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?