Friday, October 31, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 8: Manchester, England

My sabbatical isn't finished yet, but my time in England is.  Here's the story of St. James and Emmanuel in Manchester, and its fresh expression of church, Abide.  The video text follows....

Manchester, England, isn't a typical tourist destination -- an industrial city, best known in the States for an incredible English football club.  Honestly, I didn't see anything while I was in Manchester, other than the neighborhood I was there to visit -- Didsbury, in the southern part of the metro area.  Didsbury definitely has its own vibe; and like the parish I visited in London, Didsbury reminds me a lot of Brookside -- doctors, lawyers, business people, and their families enjoying beautiful homes, cool coffee shops, and great restaurants ... with one noteable exception.  I think sombody misunderstood what the "K" in KFC is supposed to stand for.

Didsbury is also home to the parish of St. James and Emmanuel.  Maybe I was homesick, but I could see a lot of St. Andrew's in St. James and Emmanuel.  It's definitely a "big tent" kind of place, but they express that unity-in-diversity with a collection of smaller tents instead.  First, there are the two churches -- St. James, the original, whose building dates from 1236; and Emmanuel, the "modern" church carved out from St. James' parish in about 1850.  On a given Sunday, here are some glimpses of what you'll find (scenes of worship)....  So there's evangelical prayer and praise, Holy Communion from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, a Taize service -- and even Eucharist in medieval St. James with the liturgical texts projected on a screen.  Just try to categorize this parish.  I dare you.

Along with a deeply Anglican understanding of holding diverse traditions in holy balance, you also find a commitment to mission at St. James and Emmanuel.  And, true to form, that missional calling manifests itself in diverse ways.  The seven-year-old parish center uses flexible, shared space to house kids' groups, community meetings, church offices, private parties, church events, and a weekly ministry of shelter for asylum seekers.  A renovated narthex will house a coffee shop and weekly Youth Cafe, giving kids a safe place to hang out and get help with homework.  The old rectory provides office space for seven local charities.  The church's school forms hundreds of young minds and hearts, and a second building will soon double the school's reach.  The rector, the Rev. Nick Bundock, describes the parish's identity in terms of Jesus' parable of the mustard seed.  That story's not just about the size of the seed; it's also about what that seed produces: a great bush with many branches to shelter the birds around it.  As Nick puts it, "A church has to create space for the birds of the air to nest in its branches."

But what keeps mission from being just one good work after another is a Christian community where mission finds its roots.  And that's the story of Abide, the "missional communty" of St. James and Emmanuel.  Several years ago, Emmanuel began a Sunday-evening service mostly for 20- and 30-somethings, but worship was all it was.  In fact, the gathering had become fairly unhealthy, with new people feeling put off rather than drawn in.  Three years ago, the Rev. Ben Edson received a call to morph the Sunday-night service into a fresh expression, a community rather than just a worship service.  Now Abide meets twice a month -- on a Tuesday, for dinner and conversation; and on a Sunday night, for worship and time at the pub.  Many of Abide's members also follow a rule of life called the Five Rhythms of Grace, a set of commitments that remind me of the promises of our Baptismal Covenant.  Everyone I spoke with said Abide's most important gathering, by far, isn't the worship; it's the Tuesday-night dinner.  There, the community breaks bread together, hears stories of other disciples trying to follow Jesus' path, and supports each other in following a rule of life.  Hmmmm ... sounds like church after all.  It's not rocket science; it's a group of people helping each other live lives that face outward.  Everyone agrees this "missional community" is a work in progress, and that's OK. At this point, the work that it's doing is vital: creating a community strong enough to proclaim the kingdom of God well beyond the church's walls.

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