Just over 12 months ago Ben Edson became Vicar and Missioner to a parish in south Manchester. He had been in the city for 10 years, during which time he pioneered Sanctus1, a fresh expression of church and helped set up the Nexus arts café. Ben tells what has happened since his appointment to parish ministry.
My appointment to St James and Emmanuel, Didsbury, in 2011 meant that I was moving into a more settled expression of Church. I found this quite a challenging move as I asked myself questions such as was I selling out to the institution and how was my experience of pioneering innovative Christian communities going to impact on a more settled expression of church? Perhaps this was one of the reasons that I moved into this post, I'm of the firm belief that fresh expressions of church need to be fully integrated into the life of the Parish church community and I sensed an opportunity to do this.
I'm sure that many people will have read Ralph Winter's and George Lings' papers on sodal and modal expressions of church. The sodal and modal framework creates space to innovate within the existing structures and also highlight that innovation has always been part of the character of the church of God.
A few months into my appointment I found myself asking, 'How can we affirm the modal yet at the same time search for something more sodal within it?' So I started to search, I started to listen, I continued to pray.
We're a medium-sized church of four congregations. One of those congregations was struggling for a sense of identity and yet alongside this there was a desire for authentic community and a deeper life of commitment to God and to one another. Over the first few months of my appointment I worked with this congregation to listen to God and to one another and also to dream, to open our eyes, to envision and inspire about what we could become.
An early realisation was that the attractional model that had been operated on for so long would no longer work; it would mean be a slow and painful death. Yet, we also recognised that we wanted to be committed to one another in a common lifestyle, in mission and in prayer. And so we went away together to explore what we could be.
Six months on and 'Abide' is what has come into being. I'm never sure how to describe it, it's a community, it's missional, it has new monastic elements to it but I think that the reality is that it is ordinary people with ordinary lives, exploring and learning how to walk an extraordinary path together. We're not experts, we're certainly not spiritual gurus, we're just normal people trying to work it out.
We've found our sense of identity in three places:
- The Five Rhythms of Grace
- Mission and Prayer
Five Rhythms of Grace
The Rhythms of Grace have been developed by the community of St Chad in Lichfield Diocese. We found them and liked them and so we've adopted them! We think that they encourage us to live as believers in the real world, not in some kind of holy huddle. The term, Rhythms of Grace, is taken from Eugene Peterson's translation of Matthew 11:28, 'Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace'.
The five rhythms are:
- By God's grace, I will seek to be transformed into the likeness of Christ;
- By God's grace, I will be open to the presence, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit;
- By God's grace, I will set aside time for prayer, worship and spiritual reading;
- By God's grace, I will endeavour to be a gracious presence in the world, serving others and working for justice in human relationships and social structures;
- By God's grace, I will sensitively share my faith with others: participating in God's mission both locally and globally.
These are not rules that dictate behaviour but a starting point to help us to understand who we are and what we need to do to grow as disciples of Christ. As our community takes shape these rhythms will provide the framework that some of us chose to live by.
As Abide we get together in a more organised capacity twice a month. On the second Tuesday, we have a shared meal in Emmanuel Church, Didsbury, where we encourage and support one another in our desire to become people rooted in God and grow in spiritual maturity.
On the fourth Sunday of each month, at 6.15pm – also at Emmanuel – we host a service which is pretty experimental in nature. It could be contemplative, a jazz mass, alternative worship or Taize but, quite simply, it's a space to experiment and to be.
Mission and Prayer
For us, mission and prayer go hand-in-hand. All we want to do is follow the example of Jesus in his life, death and resurrection; demonstrating and reflecting God's love. It's our aim to enable and encourage people to do this where they live and work.
At midday each day we encourage people who are part of Abide to recite the Lord's Prayer. We're grateful to the 24-7 Prayer movement as this is something that we borrowed from them. The whole idea of praying at 12noon is that it allows God to interrupt our day. Whether you're into a regular time of prayer or not, disciplining yourself to pray slap bang in the middle of the day means your mind turns to God, irrespective of how busy your day is.
So that is Abide. The journey started about a year ago but we've only just gone public. We think that we're in the process of discovering the sodal within the modal, and in this process of discovery we hope and pray that we become a community that helps to bring renewal to the modal.