There is this springtime phenomenon in Minnesota: People come out of their winter hibernation and neighbors see one another again. I had a young couple living next door to me, and come spring, I discovered that they had a new baby during the winter. I had no idea for all those months when we’d seen each other driving into attached garages or shoveling from a distance. It wasn’t until we were in our backyards that we caught up on those life changes.
Church has felt like that these past few years. During COVID we went online, and even as we came back behind our masks, it was slow to build community. But finally it feels like springtime, and we are seeing each other in fresh ways and recognizing new people in our midst. The church I was preaching at for Easter had advertised an Easter egg hunt and petting zoo for the community. Hundreds showed up on a Saturday afternoon! Classic springtime in Minnesota, and the folks in the church saw their community anew.
The pandemic has changed us. For many churches, there is a wondering: Where are the young families, children, and youth? We’ve come to notice that people are making different choices about time and investment. And yet, on a Saturday afternoon, hundreds will come out for an Easter egg hunt. So how do we meet people where they are and begin to build relationships in new ways?
That is the heart of the Fresh Expressions movement. It started in England in 2004, and moved to the United States in 2010. It is a simple movement of helping churches see the people in their relationship circles and communities, connect around mutual interests, and be church together. It may happen at a dinner table or through a hiking club or photography group. It blends the best of an existing church with fresh ways of going out of our buildings to meet people in a relaxed and friendly environment and share Jesus in everyday, ordinary ways.
At our annual conference session, we have invited Rev. Michael Beck, a United Methodist pastor and director of re-missioning for Fresh Expressions US, to be our featured speaker. I invite you, if you have five minutes, to watch this video where Michael and Jill Beck talk about the transformation in their church through the development of Fresh Expressions.
There will be three opportunities to dive into what a Fresh Expression is, how it can work in your church and community, and what to do next.
The first is a pre-conference workshop from 12:30-3:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, where Michael will share how we can live out our discipleship in our everyday, ordinary life and build connections to the people around us. He will help us see how we move from “going to church” on Sunday to “being the church” in all that we do, and Fresh Expressions is finding those simple, practical ways to be church. Attendees (one per church) at the pre-conference workshops will receive a copy of the book “A Field Guide to Methodist Fresh Expressions” by Michael Beck and Jorge Acevedo.
During our annual conference session, Michael share the practices and principles of the Fresh Expressions movement and how is it primarily lay-led and requires a missionary mindset by clergy.
Then on Wednesday evening, there is an optional dinner and conversation with Michael where he will share the five personality types of congregations and how to “grow the center and experiment on the edge” for each type.
You need to register for the pre-conference workshop and dinner with Michael Beck (as part of your Annual Conference registration) if you wish to attend those.
As an annual conference, we are investing in resourcing and equipping our congregations in developing fresh expressions of worshipping communities and creating what Michael calls “blended ecologies”: honoring the roots and the tree that have been the foundation of a church while planting new expressions of communities that together create a diverse vineyard of Christian community. This is the beginning of a longer journey and movement.
So we invite you to join us at annual conference session this year, whether in person or through the live stream. Our theme is Encounter. Transform. Respond: The Emmaus Experience. We chose a post-resurrection story as our focus because it seems like God is doing a new thing. Like those two disciples, we are on the road, not completely understanding what God might be up to, but aware that things are changing. And Jesus meets us on that road, joins us at table, and in the conversation and the breaking of the bread, something happens: We are transformed. That is what the church has always been about. Gathering at table, breaking bread, sharing our stories, telling others what we have seen and heard, and encountering the risen Christ through it all.
It is springtime! Time to open our doors, go out into the streets and parks and backyards, and see what is new and who has moved in and what is going on in the neighborhood. Let’s form some new tables of gathering that feel warm and welcoming to those who are also traveling the road trying to make sense of life and all that has happened in the past few years. Need a little more inspiration? This video provides another peek at the power of table gathering in a fresh expression way.
My friends, I look forward to our gathering in late May. Until then, keep your eyes and heart open. You never know when you will encounter Jesus on the road of life!
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries and clergy assistant to the bishop for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
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