25 Aug 2015

Sign & Spirit - Three Streams

Following my post about Greenbelt, and the nature of Sign & Spirit I wanted to unpack further the three streams that flow into the emerging movement.

Sacramental Evangelical.

The Church of England's most prominent Sacramental Evangelical, (and Charismatic) is Archbishop Justin Welby. ++Justin's Spiritual Director was/is Fr.Nicolas Buttet, a specialist in the Eucharist, mission, and experienced in renewal. At a recent Pioneer Breakfast, ++Justin asked me about how sacraments could become a part of fresh expressions of church (I did not get the chance to answer!) ++Justin is not alone amongst charismatic evangelicals in wishing to re-integrate the sacramental into evangelical and charismatic church life and mission. Although non-Wesleyan evangelicals have traditionally shied away from the language of sacrifice there is a language of intimacy and offering found in the theology of sung worship. Sign & Spirt seeks to rediscover the sacraments as worship, more than ordinance, especially the Eucharist so that language of offering & intimacy can find its deepest meaning.

Charismatic (Anglo) Catholic.

Although the catholic tradition has always embraced the practice of spiritual gifts (see this New Advent Catholic Encylopedia entry), the emphasis on these gifts as available for all came with the Charismatic renewal of the 1970's. The tradition has perhaps struggled with integrating the theology of an experiential theology of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the sacramental, baptism and confirmation. Post John Wimber the evangelical charismatic movement has moved in the direction of conversion being the point at which we receive the Holy Spirit, with the call for us to live in the fullness of that gift. Sign & Spirit seeks integrate the sacramental action of the Spirit in Baptism/Confirmation with an ongoing reception of that fullness, whilst recognising that the Spirit is always active in the church, implicitly and explicitly.

Sacramental Alternative Worship

Many involved in Alternative Worship 20 years ago came out of an evangelical charismatic background, yet found themselves drawn to the richness of sign and symbol found in the anglo-catholic tradition. Many groups found a warm welcome in churches of that expression. Groups such as Blessed, Transcendence, and others became for a while the mainstream of worship at Greenbelt, offering worship that whilst not explicitly charismatic embraced the work of the Spirit in creative ways. Those links have become stronger in the last few year through On Fire and other events. New Monasticism has also built bridges between different expressions of church, contemplative and charismatic, evangelical and catholic.  Sign & Spirit seeks to bring those expressions together in more explicitly.

Emerging Sign & Spirit

The nature of Sign & Spirit as a missional movement is still open. The three streams have a diversity which leads to varying views of orders, Eucharistic sacrifice, and liturgical order. In practice it can seem slapdash and haphazard. But it is my firm belief that God is doing something new and prophetic in His church that draws from these different spiritual heritages.

23 Aug 2015

Sign & Spirit - For the Parish

The church is bustling as people arrive, older folks and families. The servers are gathering at the back, the worship group is already in the sanctuary - adults and teens and children. Notices of upcoming church events roll on a number of screens - placed around the church to respond to liturgical movement. 

Yesterday I used the term Sign & Spirit to refer to an emerging missional movement that draws from sacramental and charismatic roots. I have had some questions about what this might mean.
The Vicar introduces the service with information on the screens - welcome slips for new folks, giving, prayer & oil ministry available during communion. The Alpha course is plugged. A prayer and then a hymn - 'Gather Us In' which reflects what the family of God are here for today. The words are clearly visible on the main screen.
Sign & Spirit is a neat term after all, speaking of a richness of action and experience in the Christian life. Sign & Spirit could on one hand refer to the charismatic, on the other to the sacramental.

It refers of course to both.
The children help light the candles on the nave Altar - that is those who are not servers or singers! This Sunday there is no Sunday school. After the Gospel is read from the centre of the church the sermon involves pictures and involvement for all ages. Questions are asked. Questions are Answered.
Sign & Spirit reflects the coming together, the meeting point of (at least) three different streams:
  • The Charismatic (Anglo) Catholic with its history and experience. 
  • The Sacramental Evangelical with its missional confidence. 
  • Sacramental Alternative Worship with its creative boldness.
The prayers are led by the children, with short videos on the screen and candles lit for each intercession. For peace. For hope. For the sick. For the dead. The Peace follows with great warmth and much movement.
Sign & Spirit embraces creative forms of worship, unencumbered by expectations of genre. Incense, video, procession, music, stations, actions. Diverse not ashamed.
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! is sung. Incense is used as the gifts are brought to the table. The Eucharistic prayer today is A2 with a preface that reflects the theme of the service. Women and Men, Priest, Deacon and Server (one of the youth group) stand at the Altar together as the great sanctus bell is rung and the body and blood is lifted for all.
Sign & Spirit has a focus on parish renewal, although it is not limited to the parish. Within this the sacraments are seen as the living heart of church life.
As the people come for communion, adults and children, some make their way to the back for prayer and anointing. Responding to God in different ways, but all come to receive with hands open. How Deep the Father's Love for Us is sung - some hands are raised higher.
Sign & Spirit expects God to meet with people, in the congregation, in the community, on the streets, through prayer, gift, worship and sacrament. Sign & Spirit encourages people to pray for and share with one another.
At the notices a member of the congregation shares a story of how God has met with them. The Vicar describes it as gently prophetic. Notices are given about the community choir, the action groups open to all church members - Mission, Worship, Pastoral, and opportunities to serve church and community.
Sign & Spirit expects God to work charismatically through his people, implicitly as well as explicitly. For some the language of renewal is easy. For others it is harder, but all are valued and listened to.
After the blessing the children distribute flags and get ready to join the procession. Christ be Our Light is sung as we go out in the world to share the Gospel. The people turn to the back for the dismissal.
Sign & Spirit expects that the church will grow when we seek God and reach out to others. It cannot exist only to change the interior of church buildings. It must seek to transform a nation.

Sign & Spirit: Post-Greenbelt?

I have a couple of emails and other contacts asking if I will be at Greenbelt this year.

The answer is no.

But one comment stands out:
Alastair Newman2 days ago
Fr Eddy, I'd love to know where the Charismatic Catholic element of Greenbelt has gone! It seemed sadly devoid at Boughton House last year, and doesn't look like being anything like that this year either. A shame, a real shame.

Alastair was commenting on my Post from 2012 (Now on the legacy blog)
The term I kept hearing at Greenbelt this year was Charismatic Catholic, a fulfilment perhaps of my musings about Sacramental Renewal from last year. What is growing is not so much Catholic worship with the Charismatic tacked on but a deeper integration. For me to be Charismatic Catholic is to be Charismatic about the Sacraments, acknowledging the assured reality of them but being open to seeking a fuller encounter with God through them. For me to be Charismatic Catholic is to be Sacramental about the Charismata, recognising that the Spirit blows and the gifts operate in the Church without the cultural structure and excesses of the Charismatic movement. God speaks and we need to learn to listen. 
This is a two hand emerging spirituality, not only in adopting the ancient position of prayer rather than the secular inspired single arm waving which looks so unfortunate in press photos, but in recognising that the supernatural and worship ‘hand’ of the Charismatic finds its balance and fullness in sacramental orthodoxy.
Perhaps after 40 years this is where Greenbelt has brought us.

Three years on and many of the groups that expressed that two handed emerging spirituality are not at Greenbelt.  There has been no falling out or throwing of toys, indeed the Goth Eucharist will be there under Mthr. Skye Denno's leadership, but by the time the request came in I had already made other plans. In the move from one venue to another the space for a particular Sign & Spirit spirituality which has grown out of the Generation X + Y engagement has not transitioned well. The offers were made and they did not fit into the programme. Again I must re-iterate that this hasn't been intentional on anyone's part.

So what are the alternatives.

Firstly there is Sanctum, a small gathering that includes a number of people and groups who have been active in Sign and Spirit worship at Greenbelt over the last few years. This year we met at Mirfield and used there excellent multimedia lower church for worship, joining with the community for prayer where appropriate. It was strange (humbling?) to worship with only a couple of dozen using forms for which we had experienced 100's of people. Sanctum will return next year.

Secondly there is On Fire. On Fire has been running for many years at High Leigh in April, and offers a variety of worship, speakers and ministry. Although On Fire is rooted in the origins of Anglo-Catholic Charismatic renewal it has an eye towards the emerging Sign and Spirit movement. On Fire offers other events throughout the country.

Thirdly there is the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage. Clearly aimed at a particular age range, and tied up in tensions of the Shrine in regards to women's orders, none the less, it offers a unique space for creative sacramental worship and prayer.

I am privileged to be a part of a church community at All Saints that is rich in Sign & Spirit, but for many Greenbelt was a yearly opportunity to lift both hands together. None of these events quite fill the void that Greenbelt has left, especially for families together, or the particular emphasises of the emerging Sign and Spirit movement. It is possible that we could work alongside another Christian festival, although questions of inclusion (genders in leadership and covenant relationships) could be a barrier.

So there is still a space to be filled. The question is, who feels called to being part of filling it?