The Mixed Ecology

In the mixed economy, relationships of generosity between different expressions of church will enable us to draw together and celebrate communion with integrity.

Mixed Ecology’ a term used to describe how traditional parishes co-exist with fresh expressions, church plants and pioneer ministries.

The idea of the mixed ecology has its roots in God. The mixed ecology echoes the Trinity .The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have their own identities. They are distinct persons. But they are also totally involved with each other and mutually dependent on one another – so much so that they are a single entity.

Likewise, inherited churches and fresh expressions have their separate identities; they are different. But they too can be greatly involved with each as they share resources, pray for one another and rejoice in each other’s strengths. This will allow people outside the church to say, ‘They are one.’

"Many mixed ecologies tend to have more than one new expression of church. These fresh expressions tend to be networked with one another along with more traditional parish outreach projects such as foodbanks or toddler groups which combined, can prove effective in extending the missional reach of the whole parish."

The Mixed Ecologists Report 2021, Church of England

If God’s intention for the human race is that difference and oneness should be combined, should this not have implications for our understanding of church? We will hold to a vision of one transcendent united church, but positively welcome a rich variety of expressions of church locally, nationally and across the world. Francis and Richter call for a ‘multiplex’ church. This would allow followers of Christ to celebrate their participation in the kingdom of God in many different ways.

The idea of the mixed ecology seeks to make this vision real. Very diverse expressions of church would exist alongside each other in mutual fellowship. Old and new would be a blessing to one another.

'The mixed ecology expresses the eucharistic heart of the church.'

In the breaking of the bread at Holy Communion, we are invited to behold the Christ who died for us. Just as the pieces of broken bread – in their different shapes and sizes – belong to the one loaf, we see that in all our diversity we belong to each other because we each belong to the one body of Christ.

In John’s gospel, after the last supper Jesus prays for all who will believe in him. He prays not that they will be the same, but that they will be one as they are united to the Godhead (John 17.21). This prayer for unity, so close to the last supper, brings out one of the meanings of Holy Communion. It is to be a celebration of our oneness in Christ amid all our individual differences.

In the mixed ecology, relationships of generosity between different expressions of church will enable us to draw together and celebrate communion with integrity.

In many ways, the Jerusalem church was like inherited church today. Its origins were in a ‘you come to us’ approach to mission. It was effective in reaching those within its hinterland, just as many inherited churches currently reach people who are within the orbit of church. It also had a fairly traditional mindset.

The Antioch church was more like fresh expressions. It launched ‘we’ll go to you’ mission and reached people who were largely beyond the hinterland of the Jerusalem church, just as we pray that fresh expressions will increasingly reach those who are outside the orbit of inherited church now.

"The mixed ecology can re-invigorate the life of the existing inherited church...Where this is achieved there is often an overlap of lay or ordained leadership between different expressions of church. Lay ministry of inherited church members is often developed within a mixed ecology and flourishes where a culture of participation with permission to fail is fostered and where the potential of individuals is noticed and supported.

The Mixed Ecologists Report 2021, Church of England

Despite fierce disagreements at times, Jerusalem and Antioch retained close ties, and there was mutual respect and support. They recognised that Peter was called to mission among the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, and that one was not better than the other: God was blessing both. This formed part of a wider pattern – centres of Christianity sending out missionaries who referred back to the centres they had come from.

THE MIXED ECOLOGISTS REPORT 2021

To find out more about what the Mixed Ecology looks like on the ground, click on the link below to read the Mixed Ecologists Report, published in May 2021.

This study is part of the Living Ministry research programme exploring clergy flourishing, examines an expanding area of ordained ministry which sees ministers engaging in pioneering initiatives alongside ‘inherited’ parish church work. The findings draw on 17 in-depth interviews with clergy across England, conducted in May and June 2020. As such, analysis includes discussion of the implications of the coronavirus restrictions on this kind of ministry Ecology Ministry in the Church of England

WE ARE ALL FOR THE PARISH

An article written by Bishop Graham Cray in response to to the book ‘For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions’ by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank.