The following was written by Richard Sandland following a short placement he did with our community. We could not have written anything better. Here it is below, used and edited with permission.
What is immediately evident is that Fairfield is a place of effortless service.
But when Grace is given to people, people respond; Fairfield is absolutely non-hierarchical, a place where the one stands for the many and the many for one, where people minister and mediate in Christ for and to each other. There is care here; a genuine love and friendship, unconditionally given and unashamedly received. Service and shepherding are given without regard for gain or effect; it is here as natural as breathing. This is a community of messengers stewards and watch(wo)men of the Lord.
How does it feel? Wholly at home; wholly enabled and empathised with.
Fairfield gives a gentle, inclusive message and one has the impression that Abba has called his stewards together here carefully. It is a mustard seed community; perhaps a year ago, Fairfield was a small group of disciples who, scattered before, now gathered together, “where two or three are gathered together in My name”, to talk about God. They seem to largely have come from places lacking stewardship.
As for the community, there was initially possibly a sense of homelessness, of having nowhere to lay their heads – but in a short time, living in the Spirit and according to Christ’s principles, having humbled themselves to a status of mutual service, this community has become above all stewards of the Word in Christ. They were willing to try another way back to God.
Fairfield Church, Evesham and The Five Marks of Mission
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
Fairfield holds a Service of Eucharist once a month, welcoming a retired (and much loved) priest to lead and preside on that day. It is a joyous occasion – but on other Sundays the service is lead in rota by one of four teams, enabled by the Missioner, with the occasional 5th Sunday being a free-er, communal occasion.
Each non-Eucharist Sunday, one of the lay teams’ members speak about the Gospel of the day; and so a richness of interpretation of the Kingdom is brought by the varying perspective that each team is given Grace to bring. The Gospel is followed by a brief comment, contextual, cultural, personal or theological, and then general questions are asked, and are discussed. In this way the Good News is internalised by those present and is critically related to their everyday lived Christian experiences.
There is no “fourth wall” to break, no personality driven teaching; rather it is an expression of the wonder of the Good News and an unlocking of the relevance of that news in everyday life that is demonstrated. Nothing is impersonally proclaimed, rather, as Jesus did in parable, the News is suggested, touched upon and its relevance demonstrated for all. This is News that takes root and enables, giving windows on Jesus’s world and sustaining His memory. Like Jesus’ realisation of the universality of His divine message after his human growth in His encounter with the Syrophonecian Woman, it is evident here that the Good News is available to all.
Like the infant Jesus in the Temple, mediators here are inclusive, genuine, human, and vulnerable.
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
Each Sunday morning, as part of any Service, little children are suffered to come to Christ. Their craft activity, which runs in parallel Ministry with the hospitality and friendship elsewhere in the room, is also moved and mediated by the Spirit; more often than not, that craft activity becomes the prayer activity of the whole community. In this way, the fruits of the Spirit are enabled by teaching; the young are enabled, mediated by an ALM or a lay member, and the sense of community is enhanced.
Similarly at Fairfield’s Sunday evening SoulFood gathering; typically here prayer stations or another exemplar of the Word are presented for reflection after a community meal, which is a freely given expression of Grace. SoulFood gently nurtures and accepts people, of all faith and none; all, however have need of hope.
All is done in the name of Christ, and this is made clear by the lay teams that alternate the preparation of SoulFood. In this way, the community is baptised and nurtured in the name of Christ; His presence and the joy of SoulFood being enabled in His name bears fruit of repeated attendance, with prayer stations staying in the church all week to show others. SoulFood has a tacit message of “Come as You Are”, which I regard as a rich, real and Christ-like attitude that can sow the mustard seeds of faith to flourish.
To respond to human need by loving service
Mention was made earlier of the heart breaking message from some of the Fairfield community that at some point they have regarded themselves as refugees, and one wonders about individual stories of lack in former church communities that led to an assimilation of that status. Refugees from what? From alienation, from a style of emphasis of liturgy that refugees could not find Jesus within?
Is there an Old Testament parallel in the flight of the Jews, but also a parallel in Grace given to enable a response to that need?
Service is paramount in Fairfield; the model is one which a new church elsewhere in the Diocese has adopted, and is trying to plant within a community of the similarly un-churched. This ministry of response takes it form from, as we have seen, the full involvement of the laity within the liturgy, and empathy and trust shown by the church founder. Loving service does not just replace a vacuum caused by a lack, more, it actively enables Mission in places where it was assumed to be absent.
There is also a gentle Evangelism here too. Like the haemorrhaging woman, people have touched the fabric of the Fairfield community which is happy to feel power leave it as an expression of loving service. And like Jesus felt at this touch, the release of power (enabling people) will have an unknown result, but it is willingly given as a measure of the church’s own growth.
This is a particular, energising and enabling response to human need; a porus membrane where ideas and responses flow in all directions, like the movement of the Spirit. This is absolutely a response for all people – it is the response that Jesus gave to the disciples, one of love and one of recognition that this community really can help people to become the people they never thought they could be, but that God always intended them to be.
To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
This mark is most pronounced where it is assumed to be absent – in a correlative of the Disciples being told to die in order to live more fully. By which I mean whereas of course there is no sign of injustice or violence in this community, its self-professed refugees have been by definition been forced to move away from something, and to accept that the old structures of faith in their life in Christ need to be removed so that the new structures of the community of Fairfield can live more fully, to His praise and glory.
In this way, the community, growing together, has quietly and with reverence transformed the life and restored the faith of its people. The pursuit of peace and reconciliation sometimes feels out-of-kilter with today’s world, with Superpowers indulging in brinkmanship, threats of Mutually Assured Destruction, and there comes a point where those expressions are so ubiquitous that one fully believes that the powers are absolutely capable of these appalling acts. So, where can a small, seemingly insignificant community in an increasingly isolated and marginalised country stand in such a debate? How can it have any influence? Such a community had the courage and faith to come into being in Israel some 2000 years ago. Why not again?
There surely has to be a place in this fractured world for a quiet humility and grace to exist and to thrive based on a non-hierarchical transformation of structures of society that just seep into the general consciousness. This is what is found at Fairfield, and it naturally leads to an achievement in peace and reconciliation within good souls who were, as refugees, desperately seeking this calling back to faith.
This exemplary imitation of the life of Jesus, in his enabling and, in His taking on the very nature of both the divine and the human, constructing a mediating society where through unity, injustice is defeated and where violence is non-existent, is a model at Fairfield. For the rest of us, the real trick is for the whole of the much-dismissed Christendom to translate and mediate this Grace given from that Cycle and to incorporate it into the superficially more successful and pervasive Cycle of Grief.
To seek to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth
The Fresh Expressions movement within the Church of England that has taken the imagination of the community has engendered a “mixed economy” of faith, has happened before.
“But such alterations, as were tendered to us… as seemed to us…in any degree requisite or expedient, we have willingly and of our own accord assented unto…some be so new-fangled, that they would innovate all things, and so despise the old that nothing can like them but that is new…”.
These words, from the preface to a fresh expression of 1549, here refreshed in 1662, still has pertinent things to say about the conduct of worship. Worship, Eucharistic and non-Eucharistic, exemplified by Fairfield Church, is a summary of all that our faith has enabled us to be, through the mediation derived by ordinary people from the Great High Priest; it is a distillation of our lives in the image of Christ Jesus and is the offering, humbly and with full acknowledgment of our incompleteness and of our brokenness, of all that we are giving back to God in praise and to His glory.
It is this renewal, this “spiritual Kendal Mint Cake” as the Eucharist was once described to me by a Priest, that is sustained within and by the Eucharist, itself food for the spiritual journey. It is an unashamed acceptance of Grace given.
The Eucharist is a thin place in our life; it is where the Priest is most Christ-like, set aside within the Community for this special task, but still wholly serving the community, tested, licensed and given Grace both by God and their peers, enables the mediation of Christ to the community. This is sustenance and renewal, and is derived from Christ.
This is also how the integrity of creation is renewed in the mess of our lives; through community, sharing and above all through love, love for all we and our communities are, with an acceptance and acknowledgment of all that we are not.
I found all of this in abundance in six short weeks at a small building deep inside a housing estate in Evesham; a building, multi-purpose and multi-community, that houses an extraordinary church, founded in faith in God and ourselves, rooted in sharing, sustained by service, love, prayer and the Eucharist.