Fresh Expressions—the movement within The United Methodist Church that began in England in 2004—continues to gain momentum in Florida. Moving beyond the conventional, it is engaging increasing numbers of people who have never been to church or have fallen away from it.
Matt Harrell, Fresh Expressions coordinator, said that for the second year in a row the Florida Conference is awarding grants to help fund new and ongoing Fresh Expressions programs.
"We have $20,000 set aside to give out for 2017 grants,” said Harrell, adding that they have already awarded $14,450. “It can be for Fresh Expression groups that are just getting started or for those looking for support to continue their efforts or branch out.”
|Ty Revell of FSU Wesley was awarded $350 and launched his own pub group offering weekly meetings in Tallahassee every Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Grasslands Brewing Company. One of their recent conversational topics was about heaven and hell.|
Harvest UMC Bayshore was awarded two grants in the amount of $1,000 each for two new Fresh Expressions programs: a community fruit and vegetable garden and an outdoor brick oven.
“Our vision for the garden is to be a food source to those in need and the local food banks,” said Rev. Jennifer Potter Buff. “The idea for the garden came first; then a parishioner, Don Whitson-Schmidt, saw a news article about a church up north that had a brick oven, and he got excited about it.”
Buff luckily found out about the grants. “It really was a gift because we were trying to figure out how to get these projects off the ground,” she said.
Buff says they are hoping to plant a cover crop this summer to enrich the soil. “Our first and primary goal is to build community, be with our neighbors, invite them to come alongside and form relationships,” said Buff.
As for the brick oven, it will be made available to the community at no charge. Buff envisions teaching bread-making classes, hosting fresh-made pizza parties and utilizing the oven in tandem with ingredients from the community garden.
“This will result in food access,” said Buff, “but even more importantly, it can teach life skills…cooking, harvesting, patience and communal support.
“Our congregation has a strong sense to be engaged with the community and know our neighbors, because we want to be in relationships with people. We believe relationships can transform communities, and we care about this community and want to be deeply involved in it,” she added. “The grants allowed us to speed these projects up and put shovels to the ground, which is really exciting.”
Heading north to Tallahassee, Ty Revell from FSU Wesley launched his Pub Group about two years ago and recently received a Fresh Expressions grant for $350 to support the future of his ministry.
“At its core, Pub Group is a space for Christians and skeptics alike, ages 21 and up, to sit at a table built with the idea that all are welcome to rest their bodies and souls there,” said Revell.
“We believe in honest conversation, intentionally building relationships and finding common ground to hold us together.”
|First UMC Cocoa Beach Pastor Mark Reynolds, calling himself a "longtime surfer," started a group called "Recovering from Bad Religion." Many of the group are fellow surfers and are shown here meeting at Roberto's Little Havana Cuban restaurant.|
He was inspired to launch the group by a similar Fresh Expression started by Jon Tschanz at FUMC Winter Park.
“I caught wind of that group through mutual connections and was inspired to bring that idea to my college campus.” Ty’s Pub Group meets every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at Grasslands Brewing Company, where the subject of conversation varies.
“I come up with different topics every week,” said Revell. “We had a really good discussion about heaven and hell a couple weeks ago and the conversation went on for a couple hours. We also had Science Mike from The Liturgists Podcast come and speak and a couple pastors from other areas. I’m hoping to use some of the grant money to bring in different speakers.
“I think that there’s something about taking these discussions outside the walls of the church where you have the opportunity to meet people who might not go to church,” he added.
“We may bump into someone we know and invite them to sit down and talk...we have to be out in the community talking about things that matter without closing ourselves off. We’re not going to grow in our faith in a comfortable space.”
You can learn more about the group at Bibles N’Brews on Facebook.
On the east coast, First UMC Cocoa Beach Pastor Mark Reynolds has started a group called “Recovering from Bad Religion” made up of people who have had negative experiences with organized religion.
“I was raised in a fundamentalist church,” he said, “and I was wounded by that, spiritually and emotionally.
“Fundamentalism typically teaches that members must think like they think, and believe like they believe, or go to hell…I now see myself in the Christian mystical and contemplative tradition.
“For me, this means that I don’t have to have everything figured out. There’s mystery in God, and that’s OK.”
Reynolds started writing about his ideas and posting them online at www.revmarkreynolds.com.
“I really felt God calling me to reach out to people who have been wounded by the church, especially by fundamentalism,” Reynolds said. “I try to give them a different way of looking at faith that’s appropriate in a post-modern context.”
Reynolds is a longtime surfer and when he meets people in the water and on the beach and they find out he’s a pastor, they often share their religious horror stories.
He started to think, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a community discussion somewhere outside of church where people could honestly tell their stories?” Today, Reynolds’ group meets every other Tuesday in the back room at Roberto’s Little Havana Cuban restaurant at 6:30 p.m.
The gathering reads books, articles and poems—listens to podcasts and looks at artwork together in what Reynolds refers to as “different ways to experience God and share our stories.”
The deadline for the next round of grant applications is August 31. For more information, contact Matt Harrell at 863-688-5563, extension 303, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
--Jessica Chapman is a freelance writer based in Lakeland