California-Nevada Clergy Experience Fresh Expressions

October 18, 2013

Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., and fifteen clergy from the California-Nevada recently attended a Fresh Expressions Conference in the United Kingdom.  Fresh Expressions encourages and resources new ways of being church, working with Christians from a broad range of denominations and traditions. The movement has resulted in thousands of new congregations being formed alongside more traditional churches.

A fresh expression of church is a new form of church for a fast-changing world that serves those outside the existing church, listens to people and enters their culture, makes discipleship a priority and intentionally forms Christian community.

The Fresh Expressions organization exists to encourage and support the fresh expressions movement, working with Christians from a variety of denominations and traditions. The initiative has resulted in hundreds of new congregations being formed alongside more traditional churches. It was started in 2004 by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York with the Methodist Council, but now involves an unparalleled range of partners.

The team has worked at grass roots level with dioceses, districts synods and groups of churches and has played a leading role in the formation of national policy in a number of denominations.

The Rev. Kim Montenegro, pastor of First United Methodist Church Tracy, shares a reflection below:
 
In between Stockton and Linden on Highway 26, there is large groupings of trailer parks, I use both of the terms "trailer" and "park" loosely.  The trailers are dilapidated and falling apart, some have more permanent structures added onto the trailer that provide a covering overhead and some type of wall structures.  The "parks" are larger groupings of trailers. The roads are dirt and filled with potholes.  When you slow down, and make a left off of the highway, it is like driving into a developing world. 
 
I had driven that road a thousand times but yet my eyes were just full of blur as I whizzed by in my air conditioned car at 55 miles an hour (okay maybe 75).  Until one day I had to make that turn for myself. 
 
We had a trunk-or-treat event at church and in order to do outreach, we collected the names and addresses of the kids by taking their pictures. I hand delivered the pictures, along with a invite to our Christmas Program. It was then that I made that left turn for myself. 
 
What I saw, I could not go unseen, and my heart broke.  While I was serving Linden UMC, I felt a major failing on my ministry when I was not able to get the congregation to feel called to serve the folks we drove by every day.  It troubled me greatly.  After driving there myself, I felt called to do something but did not know what. 
 
Fast forward to Fresh Expressions....
 
While at Fresh Expressions, I heard the story of Tamara John who is the Pastor for Chapel for Life RV ministry. She spoke about how she was living with the people in the RV park and servicing them where there were.  There was no secondary location that they needed to go to in order to be in relationship with the church. They had church there, they served the hungry there, they lived in the community with and among one another, and the power of her testimony was amazing. She shared her story and it brought tears to my eyes.
 
I am no longer appointed to Linden, but these folk still stay in my heart.  After Tamara was done speaking I felt I needed to share this experience with someone and I turned my head and I saw Schuyler Rhodes, the only person at this conference that knew exactly where I was talking about because he had driven passed it monthly himself. 
 
It was in this moment, that I realized the phrase "Not in my time but God's time." In God's time, I was able to see what hope, life, and love the United Methodist Church might be able to offer to folks who are really struggling in the "in between." 
 
In between Stockton and Linden, in between English and Spanish, in between working and poverty, in between the world and God's Kindom, these are people who are going to come knock on the church's door and ask what time is service.  But these are the people that Jesus was serving, living and loving, and thanks be to God.