What a cunning body the Church of England is. Under the smokescreen of the Rowan Williams rumpus, General Synod has passed the Dioceses Pastoral and Mission measure (full text here - now that it's passed I can no longer get away with not reading it in full. Drat.). This provides for 'Bishops Mission Orders', which are a temporary arrangement covering church plants and fresh expressions of church, which allows them to exist outside of parish structures for a renewable 5 year term.
It therefore allows for network churches, cross-boundary church plants, new ecumenical mission initiatives, under appropriate oversight, without everything having to be accomodated within ancient parish boundaries. Considering that most people know less about their neighbours than pretty much anyone else in their world (work colleagues, sports team members, fellow bloggers, drinking buddies etc.), a parish system based on the local neighbourhood as the sole locus of belonging and identity is no longer a 1 size that fits all. Not for nothing did Bishop David Pytches once call parish boundaries 'the condom of the Church of England' - in places where the local church is not set on mission, they simply become a line drawn around people to prevent them from hearing the gospel. Mission Orders have a consultation process, and plenty of safeguards to prevent it going off the rails, so it's not inviting a free for all.
I'll probably blog a bit more on this once I've digested it in full. Meanwhile if you're interested in what Synod has been up to, the official site is here, and Simon Sarmiento's ever-useful updates and commentary can be found at Thinking Anglicans.
In tandem with the passing of this measure, there's a new book, Mission Shaped Questions, which explores some of the issues facing the CofE as it explores new forms of church. Launch blurb here.
On 'Mission Shaped' stuff, a group of us have just started doing the Taunton Mission Shaped Ministry course run by Fresh Expressions. Early days, but so far it's very good, seems to get everyone talking and thinking, very well presented, and plenty to chew on.