Anglican Samizdat

June 14, 2009

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions has been imported into Canada and seems to have been embraced by such stalwarts of Canadian Anglicanism as Primate Fred Hiltz and Niagara bishop Michael Bird, a fact that would make  even the most gullible suspicious. John Bowen, an evangelical whom I heard speak a week ago, is enthusiastic about Fresh Expressions. This article tends to confirm my initial impression that it is more concerned with delivery than content – a fundamental flaw: when content is mentioned we are given the usual non-gospel, liberal claptrap cause du jour:

The ideas for alternative-style worship are part of an initiative launched by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to appeal to the younger generation.

They are set out in a new book compiled by the Church’s Fresh Expressions programme, which aims to boost church attendance with more relevant and exciting services.

One Holy Communion service promoted in the book, called Ancient Faith, Future Mission, begins with the congregation being shown a video clip from the YouTube website about a United Nations anti-poverty campaign.

Worshippers are told that “our planet is messed up” and that “things are not right”.

They are then asked to approach the altar and rub sea salt on their fingers to represent tears, before walking around and meditating at eight “prayer stations” representing themes such as “gender equality” and “environmental sustainability”.

A psalm is recited in “beat poetry” style to the accompaniment of African Djembe drums, and prayers are said “for the corporate world, for influential CEOs who oversee billion-dollar industries”.

The prayers continue: “We pray for John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Dr Eric Schmidt of Google Inc, H Lee Scott Jr of Wal-Mart Stores and others who have already made commitments to justice.”

Speaking for myself, I would prefer to have a root canal without an anaesthetic.

Among the alternative services explored in the book, which is co-edited by the Rt Rev Steven Croft, the new Bishop of Sheffield, are so-called “U2charists”, services in which the congregation receives communion but sings the songs of the Irish rock band U2 instead of traditional hymns.

The services, which include such songs as “Mysterious Ways”, “One”, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, have been pioneered at St Swithin’s church in Lincoln.

This, of course, is proof positive that the Anglican church has deftly managed to emasculate anyone attempting to satirise it: who can compete with the self-ridicule of a church that willingly chooses to sing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as a hymn?

In chapter of the book, Archbishop Williams says: “The Bible is full of stories about God communicating through act and sign as well as language … Far from being bound to communication through clear information economically expressed in words, our society is still deeply sensitive to symbols and inclined to express important feelings and perceptions in this way.”

The Fresh Expressions initiative was launched by the Archbishop in 2004 to combat the significant drop in churchgoing that has been seen in Britain over recent decades. In the past few years the decline appears to have steadied.

Church leaders are particularly concerned about the loss of younger people, who are abandoning the pews at a greater rate than their older counterparts.

The Rt Rev Graham Cray, who heads the Fresh Expressions initiative, said that it was vital that the Church explored new ways of engaging with modern culture.

“We have to reconnect with a very large percentage of the population that has no contact or interest in traditional church,” he said.

Sadly, the Anglican church is ignoring something that actually works – expressing the unchanging Gospel with contemporary artistic forms – and prefers to convince itself instead that the medium is the message. The trouble is, it isn’t.



  1. Oh great BAS ver 9.06, lets give it a catchy title, Vista comes to mind. Then they can replace synod with a flashy awards show

    Comment by Steve L. — June 14, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  2. My thought when I read this, especially the part about the prayer stations, is that this programme is immersing such young people as get involved further into the World they need Jesus to pull them out of.

    They need to be told “our planet is messed up –but not the way the environmentalists tell you it is”.

    Comment by Toral — June 15, 2009 @ 7:09 am

  3. As an entry level Outreach Programme, Fresh Expressions is a good initiative. But when it begins to displace the Gospel with “God Light” instead of the eternal Good News, it falls right into the revisionist pit.

    Comment by Jim Muirhead — June 15, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  4. David:

    Again, I wish you had talked to me before publishing this. I’m sorry you chose to take a report in the Sunday Telegraph on Fresh Expressions as Gospel truth, instead of talking to the people who are involved on the ground. I am sad too that you think I would be more interested in “delivery than content.”


    Comment by John Bowen — June 15, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

  5. John,

    I’ve responded more fully by email, but, in brief:

    No I don’t think you are more interested in delivery than content, but those who will end up running Fresh Expressions are.

    Is the Telegraph article inaccurate? I can very easily imagine Michael Bird doing something like that; it sounds like the average Niagara synod – except most Niagara synods have more pagan content.

    Comment by David — June 15, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

  6. Bishop Nick Baines has a go at the Telegraph article, with a comment from Times reporter Ruth Gledhill:

    Comment by Toral — June 17, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  7. Interesting – thanks Toral.

    Comment by David — June 17, 2009 @ 9:41 am

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