In the summer of 2009 Phil Durrant spent a month with Church from Scratch in Southend and recorded a thought provoking video diary of his first impressions (see it at the end of this article). It's a diary that captures the day to day life of this distinctive church and their mission. Phil is a trainee minister at Oxford University and Church from Scratch is a 7 year old Baptist church, planted by Peter Dominey. The church is now a network of 10 community groups across the area and is organised around mission and community rather than having a Sunday service.
Peter Dominey answers questions on Church from Scratch
You describe church from scratch as 'dirt under the fingernails' sort of church. what does that mean for you? It hints at us being a down-to-earth everyday experience. We don't do Sundays, having moved the focus away from services (which we don't have) to faith expressed through shared lives in missional christian community. It also hints at the ordinariness of our lives and the pain of a number of us dying young as a consequence of troubled lives. And lastly If we get engaged and don't back off there's got to be dirt under the fingernails, hasn't there?
How does what you do differ from the 'house church' movement stemming from the 70s? Errr... apologies if the answer tends to stereotype what the 'house church' movement was about, I wasn't a Christian back then. We're multi-voice when we gather which may be a similarity, but our leadership works more as a resource that roves and guides the network rather than those who are the source of all truth. Maybe that's because our view of the Trinity is more social than the western hierarchical understanding of authority in the godhead which may have influenced some 'house church' streams. We're big on being incarnational and that leading to it being highly contextual and that means the culture we are planted in will deeply shape our practices. We don't see a blueprint for church in the Bible, the hope is that Church from Scratch will smell of Southend-on-Sea as well as Jesus.
In the video diary, Phil says you have the people but not the resources - a reverse of the situation some more traditional shaped churches find themselves in. Is this a creative tension? I think Phil was referring to our ability to connect with people from beyond the church. The lack of resources is a pain. We see easy opportunities to reach more people if only we could resource that. You see lots of CFS are people who just about stay afloat in life. Not people with the stability, skills and wealth I've experienced in three previous churches as a Christian. We've carried out two secondment exercises as a way to recruit local christians with more capacity. Some local churches were generously open to that secondment exercise but it's going to be hard for any long-haul Christian to transition to our values and the way we express them when they've experienced many years in a different tradition of church. As a creative solution we're also exploring the possibility of offering internships with CFS and if anyone wants to have a conversation about moving to Southend for a self-funding internship we're up for that. White knights coming to save the day need not apply! www.churchfromscratch.org
There's a bit of a revelation moment for Phil on day 5 when he realises that the there's no need to 'get people to church' (meaning sunday morning worship) - the outreach already is church. Do you think the wider church would benefit from this theology? What?! And move away from "Back to church Sunday" thinking? Surely not!
One of the 5 characteristics mentioned at the end of the video is fluidity. How does this sit alongside the need for continuity and a sense of stability? At 7 years in it's increasingly hard not to congeal. Now a community of people is at stake when we undergo change; the risk of damaging what is encourages us to be risk averse. At the start there was no church, and it was far easier to embrace risk with just Jesus' mission to join in with and few people to get burnt. (Note to self: More courage needed.) And to answer the question, the hope is that our values are continuous and our practices can change. I just wonder if we need to develop some sort of rule-of-life in the future to give us the stability of a limited set of rhythmical practices so we can embrace other change without being disorientated. Those practices might be communal or individual, they would need to be missional. I like the way Small-boat-big-sea have started to explore that. That's just a guess at what might be needed to help us stay fluid.
Is becoming institutionalised a genuine fear? And how do you/will you avoid it? Yes. The fear is of our increasing structures and mechanisms constraining our ability to be redirected by Jesus and us reducing our reliance on him. We need the structures and mechanisms to sustain and help us develop and at the same time they seem to be the thing that sucks life from us. A friend pointed out the "routinisation of charisma" thinking which I found a helpful Google. Though I get a sense of the inevitability of us institutionalising to some degree. Perhaps the answer could be controlled demolition! For each new structure or mechanism we believe we should put in place, we ask if there's another one we should knock down. My sketchy knowledge of church history tells me that jumping in the life boats and letting the old thing sink brings many new opportunities and is the way the church has often broken free from institutionalism. But to mix up the metaphors, if we become a turkey are we really going to vote for Christmas in CFS?