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Fresh expressions of church boom in Norfolk 

A national research report published in January found that the Anglican Diocese of Norwich has experienced a boom in the rise of Fresh Expressions of church throughout the past seven years. Jenny Seal reports.

The term 'Fresh Expression of church' was devised by the 2004 report Mission Shaped Church to describe new churches, mostly within traditional denominations, that are established appropriate to lifestyle and culture primarily for the benefit of those who don't go to church, either because they have never been or because they have drifted away or had a negative experience. 
Since 2006, 51 different fresh expressions of church have started in the Anglican Diocese of Norwich meeting on at least a monthly basis with a total of almost 3,000 people attending.  With this increase, fresh expressions now represent 10% of the churches within the Diocese.
The report produced by the Church Army's Research Unit has given the Church of England reasons to celebrate as these new churches bring growth, attracting non-churched people as well as a younger population with over 40% of those attending aged under 16. 
While they necessarily come in all shapes and sizes, appropriate to the community they are seeking to serve, the report found that almost a quarter of fresh expressions in the Norwich Diocese are Messy Churches
These family friendly services featuring biblically themed craft activities and a shared meal can be found across the county with congregations reaching over 100 in Dereham and Heacham.
Andrea Woods, Joint Messy Church Co-ordinator for Norfolk, is not surprised by how popular and widespread Messy Churches are within the Diocese and beyond.  She said: "I think there are a lot of families out there who want to go to church but once they have children get very self-conscious.  Messy Church offers an alternative.  It offers a space where they can worship together without worrying about noise levels. It is noisy. It is messy. It is lovely."
Andrea started a Messy Church in September 2010 based in St Andrews, Eaton in Norwich where she is the Children, Young People and Families' Worker. The congregation meets monthly on a Sunday afternoon and now has a core of around 35 people, representing 8-10 families who don't do any other form of church.
One challenge she admits is how do you disciple? She said: "For those families who started with us in 2010, how do we move them on in their faith?  How do we say there is more to this than a fun family afternoon; it's about God, and your walk and journey with God?"
Andrea and her team are currently looking at ways to address this issue, a challenge that fresh expressions are commonly aware of. Indeed the report found that 71% of fresh expressions of church in the Norwich Diocese are seeking to provide some form of discipleship.
In Norfolk, fresh expressions of church have been started in suburbs, housing estates, town and city centres and 25% in rural settings, which have historically been deemed difficult for starting new congregations.
In the Chet Valley Benefice, in rural South Norfolk, Richard Seel and Alison Ball oversee a multi-faceted event called Xpressions Café based in All Saints, Chedgrave that has been going since 2007.  On the first Sunday morning of each month, members of the community come and enjoy one or more of the three different zones which are simultaneously on offer. 
MessyChurchStAndrews450The Café Xpresso zone is a place to read the Sunday papers and enjoy a free coffee. Upstairs in the church centre Xpressions offers activities and worship for families with crafts, songs and stories based around a theme. The theme is shared within the Xplore zone which offers informal discussion and also a final Xplore Together session using video or music prompts for those exploring faith. 
Richard said: "In Xpressions Café people choose what they will do or not do. One of the things we love is that partners can come and read the papers and drink coffee while other family members might be in Xpressions or Xplore enjoying different activities. 
"We do not see Xpressions Café as a stepping stone to 'proper church' but rather we are looking for ways to develop it as church for those who come and for ways in which we can help people along a road of discipleship."
Almost 75% of the fresh expressions in the Diocese use an existing church building, perhaps because in rural locations these are among the community's main facilities. But what happens when a community has no shared buildings?
Rev Heather Cracknell was the first Pioneer Minister trained by the Diocese of Norwich and is now a Pioneer Curate serving the Round House Park housing development in Cringleford with a remit to establish a fresh expression of church in that place. 
When Heather moved to the estate in 2011 there were no community spaces and people spent a lot of time in their cars driving off the estate for work, school and social activities.  Her focus became exploring ways of enabling people to live well there and to create a sense of community.
During the first few months she walked her dog around the development and invited anyone she engaged in conversation to curry nights at her house.  There she encouraged her neighbours to consider what other groups they might enjoy. Since then she has started a host of activities including a book club, a culture club, a new parents’ group as well as running    one-off events such as wine tasting, a community art day and a picnic.
Heather now runs a website called Cringleford Hub which acts as a local social networking site helping people meet one another and start new groups.  In March, after two-and-a-half years of working on the estate, Heather is now launching an informal, fortnightly all-age worship event in the new school.
She explained: "This is about the church serving the needs of the local community.  For this place loving service means trying to help a community spirit develop. In other places it might look different to that, it might be more explicitly around issues of poverty. It depends on your context. 

"All of our contexts are really different so we need to pay attention and listen to what people need and then do that, and do that because God loves them and because we love them and because we want to be a positive, shining light in their lives."    
Top Cringleford Pioneer Mininster, Rev Heather Cracknell and, above, Messy Church At St Andrew's, Eaton.

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