New Mini-Series: Pioneer Ministry and Anglican Identity

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Some of my recent thinking has been on the tension between approaches to pioneer mission and inherited church structures.

In particular, the interaction between pioneer ministry and Anglican identity and practice.

Over the next four weeks, in a little mini-series drawing on some of my MA work, I thought it’d be interesting to explore these tensions.

Apologies for those from other denominational backgrounds that we’ll be looking primarily at Anglican identity, but this is simply because of my own sense of denominational identity and background. If there are others who would like to reflect on similar tensions drawing on their own background, particularly Methodism, then please get in touch.

Are fresh expressions post-denominational?

The Mission-shaped Church report, which is in many ways a seminal text for pioneer ministry and fresh expressions of church, suggests that:

[Many fresh expressions of church] are post-denominational… In churches where the non-churched are coming to faith, then members will typically have a fairly slender denominational identity.

This highlights a tension for myself, and others who are training for Ordained Pioneer Ministry in the Anglican Church. Our Anglican tradition and identity, which is the context for our deep-held sense of vocation, and our practice of pioneer ministry may well contradict and challenge one another.

What common ground is there between Anglican identity and the theology and practice of pioneer ministry?

Are new forms of church truly post-denominational, or does Anglican tradition have something to contribute to new church communities being birthed out of the institutional Anglican Church?

But, what is Anglican identity?

In spite of the large amount of discussion around Anglicanism and Anglican Identity, it is remarkably difficult to find definitive statements about what Anglicanism is.

What makes something Anglican, and something else not? Is it at its most minimal, as Mark Chapman seems to suggest, simply about a tradition and theology that is distinctly English? This poses problems for me as one studying for ministry within the Church in Wales, situated within its own distinctly Welsh culture and context, let alone for those undertaking Anglican ministry in the provinces of Africa, India, New Zealand and other global contexts.

Given the sheer size and diversity of the global Anglican Communion, could there be anything distinctive and universal about Anglican identity?

It would be remarkably easy to find oneself completely lost at sea when trying to define Anglicanism. In writing about the search for an Anglican doctrine, Rowan Williams remarks:

The discovery of it may require some patience in reading and attending to a number of historical strands, in order to watch the way in which distinctiveness shows itself.

3 Key Practices

A truly detailed and thorough attempt to define Anglican identity simply would not be possible without a huge amount of theological and historical digging. And a much longer blog series.

Because of this, over the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing specifically on three practical, externally observable characteristics of the shape of Anglican ministry. I believe these 3 keys form the basis of global Anglican practice.

These characteristics are:

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Any new forms of church with an Anglican background, or people looking to pioneer within that context, will need to be able to navigate and negotiate their way through these three landmarks of Anglican practice.

In the next three posts, we’ll take each of these key elements one-by-one and dissect them. I’ll reflect on some of the challenges for The Lab in trying to remain faithful to each. And we’ll see if we can sketch out some ways forward for pioneer ministry which is faithful to Anglican identity.

About the author: James Henley
James Henley
James has been with The Lab since 2007 and leads our team. He's an ordained pioneer minister in the Church in Wales.
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