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2021 Review Fresh Expressions report

Sabbatical

Introduction

This post is an introduction and overview. Within each section there is a link, giving you the opportunty to read more (and watch videos or download files) about that type of activity on its own post, and then link back here.

My time on sabbatical is drawing to a close. One of the questions I have been reflecting on is how to describe what it is I do, and in particular what I do that is recognisable as St John’s activity. This is not a question that can answered by presenting a diary of a typical three months, even if there is flexibility in choosing which three months that might be.

When I first started working on Quartz I kept such a diary, and have a spreadsheet with hours on each activity logged and categorised up to 2019. Some activities were income-generating and others voluntary. In some I was obviously identifiable as representing St John’s, others were explicitly Christian but not generally recognised as a St John’s type of thing. Other areas of activity could be described as simply contributing to the community or exploring heritage and artistic expression.

It is much more difficult to quantify the significance of, or time spent on, my own mulling over what I was learning or time in the forge hammering metal and my mind into a shape where I become aware of opportunities and creative solutions. This is the context within which Quartz developed. In discussion with the Rector and Vestry, specific areas of activity were identified as recognised desirable contributions to the life of the church. These contributed to overall aims to develop spiritual literacy in the community, work with local schools and support creative spirituality with my artistic skills at St John’s events.

Quartz has also been flexible, responding to opportunities and the requests made by the leadership and community of St John’s and beyond. This changes seasonally, adapting to school term times and wider community activities. It also means that the project has changed over the years it has been running as the opportunity to work within different communities has presented itself.

  • Initially there was a focus on schools work and creative worship services, as well as mentoring and providing opportunities for young artists to develop or try out career options.
  • This then developed into more work with adults and a pattern of Interweaves within the building and Outerweaves at community events.
  • The third phase involved a lot of work in North West Dumfries building on links I had been developing with the youth and heritage sectors as Wordsmithcrafts.
  • In the fourth phase, adapting to needs arising from loss of people involved and a change in church leadership, Quartz activity became more focused on supporting activities within the St John’s context.

When lockdown occurred the release from the pressures of normal physical activities opened up new possibilities to develop Quartz online. When people who were unfamiliar with online existence found they needed to migrate to the internet, they found Quartz had moved in years before and was a digital resident. The website you are reading this on is new, but Wordsmithcrafts has had a website since early in the millennium, and cyberpilgrimages, online sacred spaces and the relatoinship between early medieval manuscripts and digitally illuminated screens is something which I have explored artistically from the beginning.

One of the reasons for undergoing a time of sabbatical was a perception that the understanding and relationship which existed when the activities which became the Quartz project was set up had been lost. I am still unable to describe this satisfactorily here. I have however been able to reconnect with the theme currently described as “Fresh Expressions” which provides frameworks and language to describe the sorts of things which Quartz has been doing.

So instead of a calendar of events and activities, I’ve used a framework based on five headings described by Hodgett and Bradbury in their 2018 article “Pioneering Ministry is a Spectrum” (ANVIL vol 34 issue 1). This will allow me to report on the diversity of activities carried out as Quartz, show how they relate to Wordsmithcrafts in general, and also answer the question about how it relates to St John’s.

Although Quartz was not set up to generate “Fresh Expressions” of church, it did work towards the

“Engagement with new constituencies”

aims of St Johns Mission action plan both by taking the activity of St John’s out of the building into new settings and by contributing the growth experienced from this to life within the building. At the end of this post I have a redrawing of the Hodgett and Bradbury diagram to reflect how Quartz has worked within the ‘attractional’ mission strategy of St John’s rather than the ‘missional’ or pioneering mission strategy setting of the Fresh Expressions diagram.

Hopefully these examples will help the congregation of St John’s recognise the presence of Church activity in unfamiliar contexts – and inspire future activity and growth!

(I’m also checking my diary, looking at the finances and getting an idea of how much it took to make each activity happen, as well as how much ‘extra worth’ was generated from the initial investment)

Types of activity

As is described elsewhere, Quartz is a partnership between St John’s and Wordsmithcrafts. Some of the following activities are beyond the scope of Quartz, others will be recognisable as ways to fulfil aspects of the Mission Action Plans made by St John’s (especially chaplaincy in schools, engaging with those on the margins, small groups, incorporating new ways to be church). Quartz itself gradually came into existence as this overlap between Wordsmithcrafts activity and St John’s was recognised, and to support those things which could be described as St John’s activity.

The first class of activity “Church Plants” is the most easily identifiable as ‘Church’. As they move to the right they become less obviously ‘Church’ to those who consider themselves to be Church. Please remember that all of these activities are interlinked as you read the descriptions. They have developed as opportunities arose, and this process of describing them is made with hindsight, with a flavouring of hope to enhance readers’ appetite for more.

Please follow the links in each section to explore the types of activities more fully

Planting and Adaptation

Activities like Interweave, All Age Worship, Second Sunday and Housegroups best fall into this category. They are all activities which draw from recognised models of Church and adapt or apply them in new contexts and ways.

Interweaves started by applying the multimedia approach to services first established by Alternative/Creative worship communities in the 1980’s and 90’s. The building of St John’s was used as a canvas within which to create an immersive experience that drew from traditional church liturgies and activities, combining them with contemporary popular culture. At each event a theme was chosen and then the team worked collaboratively to explore and express the insights gained during preparation – as well as plan activities for those who just came to participate in the event.

Read More about this type of activity

This class of activity fits less easily into the idea of “Fresh Expressions” because there was no intent as Quartz to develop another instance of church. It is perhaps better described as preparation for a “Fresh Expression” or for welcoming internal growth and training in creative spirituality.

Build as a guest

Sometimes the church is invited to contribute to the life of the community. As a guest there are responsibilities, but also there is a welcome and a recognition of worth. School chaplaincy was one of the first ways I was involved with St John’s in activities which led to the setting up of Quartz. I started by working on an art project with a school originally set up by the St John’s community along with a mission church. This developed into a programme of regular assemblies. It then broadened to include more schools, both primary and secondary and occasional nursery visits. I also contributed to RMPE classes and ongoing continual professional development after attending Council-run Curriculum for Excellence training sessions in Religious Observance/Time for reflection.

In 2017/18 I worked with a Sleeping Giants project called Hidden Histories. I was employed in my capacity as an artist, Wordsmithcrafts, but this led to opportunities to participate and involve volunteers as Quartz. Interpreting the heritage of a ruined collegiate church provided some special moments; on another occasion I was asked to tell the Easter story to an impromptu crowd of parents and their children.

Read more here …

Again, this was not a conscious “Fresh Expressions” activity, as the main objective held by St John’s was to try and attract people to its regular activities, or perhaps those newly developed as described in “Planting and Adoption”. Involvement in the community did however increase the confidence of the volunteers involved, and provide opportunities for them to discuss their faith in shared spaces. It also maintained the public profile of St John’s, and contributed to the development of “Spiritual Literacy”. I also used these opportunities to develop the material for schools into a community learning and development context.

Walk with and accompany

This area of activity is described as working with new constituencies and takes place outside of the building. It is therefore more difficult to recognise as a St John’s activity by the St John’s community. We have tried to address this issue through magazine articles, comments made from the pulpit, updates on social media and on the St John’s website, as well as all the activities described in the first two areas.

Those within the congregation who have been interested in this area of activity have attended housegroups or asked one too many questions and then found themselves in a tent at Kirkcudbright Arts and Crafts Trail, walking labyrinths and being privileged to witness people discovering their ability for #SensingSpirituality in daily life.

Find out more…

This area of activity shares a lot with “Build as a Guest“. However in this setting there is no host organisation or community. As it was beyond the scope of Quartz to establish any permanent communities (that could be fresh expressions of church), Quartz activity has been restricted to creating temporary spaces. This has resulted in longer term relationships and the development of trust with a wide range of groups. Whilst culture within Scotland has been shaped by church influence, trust can not be assumed. There are many who have had negative experiences of church and are deeply suspicious of the intent of missionaries. In particular, discussing issues of human identity and sexuality are a challenge. These are core Faith issues and failure to come to terms emotionally and rationally with changes in culture is to fail actual people, not just a theoretical exercise. I mention it in this context because the growth strategy of many churches has been to expect young people to return when they decide to marry and have children, and buildings are still sought after wedding venues even for the unchurched and de-churched.

There is a loose working title of “Outerweaves” to describe this type of activity. This short video is made to describe one of them.

This particular Outerweave was linked with an Interweave in St Johns and to work with the Hidden Histories project. It was carried out at the Nith Raid river festival which was set up as an arts project to help people reconnect with the river Nith and transform their relationship with it.

Develop community with kingdom values

Wordsmithcrafts accompanies those with passion for history and crafts. It provides access to skills and resources. It creates shared spaces for exploration, discussion and debate. I participate in festivals, support my travels by making things for the heritage sector and delivering services they value. I have invested in developing a community of voluntary enthusiasts within Dumfries and Galloway. I did this within a larger network and it is now a sustainable local group with around 30 members and a new group leader who was recruited and trained as the group grew. In addition, until lockdown Wordsmithcrafts generated general heritage activity opportunities for volunteers and freelancers, many of whom were on low incomes. It has helped young artists explore professional opportunities and discover Europe-wide possibilities.

It is right to ask what this has to do with the church. On one level it is simply my passion, and an employment opportunity just like selling shoes (session 4 talks about shoes, listen to the rest!) or coffee. On other levels it creates opportunities for shared/proximity spaces. It is a mutually agreed exchange of resources and skills to make the world better. It is like moving to another country and working, playing, living, alongside people rather than coming in with a self-sustaining, externally-funded colonial agenda. When I set out to found Wordsmithcrafts no geographical movement was required. The distance between all church cultures and those described on St John’s website as “‘not natural church-goers’” is far enough.

So when I visit schools I remain within the educational remit of helping the pupils recreate the lives of those who have contributed to the Scotland we live in now. Within this I include the story of changing beliefs, and the role of Christians, which might otherwise be forgotten. When appropriate and agreed, I have part funded my professional services with Quartz time to interpret places like Abbeys, or artifacts like the Sweetheart breviary, and to provide “Time for Reflection” activities where participants can practice #SensingSpirituality as well as using all their other senses.

Explore some examples of this here …

As I described in the introduction, the aim of St John’s was to bridge this gap and attract people into the life of the St John’s community. I have done this to the extent that St John’s has been able to adapt to welcome new growth, and by contributing to the reputation of St John’s in a similar way to the many other members who are active in the community.

The intentionally with which I choose opportunities to explore, and exchanges I make in the pursuit of business go beyond just being a Christian living within a workplace however. Wordmithcrafts has a distinctive ethos, and in a similar way to one of my immersive school experiences, those who come into the orbit of Wordsmithcrafts encounter an incarnation of the story at the core of my being.

If you explore the “walking with” section you will hopefully understand that this is accompanied by an approach that respects differences of opinion and belief, and is carried out with a care to ensure that all concerned can participate fully, with integrity. If people then ask questions about the ethos, or are attracted to the way, then further exploration is possible.

I have not however formed new worshipping communities, which would be a different “Fresh Expressions” strategy. There have been glimmers of what this could look like, and I am keen to discuss how these could be taken forward, particularly in partnership with St Johns and the wider Church in the future.

What could this look like? read more here…

I will finish with two overviews of wordsmithcrafts activity. The first is from 2007 when I opened the wordsmithcrafts workshop and was discussed with the rector at that time.

In it I attempt to separate business activity from the “pioneering ministry” aspects of what I am intending to do. Close reading will show that I do not quite manage this.

The following overview presents a sample of Wordsmithcrafts and voluntary activity, highlighting that which can be identified as supported by the Quartz partnership.

Chart describing Quartz activities

This diagram assumes a starting point of Wordsmithcrafts as a pioneer project, existing outside of traditional church activity. It then adapts spiritual practices that are discovered there to enrich church contexts. The diagram is not complete. It is hoped however, that by looking at it and the more detailed examples contained within this report, that you the reader will have a clearer understanding of what Quartz is and what I do.

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