Fresh Expressions

Pastoral Ministry Today

I have just published a chapter on "Pastoral Ministry Today" for the new edition of A Pastoral Handbook for Anglicans, edited by Brad Billings, a bishop in the diocese of Melbourne.

As well as discussing the "pastoral services"--baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other rites which still sometimes attract so-called "cultural Christians" with little other involvement in the worship of the church, I talk about the pastoral tasks of navigating a new shared culture as migrants bring new life and the essential task of developing "fresh expressions of church" to engage "unchurched" persons with no experience of (or interest in) "traditional" congregations.

Photograph by Stephen Burns. Close up of stole. Textile artist: Sarah Forrester, St. James Episcopal Church, Porter Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Photograph by Stephen Burns. Close up of stole. Textile artist: Sarah Forrester, St. James Episcopal Church, Porter Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here's my introduction, and then final paragraph, from the essay (notes have been removed):

This chapter engages with trends and trajectories in Australian society, and these as they impact the church. Reflection centres on:

     (1) ministry around pastoral servicess
     (2) cross-cultural community-building, and
     (3) fresh expressions of church.

But by no means all persons who seek the church for rites of passage think alike or have the same expectations; not all migrant experience is akin; and fresh expressions of church can be diverse. More than that: nor do the gifts, convictions and preferences of all congregations, public ministers or other Christians fit with only one of the modes of ministry explored in what follows. For these reasons, the words ‘some’ and ‘may’ are important in my reflections, and their configuration in phrases like ‘some people may…’ Regular use of provisional words reminds us that what we are exploring is not solid moulds into which all people fit, nor blueprints to which all people conform, but something more complex. We need to make  connections across trajectories as part of deft thinking about pastoral ministry today.

     Furthermore, although these reflections do not shy away from facing the cultural flux in which the church offers ministry, here and now, in Victoria, it also needs to be grasped that some things stay the same: God loves the world, and God is ‘infinite in mercy, welcoming sinners’ in Christ Jesus. Jesus is good news; he is risen, redeeming, and reliable. In Christ we might yet, as one poet puts it, ‘taste bread, freshness, the honey of being.’ The Spirit bestowed by God is still moving over the face of the earth, making home in open hearts, breathing life through the scriptures, and giving signs of the divine reign. In the strong name of the Spirit-filled Jesus, liberty from hurt and harm, justice for the last and least, new life and unusual kindness all occur. God is faithful.

      These starting convictions matter because confidence and joy in the gospel contains, copes with and enables the squaring up to difficulties which is necessary to flourishing in pastoral ministry amidst the ‘changes and chances' of contemporary cultures. And those changes are rapid. Since the last edition of this Handbook—in 2001—much has shifted in Australia, and the Anglican Church is caught up in it. A lot of the church growth that has occurred in the last decade and a half is related to the incoming of ethnic minorities and other immigrants. Other growth has happened in communities with reconfigured relationships to historic Anglican forms of liturgy and polity, but that nevertheless embody deep-down Anglican verve about proclaiming the ancient and durable gospel afresh in each generation. Yet these key growth points notwithstanding, national census material for 2016 reveals that numbers of those identifying as Anglican, and those attending Anglican worship, are on the slide. Anglicanism is among other old-line traditions that are marked in many places by what Gary Bouma calls ‘increasingly geriatric assemblies,’ in which two or even three generations of younger persons are absent.

     In the same period (2001-) global Anglicanism has shown new fractures. In some ways, the Anglican Communion at large has been marked by features which have a long history in its Australian form: diocesanism, unilateralism, and clenched withdrawal from wider forums. These have each played their part in the drama of the Communion in recent years. And the global strains in our tradition around some churches’ welcome, and others’ rejection, of the blessing of same sex unions, are connected to quite local issues, at least if Australian commentators are correct to point to the church’s official (which is not necessarily to say, popular) views of sexuality as a stumbling-block for onlookers. For example, recent research on youth ministry in Australia contends that ‘the majority of young people look at the churches with some suspicion and even disdain. Many see them as irrelevant and out of date. They see them as exclusive and intolerant, even repressive, particularly in relation to different expressions of sexuality.’ A particularly stark and distressing—and utterly unavoidable—truth is that, as Royal Commissions have shown us, the church’s cultures have sheltered those who would abuse the vulnerable young, and so young and other people’s suspicions have sometimes been sadly well-founded.

       Though aspects of this situation are clearly bleak, there is nothing to be gained from evading the facts. We need to remember that if we are to engage here in pastoral theology, it involves ‘resolutely refusing to engage in theological discourse that fails to engage unpleasant or inconvenient aspects of human life.' Yet it also remains that despite shame and trouble, care in various modes of pastoral ministry continues to offer very precious opportunities to invite persons to Christ and the gospel, and to serve as a portal to the best that Christian communities can offer. The realities of decline and abuse do, however, invite a sturdy reframing of pastoral ministry in intentionally missional mode, and with very careful lines of accountability. In the current context of mission, neither knowledge of nor goodwill towards the Church / churches can be presumed amongst the so-called general population. In terms of accountability, abuse and settings that enable it must be stopped. Taken together, these factors mean that what pastoral ministries involve in the current climate is not simply continuous with what they may have involved in times past when it was possible to hold quite different assumptions about the general population’s religious sensibilities, their knowledge of at least key pieces of Christian tradition, and their openness to and respect for the church’s representatives. This is no longer the case. So ministries of pastoral care are not for the faint-hearted, though they must be filled with gentleness; and they are not for the change-averse, as they require robustness and grit to engage sensitively and creatively with cultural conditions that are not as before.

...In some contexts, it will be apparent that one of the ways of reaching out discussed in these reflections is most apt to the setting. In many, it will be evident that what may have been default modes of pastoral ministry are becoming less prevalent. The scope of pastoral ministry now is more demanding and varied than it was even fifteen years ago when the previous edition of this Handbook appeared. The skills-base needed to embrace a vocation in pastoral ministry is wide and the resilience it needs, deep. The training and formation of pastoral ministers requires new foci of attention, particularly ongoing professional development for clergy, while the task for theological colleges is large, as each of the three modes of pastoral ministry discussed in the preceding pages needs to be on colleges’ agenda. Locally in parishes or in collaborations across deaneries and diocese, some sort of mix of approaches to pastoral ministry, some sort of mixed economy of church, will be essential. Into the future, the movement of clergy between different modes of pastoral ministry will be needed. Connections between clergy and the communities they lead will need to be galvanised as congregations age, migrants arrive, links with longstanding local communities need to be made or remade, and the world God loves continues to change.


Beyond Common Worship? Q. & A. with Mark Earey


                                                                                   (Photo supplied by Mark Earey.)

Mark Earey is Director of Anglican formation and Tutor in Liturgy at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham in Britain ( A prolific author, he has published many books in liturgical studies—including a new edition of Liturgical Worship (Church House Publishing), just out—as well as being involved in the thick of liturgical revision for his church, the Church of England, for many years. Here, Stephen Burns interviews Mark about his important book Beyond Common Worship (SCM Press, 2013) and his recent involvement in shaping liturgy for Messy Church...



SB: Why did you decide to write Beyond Common Worship?

ME: Back in 1997-2002 I was working for a Church of England liturgical organisation called Praxis as their National Education Officer – it was the period when Common Worship (CW) was being produced and the C of E had no national liturgy ‘officer’, so lots of questions about how to use CW came to me. I thought those questions would ease off once CW had ‘bedded in’. More than 10 years later I was struck by how many of the same questions were still being asked, even by those whose ministerial training had been in the post-CW era. It struck me that a Church is in trouble if it says liturgy is vital to its life and identity, but vast numbers of its clergy (let alone lay folk) find its liturgical resources confusing, intimidating and out of touch with their reality. What is more, lots of the questions were of a similar kind: ‘What’s the least I can get away with?’ or ‘What is the simplest?’ or ‘What can I leave out?’. These questions were not being asked from a spirit of rebellion (though there is a bit that around!) but by good, pastorally-minded and mission-focused church leaders who were trying to make CW work. It felt to me that CW was not ‘fit for purpose’ in a growing number of contexts, and no one seemed willing to face this reality head on.

SB: What is the book’s main argument, briefly?

ME: My basic argument is that ‘What is allowed?’ is not the best question to ask if you want to get the best quality worship. Better questions include, ‘What is appropriate?’, ‘What is needed in our context?’, ‘What will help us to express our love for God and allow God to shape us?’.

It is not really a problem with CW itself, but with the whole package of liturgical control in the C of E. Although it has loosened up in recent years, it has done so by constantly stretching the boundary of ‘what is allowed’ to bring more things within it. It leaves the essential question still the same.

I’m arguing that we need a completely new approach, based more on trust and accountability than on rules. In other words, it’s about moving from a ‘bounded set’ approach (in which rules tell you whether what you are doing is okay) to a ‘centred set’ approach (in which there is more room for a relational approach to determining whether what you are doing is okay).

SB: How have you found people have responded to it? Who have you been aware has been helped by it?

ME: A lot of people who have read it (especially those working in emerging church, pioneering situations, Messy Church, fresh expressions etc.) have responded with relief that someone has noticed the difficult position they are in, and that someone has made a suggestion for how we could do things differently.

I’m interested though, that beyond that there has been little take up of the ideas – largely I think because CW took up so much energy and time in the C of E General Synod, that a lot of people can’t face looking at complex liturgical questions again for a while.

As an idea it is helping some people to feel listened to: as a solution it can’t help anyone until it gets taken up at a strategic level. In the meantime we carry on as we are, with increasing numbers of churches and church leaders simply ignoring the rules we have, and bishops colluding with this, in a ‘don’t ask; don’t tell’ scenario. All this does is push creativity underground, because no one can admit what they are doing – and that means no one can help them do it better.

SB: So what could change that?

ME: It needs some brave people in a diocese somewhere to start the ball rolling in their deanery synod, asking for a review of the liturgical rules. Then it needs to move from there to a diocesan synod motion and from there to General Synod.




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SB: And what have you been up to with Messy Church?

ME: Although the C of E generally has been struggling to cope with the emergence of fresh expressions of Church within its current liturgical rules, it’s been really good to see the Liturgical Commission actively engaging with those who are working in these areas. Several years ago, Lucy Moore (who heads up the ‘Messy Church’ part of Bible Reading Fellowship) came to talk to the Liturgical Commission about Messy Church and the challenges it was facing as Anglican Messy Church congregations began to want to incorporate Holy Communion and Baptism into their life.

When the new Liturgical Commission for the current quinqennium was appointed in 2016, Lucy was a member and that has increased the opportunities for collaboration. In 2017 she convened a consultation about sacraments in Messy Church which drew together folk from Messy Church and the Liturgical Commission and a few others.

Out of that came a desire to give some guidelines to C of E Messy Churches about how to do Holy Communion within the bounds of CW. To get our heads truly into the space, the Liturgical Commission experienced their very own ‘Messy Communion’ at its meeting in October (an experience I’ll never forget!) and that fed into the process too.

SB: What are you learning about developing sacramental practices in messy church contexts?

ME: Anecdotally it seemed that lots of Messy Church congregations were adding a minimised CW communion service onto the end of a normal Messy Church session. In our guidelines we wanted to encourage them to take a more integrated approach, so that the eucharist was completely intertwined with the Messy Church session, taking seriously the sacramental (with a small ‘s’) nature of Messy Church itself – engaging the senses, being creative, eating together. We also wanted Messy Churches to engage with the integrity of the liturgy too, seeing it as a way to connect with the wider church across both time and space and to see themselves as taking their place within it. Though we have been constrained by the rules that still control CW (see above!), we’ve come up with guidelines which we hope will encourage MCs to be creative and bold about how they celebrate the eucharist within their sessions, taking their own particular context into account.



SB: What do you enjoy about teaching liturgy and worship?

ME: I love teaching something which is so important to people. Though students sometimes start off thinking they already know about worship (especially if they’ve been leading worship and preaching for many years), when they get into it their motivation for learning is always really high.

SB: What is the biggest challenge in your context? What are the “current issues”?

ME: The biggest challenge in my context is also the biggest joy – teaching liturgy and worship to Anglicans, Methodists and folk from Black-Majority Pentecostal Churches. They all bring such different assumptions about even the most basic questions.

I think one of the biggest issues across the denominations is how to help people who think ‘liturgy’ is some demonic scheme to keep the Spirit out of worship to see that there’s more to liturgy than that – and particularly that there can be more to ‘liturgy’ than their own experience of it.

SB: What is your own learning at the moment, Mark?

ME: I’m particularly struck by the ways that our assumptions and practices in worship are determined by whether we are most at home in an oral culture or a literary culture – and also by the way that screens (large and small) and the technology they represent are producing that Walter Ong called a ‘secondary orality’ – a shift from print (and the written word) to image, emotion, narrative and memory.

Thank you, Mark.


Photo from

Photo from

The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. (Photo by Stephen Burns.)

The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. (Photo by Stephen Burns.)