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The Challenge of ‘Fresh Expressions’ to Ecclesiology

Reflections from the Practice of Messy Church

In: Ecclesial Practices
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  • 1 Catholic theologian, teacher and writer Roman Catholic Westminster Seminary, Allen Hall Consultant, research fellow and member of ARCS (Action Research - Church and Society research team), Heythrop Collegeclare@drwatkins.co.uk
  • | 2 Associate Vicar, Emmanuel Church, South London (with Helen Cameron, and Catherine Duce, and James Sweeney - ARCS)1
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This dual authored paper reports and reflects on theological action research carried out with an instance of the Fresh Expressions church, Messy Church. Locating the work in the wider ecclesiological debates surrounding Fresh Expressions, the authors describe the research methods used, before going on to develop ecclesiological reflection in a conversational form. As such, the paper is an example of the ‘four voices’ approach to theological action research developed by the ARCS team (Action research - Church and Society, Heythrop College, University of London). As both practitioners and academics reflect together a number of significant insights emerge about the ways in which Messy Church might be understood as church: the possibility of being a ‘church to an (as yet) unknown God’; the understanding of being a searching church, a community of journey; and the vision of an expansive, centred ecclesiology, which cares less about boundaries and definitions, and seeks more to affirm a variety of ecclesial relations. These themes, variously discussed by the different parties, offer an account of both practical and systematic theological learning through attentiveness to contemporary practices of church.

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