Christ’s body recycled for you (Beth Keith)

Beth KeithBeth Keith explores a recycled communion.

At Greenbelt I was invited onto a panel discussion about the sacraments, the role of the priest and the emerging church with Pete Rollins, Kester Brewin, Paula Gooder and Father Simon Rundell. In our discussions, one element that developed was the tension held within the sacraments of Eucharist and baptism to consecrate or desecrate. Do we remember Christ honestly if these sacraments are beautified or sanitised, or does a more honest remembrance necessitate an embrace of horror, dirt and abandonment? In recent years, we have heard of Ikon and Vaux's critique of communion, employing vivid imagery of the horror of Christ's death and how a beautified ritual removes us from the horror of the passion narrative. Does this go too far, or have they helped us to connect with the realness of those events?

I've had a few days to process the discussion and wonder if when we get talking about whole/broken or clean/dirty, we become opposing sides of the same axis. In the act of baptism or Eucharist, Christ calls us something new, so portrayals of these sacraments as consecration or desecration point to Christ only to the extent to which they embody a reimagination of what is broken/whole or clean/dirty.

Greenbelt 2009 discussionA few months ago I was part of a communion event which drew on the recycling mantra: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. In looking at Reuse, the group questioned what is waste, what do we consider waste which can be reused, and made connections between our judgements of 'who is acceptable' and 'who is waste' against Jesus' acceptance of all. In looking at Reduce, we looked at how our consumption affects others and used this as part of our confession. And then at the breaking of bread looked at how Christ's body was Recycled.

Perhaps engaging with the dirtiness of the sacraments helps us to connect to the deeper gospel message, but if we stop there do we miss the opportunity to reimagine dirt and waste? Recycling has transformed the notion of waste in our society; perhaps this imagery can help to understand Christ's actions.

Losing my church shoes (Beth Keith)

Beth KeithBeth Keith discusses losing her church shoes.

When I think about what I think about church

My head automatically jumps to what I already know

What I have already experienced

What church has meant for me

With all its practises and churchologies

I am not a missionary heading off into the unknowable

I have baggage, church baggage, church shoes

During the last four years I have been involved with ReSource, developing training with pioneers starting churches in emerging culture. One of the themes we have revisited is: What makes something church? What is essential and what is negotiable? When given the chance to step back and think about what we do as church and what we believe about church, time and again people show genuine surprise at the amount of church practice which is habitual but not essential to what it means to be church.

Rowan Williams recently suggested that the church should be prepared to risk everything except 'those things that hold us to the truth of his presence – Word and sacrament'. But it's not just that it's risky to leave behind what you're comfortable with; isn't it also tricky to imagine what something could be like that is beyond what you've experienced?

Any discussion on essential elements of church prompts quite a bit of debate. As we've talked there has been recognition of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (or words to that effect), but even with these as defining marks there is still enormous scope for diversity of both expression and understanding.  And the question remains: How do we move beyond all the extra stuff we do which isn't essential and give more time to the things we may value most about being church?

In last week's blog on Share, Richard Sudworth talked about the need for real listening in mission, listening which is active, transforming and relational: 'let the draught go both ways'. I suppose it would be fair to say that we have found that alongside this missiological conversation there is also a dynamic ecclesiological conversation to be had between our experience in mission and the historic, present and future church. It is a conversation that involves letting go of our church experience and stepping out of our church shoes. Only then can we come to the conversation open to the creative and imaginative Spirit. Only when we embrace the messy and improvised dialogue between mission and church do we find the essence of what being church is about.

‘Being’ church for the missing generation (Beth Keith)

Beth Keith considers 'being' church for the missing generation.

The Church of England's annual statistics for 2011 were released to much fanfare last week with glowing reference being made to 'an increase in child and adult baptisms and a growing stability in weekly service attendance'.

All well and good you may think but the fact is that the Church, as a whole, is failing to reach or keep young adults – any stats on church attendance will tell you that. Only 11% of regular churchgoers are between the ages of 25 and 34, whilst 16% of the UK population is within that age group. In tracking church decline, the greatest losses per year are occurring amongst those aged 15 to 29.

But, and it's a big but, there are churches bucking this trend, churches which are attracting growing numbers of people in their 20s and 30s.

Over the last year I've been talking with leaders of churches who are reaching and discipling young adults of the so-called 'missing generation'. These include parish churches, traditional church plants and fresh expressions of church. It's been a privilege to hear stories of how these churches are developing and a challenge to discover more of the issues they have faced along the way.

When this qualitative research project started through Fresh Expressions (via their Young Adults Round Table) and Church Army, we were keen to look at churches based in different contexts and ensure we had examples of churches reaching young adults from a range of socio-economic and religious backgrounds. We didn't want to simply track large student churches.

As a result, I have identified five distinct types of young adults' church. They have different personalities, are of different sizes, connect with different kinds of young adults and practice faith differently. They are:

  • church planting hubs;
  • youth church grown up;
  • deconstructed church;
  • church on the margins;
  • context shaped church.

What did I find? Some larger churches, with young adult congregations gathering for a Sunday service alongside midweek groups, are effectively reaching middle class, well-educated young adults who previously attended church as children. They act as gathering points, and are highly effective in attracting, retaining and discipling Christian young adults for a vocational life of mission in the world and ministry in the church. These young adults tend to move on to family-based congregations as they grow up.

But the churches managing to reach young adults with no prior faith or church experience – and from a broader socio-economic background – exhibit very different traits and practices. Meeting more often around the dining table than the church building; eating together is the new 'Sunday service'. For these small sacramental communities, access to communal spaces, such as cafes, large vicarages and community houses, can make a crucial difference to their growth and sustainability.

These more experimental forms of Christian community are greatly affected by the level of support and connection with the wider church, particularly during times of transition. But their unconventional style can be a stumbling block to this. They face a number of challenges and issues remain about permissions, authorisation, and the appropriate administration of the sacraments, alongside questions about sustainability.

Young adults attending these types of churches may struggle to make the leap to more traditional forms of church as they get older. This suggests the determining factor here is not their age or life stage, and that these new forms of church will continue to grow and develop. The recognition of these small sacramental communities as church is vital, both for the sustainability of these fledgling churches and for the building up of the wider church.

You can read more about this and the five types of young adults' church in a 36-page report outlining the findings: copies of authentic faith: fresh expressions of church amongst young adults are available now.

Letters home

Letters Home

Letters Home is a new research bulletin produced by The Sheffield Centre and Fresh Expressions. It is a collection of pieces written by pioneers called to follow Christ beyond the existing Church. The first issue looks at the tensions experienced by pioneers as they go, including some discussion of sodal and modal forms of church.

To read the bulletin in full, please download it below.


In recent years we’ve seen various changes rocking the Church. The release of pioneer ministry and the development of fresh expression of Church have created an atmosphere of change and with that, excitement and struggle. For those called to follow Christ beyond the existing Church, to go and be the Church in new ways and…

Learning from Francis

By Hannah Smith. The monastics were the prime movers in mission for the church for its first 1500 years. From China to Asia to Europe, in the roots of the gospel in each geographical space, you find the marks of the monastics again and again. Their tight-knit, hardcore bands would incarnate themselves into a society…

Pioneer as Guest: the return of the Friar

By Simon Sutcliffe. Pioneer is a term which is being used very widely in the Church at present. In talking to various gifted pioneers I have come to see three kinds of pioneering ministries in the Church. Firstly, parish renewal is led by those who feel called to work within inherited modes of church. Secondly…

The parable of the Roving Rock

By Laurence Keith. This story is about a faithful Christian, Fidelis, and a difficult transition in his journey of faith as he takes the risk of stepping out into the ‘post’; into the unknown. There was once a man called Fidelis who built his house on the Rock, by the edge of the sea. Over…

Experiences of pioneers

By Beth Keith. During the last 4 years I have been listening to and collating the stories of pioneers. Whilst pioneering is often referred to as starting something new I have been struck by how common it is for pioneers to experience an initial period of dismantling before new growth occurs. This was evident in…

Remembering the song

By Karlie Allaway. Whilst I have loved reading and thinking about mission I found I got lost at times… Lost in concepts and descriptions of mission. Lost in thinking and reading about all the ways to pray and open ourselves to the grace that transforms us into a sent people, able to bring healing and…

To read these articles in full and comment on them, please download the bulletin below.