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Look on fringes to find future church

Worship and spirituality are not confined to the Church, and one of the challenging presentations Methodist Conference 2004 heard was about some of the spiritual quests groups and individuals are on outside the mainstream.

In 2000 the Methodist Futures Group gave a grant that amounted to $40,000 a year for five years to network and support new types of Christian communities that exist on the fringes of the traditional churches.

The project is known as futurechurch. It now consists of a website (www.futurechurch.org.nz), a newsletter, a directory of some emerging faith communities, and an extensive data base of articles and resources – more than 200 altogether.

Rosemary Neave co-ordinates the activities of futurechurch, and she up-dated Conference on its activities.

"Futurechurch provides emerging spiritual communities a platform and a means to network together. It also does a bit of advocacy with the mainstream churches and advises them on how to respond to these groups."

"The churches have not always handled these groups well. At least two groups in the network were asked to leave churches because they were seen as threatening," she says.

In her presentation Rosemary used the analogy of the Bic ballpoint pen. The type of person who works on the shopfloor manufacturing pens is not the same type of person who can come up with a vision for a writing system for the future. Though they don't have much in common and might not enjoy the same Christmas party, the church needs both type of person if it is to persist.

"It is possible for the mainstream to have a relationship with those at the edge but it cannot be controlling. The churches have to give them space to find their own way and not impose a heavy institutional framework on them.

"Most of these groups are small, from five to 30 people. They are made up of both church leavers and people who are new to the church. They tend to have lively participation, don't look authoritarian, and take responsibility for themselves as adults."

Among the groups Rosemary identifies are alt. worship and emerging churches, community churches, contemplative groups, Sea of Faith congregations, youth networks, gay and lesbian worship groups, virtual communities, and retreat centres.

"Many of the emerging churches want to reclaim the evangelical label from the fundamentalist tradition. They are open, non-dogmatic and exploratory. They tend to use the language of journeying rather than of arrival – journeying with Christ rather than being ‘saved’ as a one off event.

"Worship in these congregations reflects people's whole lives unlike traditional churches that often talk a lot about God and not much about us. Many of these groups create sacred spaces and make use of silence and silence. They tend to use fewer words, not more.”

Rosemary invites anyone to check out the futurechurch website. She says. It is for people who have left the Church but not God; people who seek Christian spirituality that is not narrow or fundamentalist; people who are in a group exploring these ideas and perhaps looking for contacts and resources; and people who are wondering about the future of the Church.