Sanctus1: The opportunities and challenges of an emerging church

Olive Drane interviewed by Ian Mobsby, research section editor and Emerging Church Practitioner with the Moot Community in London and a core team member of Fresh Expressions.

Olive Fleming Drane has a worldwide ministry in theology and the arts. Her personal faith story is told in the book Clowns, Storytellers, Disciple (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press 2004). Among other things, she is currently working as mission consultant with churches in Aberdeenshire and Shetland as well as being an adjunct professor of Mission, Theology and the Arts in the School of Theology at Fuller Seminary, California. For more than ten years, she was a chairperson of the Children’s Hearing system in Scotland. She is also the author of Spirituality to Go (London: Darton Longman & Todd 2006) and, with John Drane, of Family Fortunes: faith-full caring for today’s families (London: Darton Longman & Todd 2004). She has also lectured at Cliff College for the MA in Emerging Church..

Sanctus1: the opportunities and challenges of an emerging church.
Dissertation submitted to the University of Aberdeen for the degree of Master of Theology in Ministry and Mission, August 2003

What made you want to research this title?
Having explored the creative arts in relation to faith for probably 20 or more years, opportunities arose to participate at events where questions of how to be spiritual and connect with contemporary culture became a possibility.

I first encountered the cultural melting pot of the Pacific rim while studying at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley in the early 1990s. Subsequent teaching at Fuller Seminary gave me a space to reflect more broadly on what the future might look like. What happens on the West Coast of America tends to drift to the East Coast and eventually across the Atlantic to the UK.

In 1999 I led the Bible Studies at the Anglican Conference on Evangelism (ACE), a national UK event that in a sense marked the conclusion of the Decade of Evangelism. The sessions I led were full of interaction and creative ways of looking at scripture, and following that I found myself drawn into conversations with some key thinkers in mission who were asking the same sort of cultural questions as I was.

A year later I was speaking at a follow-up conference in Durham where I reconnected with Ben Edson. He was about to go to Manchester for an interview for the position of city centre missioner with Manchester Diocese, and introducing Ben to my son and his wife who already lived in the city centre of Manchester was a pivotal connection that led directly to the formation of Sanctus1. At that same event, I met Revd Dr Steven Croft for the first time, who was then Warden of Cranmer Hall but subsequently became Archbishops’ Missioner, and a key player in the emergence of Fresh Expressions.

What is your interest in the Emerging Church?
Two things really: Being aware that inherited Church is simply not connecting with huge numbers of folk in the UK, while at the same time there is an enormous awareness of the spiritual and exploration of the meaning of life. So something has to change.

My personal experience contains many people who have found God in the most unexpected of places. The openness in our culture to hearing people’s faith stories and a search for something that will give life meaning. In a previous generation the Church would have been the natural locus for this, but we seem to have opted out. Something has to change if we are to be true to the Gospel.

Where did this title come from – how did it evolve?
I quite literally saw Sanctus1 come to birth. I heard the progress through the natural medium of a family story (Mark and Laura) talking about meeting Ben and Ruth, eating, hanging out and dreaming of what might be possible. So before the conception of Sanctus1, I guess I was praying for this project in the natural process of praying regularly for my family’s welfare. By the time I did my formal research Sanctus1 had been going for about 18 months. I used an ethnographic method, listening to people’s stories and supplemented by a questionnaire. I met folks on their territory, at the time of day suitable to them, which turned out to be coffee shops, bars, at lunch, in the evening, whenever it worked for them. I tended to ask straightforward questions, like ‘Tell me how you connected with Sanctus1, what has your journey been?’. So the title came out of what I heard. I didn’t start with a title and try to prove anything.

I applied the same style in interviewing church leaders, and because I was not being funded by the Church to do this I felt I could ask anyone anything. And I have to say I appreciated their honesty and ability to reflect in very personal ways on their own journey.

What do you think you have learnt – what are the headline points?
There’s a whole other book in this! But leadership is key, whether internally to Sanctus1 itself or in relation to Diocesan structures and decision-making. There is no question that none of this would have happened the way it did without visionary leadership within the traditional church structures. The bishops and others showed a remarkable capacity for trusting others without constraining them in seeing what God might be doing. And within Sanctus1 itself, the importance of having leaders who have been trained in terms of practical missional ministry was key. If Ben and others had not been capable of journeying with people and creating safe spaces for exploration of God, it would not have happened. And in there somewhere is the importance of leaders who are happy in their own skin and able to to be good reflective practitioners.

What have you learnt about Sanctus 1 – how has this experience changed you?
In broad terms, the challenges they have faced are the same as churches across the world are dealing with.

People are looking for ways to be spiritual and for a variety of reasons the church mostly does not feature on their radar. Sanctus1 are attempting to change this in their locality by creating a place to belong.

Ben Edson is an articulate practical reflector and I’ve learned from listening and observing him. I find myself repeating to others what I’ve heard him say so often that ‘Sanctus1 is about learning in community’. I’ve also observed – even in a pub – when everyone else is engrossed in conversation – Ben moves unobtrusively among people connecting those on the margins as well as those at the centre. This I believe is a gift, but it’s maturing because Sanctus1 has provided a space where it can be put into practice.

What issues do you think your study raises about Sanctus 1 and more widely the Emerging Church?
Eventually every group has to face structural questions. I think Al Roxburgh’s diagram says simply what a thousand words would take

What issues do you think this study raises that you have not been able to explore fitting for others to research further?
These are speculative dreaming questions:

  • How to transition changes in leadership
  • How to disciple a new generation with a missional DNA
  • How to avoid reverting to a default mode with the structures as they evolve and grow
  • How to deal with possible conflict or different perspectives or emphasisntertainment