Beth Honey is Pioneer Minister in the Derwent Ward and co-leader of a growing fresh expressions called Derwent Oak.
Here she describes how the seed of a simple plan has grown into a fully-fledged Christian community.
An oak tree takes a long time to grow, and in many ways, it was an excellent choice for the name of a new expression of Christian community on an outer estate.
Once it grows it is solid, stable, can last for centuries, but it takes time, and you need to give it space when you are establishing it.
Getting to know the area where you live and dwell is vital when growing a fresh expression of church.
This is not project management, but disciple-making and listening to the Holy Spirit.
What we have learned has been about getting under the skin of this place and getting to know our neighbours.
Our FX, ‘Derwent Oak’, began with a simple plan (yes, strategy is still permitted in the world of organic church life!) to see five new disciples in our initial five years, and to see the multiplication of small communities beginning to worship in ways that are natural to life here, and led by people who know the place, and could make a significant change.
What has emerged since we began in 2014 has surprised us, challenged us, tested us and brought new people to be part of Derwent Oak who have taken us beyond these initial thoughts so that we have had to learn to let go of first dreams and give them over to God.
He has consistently taught us that he is already here, in the beauty and complexity of this community of faith that he is growing.
We formed partnerships with other church and community groups on both food and mental health projects.
We are now working on community gardening and a community transport extension.
We meet to pray in a church building, as well as outdoors and in homes.
We have a central weekly gathering, which in pre-covid times met in homes, and has come to be known as ‘Together’.
Its roots were simply in sharing a cuppa, and this led to shared cooking and eating, and then into bread and wine roughly once a month.
We shared stories, reflections, prayers, and a time of planning events for our wider community to let them know that we are all loved. ‘You are loved’ has become our central and simple summary of the good news.
We have hosted bonfires, art galleries, a gig in the garden, pop up art, prayer tents, a Derwent day out across venues (that this year will be the first Derwent community event post-covid), summer youth schemes in partnership with Aspire and Derbyshire Cricket, fun days, Christmas plays and outdoor events, and through lockdown, the garden provided a focus of prayer through online requests for candles to be lit.
As Derwent Oak became more well known locally, we found that those who had had some experience of church life in the past ‘came out of the woodwork’ and asked us a little more about church.
We decided to experiment with meeting on Sundays once a month, which started just before lockdown, and hope to restart later in 2021, and this is led from the original group from Derwent Oak, with lay pioneer support.
We are also now part of a wider fellowship of churches in this part of the city, including a church plant, a thriving parish church and another fresh expression community.
We want to take our place in the mixed ecology of what is growing and to give and receive as part of that.
Through the most recent lockdown, another new group based around offering some mental health sessions online was formed, which is now growing into an online community that may well develop into an in-person community.
Along with Aspire, we also offer Walking Buddies - local residents offer to meet and walk with people as they begin to beat anxiety in emerging from lockdown.
This new group is connecting to the Diocese of Derby Greenhouse and part of that learning community across the county.
Although there’s been growth, the pandemic has hit the FX and local communities here very hard.
Almost symbolically, at the start of lockdown, we had tree surgeons working in our garden and they decimated the trees - for the health of the trees and the area, but it made us feel exposed. It felt like something like that had happened to all our work.
Now in the seventh year of the life of this fresh expression we are at the point of hosting and enabling and sharing the creative fruit of Derwent Oak, and tending and tidying unexpected growth.
Perhaps it is possible to be strong and vulnerable at the same time, to both need support and to be able to offer resource, to be in the place of death and growth at once.
That is one of the key lessons that Derwent Oak continues to teach me as a leader.
And, to always ask for help before you offer it in any community.
The national Fresh Expressions office has produced some very useful 3 minute guides. Topics include:
- What are fresh expressions of church
- Five reasons to start a fresh expression of church
- How to start a fresh expression of church
- How to start making disciples
- How to grow mature disciples
- Reproducing your fresh expression of church
- How to measure fruitfulness
To download a zipped folder of all the guides, click here, or go to http://freshexpressions.org.uk/resources-3/tried-and-tested-resources/.
‘Fresh Expressions’ is the term used for new forms of church for our changing culture. You can find out more about what a Fresh Expression is at the national website, www.freshexpressions.org.uk
A Fresh Expression is distinguished by the following features:
a) It is missional – the people who started it want it to reach out to those who in the community who don’t normally come to church
b) It is contextual – they are trying to build something that is true to the local culture and is in the language of the local people. It deliberately avoids being too ‘churchy’
c) It is formational – there is a clear intention of seeing people grow as disciples of Jesus through their contact with the Fresh Expression
d) It is ecclesial - it is expected that the mission initiative may well become a congregation in its own right, and it is not expected that it is simply a route through which people make their way to the regular Sunday services and other church activities.
e) It is regular – it meets at least monthly
For more information and support around Fresh Expressions, contact Jason Kennedy, our Diocesan Missioner, at email@example.com.
In the last few years there have been two major developments in our Diocese:
1) A fast growth of local Fresh Expressions across our Diocese
In the autumn of 2012, the Church Army Research Unit based in Sheffield under the leadership of Canon Dr George Lings, surveyed our diocese. We are one of 20 dioceses that have so far been researched. His team identified 39 Fresh Expressions of Church in our diocese. Research has revealed that in these 20 dioceses, there are now something like 80,000 people attending Anglican Fresh Expressions of Church.
Each year Michael researches development in Derby Diocese and he has now found that there are at least 65 Fresh Expressions of Church in our Diocese. Over 2000 Anglicans (approximately 12%) in our Diocese are worshipping in a Fresh Expression of Church and in nearly all of them, over half these worshippers are new to church. By far the majority of our Fresh Expressions are Messy Churches [www.messychurch.org.uk], be we also have many café-style Fresh Expressions, and a number that are geared to specific groups, such as teens, young adults and the elderly.
2014 Report on Church Growth
In January 2014, a major report was published that revealed the results of research carried out the previous year. The section on Fresh Expressions identified some interesting features of Fresh Expressions (following research into 10 dioceses):
• On average, every one person who sets out to start a Fresh Expression, two and a half people join. Nothing else in the Church of England currently has this level of missional impact.
• In ‘inherited’ models of church, of every 10 people in church, 2 are under the age of 16; in Fresh Expressions of church, of every 10 people, 4 are under the age of 16
• the great majority of Fresh Expressions are small – less than 40 but it is reckoned that this enhances a sense of community and belonging
• When it comes to leadership of Fresh Expressions, 52% were found to be led by lay people, and around a half are led by volunteers (ie, not those in some form of paid ministry). Men and women are equally involved in the leadership of Fresh Expressions.
• 66% of Fresh Expressions carry on growing, or maintain growth
• 78% of Fresh Expressions of church have taken active steps to encourage discipleship.
• Four times as many per year are started now, compared with 2003
We are therefore witnessing a mushrooming of small Christian missional initiatives that are becoming congregations in their own right, yet still enjoying a close friendship with more traditional kinds of church. Many of these Fresh Expressions are vulnerable and quite a number may be short lived. But if the trend of the last 10 years continues, then we will see many more of these springing up from our churches, and we can celebrate that many new people are finding their way to faith as a result of their witness.
2) Pioneer Ministers
In addition to the Fresh Expressions, the Diocese has also deployed a number of full time Pioneer Ministers who are licensed to Bishops Mission Orders. These Pioneers are exploring new ways of building churches and developing Christian community and mission. Some examples of these projects are:
The Order of the Black Sheep, a new missional community based in Chesterfield, led by Revd Mark Broomhead (see the OBS website).
The Bridge, Matlock (see The Bridge website) led by Revd Dave Battison. This is growing a Christian community in the Morledge area of new housing in Matlock
Hope Bank, South Chesterfield - Captain Tim Rourke CA is working with group of people to grow a pioneering community for local people in the estates in the southern part of the town.
Derwent Oak, on the Derwent Ward, Derby - Revd Beth Honey is building a contextual Christian community on this large estate in Derby City.
We also support Pioneer Curates (stipendiary and non-stipendiary) and Lay Pioneers, all working in a variety of situations.
The Company of Pioneers continues to grow! Members are willing to come and speak to local churches about pioneering and fresh expressions of church.
If you would like to know more about how to start a Fresh Expressions in your parish, then please email Jason Kennedy.