fresh Expressions but also to let it speak prophetically into the wider church movement. I guess to use the language employed by many involved in developing and encouraging fresh expressions of church, we have been discovering what the 'mixed economy' means in our setting. This has been so helpful in our understanding of how we create the right space, environment for that as well as provide the necessary components to identify, train and equip pioneer officers.

It has not all been plain sailing as I have been challenging the very heart of who we are and how we do things. As a result, there have been some bumpy moments in the boat, and I suspect there will be a few more. But that's ok. The good news is that at least we have embarked on the journey – even though we do not necessarily understand our destination. This, in itself, greatly encourages me. It means that we are having to:

  • listen closely;
  • stop and be still;
  • understand and interpret what we think we are hearing and seeing, and then;
  • step out in faith.

There have been some real highlights too. Twelve new fresh expressions of church have started in The Salvation Army over the last year or so, including a café church in Stoke Newington and a youth outreach project in Stamford. A new incarnational ministry is also beginning to form in a very deprived community in Nottinghamshire while Armada Spasy, a church for the Roma communities in Kent, has seen significant growth and development in the past twelve months.

Potential pioneer leaders and teams have started to be identified and assessed. Some 22 people have gone through what can best be described as an 'evolutionary' assessment process with more than half of them already deployed into pioneering situations.

I have spoken to officer cadets about pioneering and fresh expressions and it was also good to address our national youth workers' conference where a number of young adults have expressed a desire to look at pioneering as a way forward for their ministry and lives. Another opportunity involved me speaking at The Salvation Army Training College as people gathered from all over the country to discern where God is leading them and whether or not pioneering may be part of that path.

There's no doubt that these are very exciting days. It's a privilege to seek to envision and embed the vision and values of Fresh Expressions into the heartbeat of the Salvation Army – or maybe I should say to help reignite the pioneering spirit at the heart of this amazing movement?

Re-igniting The Salvation Army’s pioneering spirit (Andrew Vertigan)

Andrew Vertigan discusses the re-igniting of The Salvation Army's original pioneering spirit.

As William Booth looked out on the life and community of east London in the late 1800s, he recognised that he was surrounded by very real, tangible, physical needs.

He saw people who were desperate for help, people with need of the Saviour, but he also saw a disconnect between Church and those in such obvious physical and spiritual distress. He was compelled in his spirit to do something.

Based on his inherent belief that you had to meet a man's physical need before you could offer spiritual food, he birthed a Christian social action response and the future Salvation Army came into being. In today's language, Booth understood the culture and context and set his beliefs and ministry into it.

Booth encouraged his young converts to live incarnationally – not to live at a distance, or separate from, the society they wanted to reach. Instead they were to become totally immersed in it. So it was that teenagers of 17, 18, or 19 would be sent to a new place with just £5 in their pockets and a passion for Jesus, with the simple remit to transform and save the world!

This early day pioneering spirit brought about over 400 new expressions of Church within the first 20 or so years. That growth is continuing in parts of The Salvation Army, but like many churches, we face challenges in a post-Christendom world, and by moving from the mission initiative to a denomination and organisation, the dynamic growth 'flatlined' in some areas.

However, over the past two decades, this pioneering spirit has been reignited within The Salvation Army's UK Territory because of the realisation that:

  • we must fight to stem the tide of secularism and growing numbers of people who simply do not believe in God;
  • we need churches who are able to reconnect with their communities and their needs;
  • we have no other option than to rebirth, under the Holy Spirit's direction, new expressions and communities of faith.

It appears to me that, in recent years, there has been – across the Church in the UK – a growing awareness of the pioneering Spirit. As The Salvation Army is now an official partner in the Fresh Expressions movement, I believe we have much to add to this dialogue. This relationship has the potential to not only be exciting, as we journey ecumenically forward, but also creates a magnificent opportunity to encourage disciples to step out in faith and try new things.

Fresh Expressions offers us support structures through FEASTs (Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Teams) as well as wide-ranging training opportunities – things that we have been lacking and urgently need. The very nature of the partnership has also heightened our expectancy of new things and made creativity in mission very much a 'live issue' in front of our church leadership and congregations.

I believe that, in return, The Salvation Army offers a great deal to all the other partners in Fresh Expressions, including:

  • experience of social justice and action;
  • a prophetic edge with regard to community engagement issues;
  • a voice that is respected and listened to.

I am personally living a dream. I have prayed, believed for, and dreamt for many years that mission would once more be the driver and heartbeat of our movement; that we would be in a place where creativity is not only encouraged but also resourced, a place where we see new things appearing from the ground every day as growing vibrant expressions of Christ's transforming work on earth.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Yes Lord we do see – and are blessed to see you moving throughout this land by your Spirit.