Mark BerryDoing mission and ministry in the context of fresh expressions of church, requires creative imagination and an incarnational approach to evangelism. Mark Berry, a Lay Pioneer Minister, tells the emerging story of safe space, a fresh expression of church that draws on celtic spirituality, radical hospitality and a form of new monasticism.

Safespace was born in 2005 from a converging of a small group of diverse people (about 10 of us), people who had a yearning to serve and to transform the place we find ourselves in. I came to Telford as a Lay Pioneer Minister, challenged to do something new by the diocese in a town where the vast majority of it’s youthful population had or seemed to desire no contact with Church. Others already living in the town drew together with a desire to step outside of their comfort zones and to connect with new people and new challenges, to engage. So we found ourselves jumping into a boat together – inspired by the local leather fishing boat of St Brendan the Navigator – turning our backs on the comforts of "home" and pushing out into the chaos and danger of the ocean of culture. We have only the Trinity as our model, the Creator as our provider, the Spirit as the wind in our sails and the Christ as our navigator.

In the boat

Safespafe - exhibitWe see the community as itself an embodiment of the Kingdom inwardly and outwardly. The community is a small but rich tapestry of Christian expression seeking to live in shalom and self-surrender. We actively allow space for different views and interpretations of the Christian faith in the context of relationship and community.

We believe that a big part of our living is to celebrate unity in diversity, to model community rather than being a club or niche expression, in a culture where family and community are strained and struggling we believe a major part of a missional response is to model real community and love. Becoming family is hard, but wonderful, committing to share such intimacy with each other raises all sorts of issues and hang-ups which we cannot hide or ignore. Doing it in a way which is deliberately exposed makes it even harder.

Safespace crossIt has been important for us to develop a rhythm of living which ripples out from our main gathering – The Table, where we have a meal, spend time in prayer/reflection and share communion – so we have  developed a weekly rhythm which has seven aspects:

  • See and appreciate something new in Creation;
  • Explore something about Jesus;
  • Listen in silence to the Spirit;
  • Bless and be blessed by someone;
  • Listen to and share a God story with someone;
  • Pray for and ask for prayer from someone;
  • Rest.

Amongst the islands

Safespace candlesPerhaps the best way to describe who we are is as a new-monastic community, a community of followers who are seeking first and foremost to be equipped, resourced and supported in living a life that exudes mission, to reflect a mission and holistic spirituality and to live that life alongside those for whom church has no meaning or real life connection and to be focussed on being agents of transformation in the world in which we find ourselves.

Safespace - shoesWe took to heart the instructions in Luke Chapter 10, to step out, to go lightly and to offer peace where we meet community. So we began to get involved in community: in AFC Telford United Football Club – where we help sweep up after games, spend time in the bar with staff, players and supporters and have got involved in the Trust which owns and runs the club; we regularly have a stall/prayer corner in our local Mind*Body*Spirit fair; we organise children's creation walks – a mix of nature hunt, learning about the environment and Bible stories; and in partnership with our local council and the Methodist Church we run sank•tuary, a safe haven/chill out venue for Clubbers from Midnight to 4am every Sunday morning. In each of these situations we have encountered "people of peace" who welcomed us in: the Chairman of the Football Club, the nightclub owner etc. all of whom have no connection with Church.

Safespace - tablesOur emphasis then is not to grow the core community but to "share lives" (1 Thessalonians 2) which reflect the Gospel and model a different way of being.  We seek to be people of shalom, to begin by offering peace and by living in the wider community rather than "reaching out" into it and drawing people "back in". Brueggemann writes* that the "Towel and the Basin" are the tools of Shalom, and that the Towel only becomes three dimensional when it is wrapped around the foot, so we believe our faith and church only takes on a third dimension when it serves, when it is lived for the Kingdom.

The destination

Safespace sanktuaryWe don’t know where we are going, we are a pilgrim people. We know that we hope to keep going, to keep serving, to keep challenging, to keep being people of shalom, the destination is up to God. We long to take bigger risks, to live deeper in the love of God and each other, to see individuals name God, to see community restored and to see culture transformed. The things we do follow from who we are and where we are, the particular winds and currents that lead us.

Messy Church, Bath and Wells

Jane TibbsFresh Expressions Associate Missioner Jane Tibbs and Bath and Wells Diocesan Children & Families Officer, explores how a focus on children can create new opportunities for experimental  worship and mission.

Well you may know the situation. The Sunday morning ten o'clock service of the church has a healthy congregation of mainly retired people. In the Sunday school meeting in the hall there are two children and three adult helpers. Someone says, "Oh but this is just a one off!", but you know in your hearts of hearts, it is isn't!

We have to face facts. For many churches this is now a weekly occurrence. Sometimes there may be as many as six children in the Sunday school, but more often – NOT. Sunday school has become a holding activity for the children of the few young families which come to church.

So what are we going to do about it?

Messy ChurchDiscussions ensue and at an evening meeting over supper I make a suggestion. There are two schools in the parish which have plenty of children, but they just don't want to come to sung Eucharist form of church on a Sunday morning. I suggest, 'How about trying something completely different?' Let us choose a few festivals – not the obvious ones – and have an activity session for the children on Saturday mornings. Let's do creative activities, 'making things', which can be included in a service, and change the pattern of Sunday morning services to include a non-eucharistic family service to last for forty five minutes.

In addition this needs a greater focus on relationships, so let's provide refreshments at the back of the church (if they have to leave the church and go to the hall they'll go straight to their cars) and maybe even consider lunch afterwards. It will mean changing the format of Sunday mornings but it will only be a few times a year.

"I've been asking for a non-eucharistic service for years," says Dave.

"We'll have to take it to the PCC", says Julian, the vicar.

"They'll never buy it…" I think gloomily to myself, "I've seen them in action!"

BUT, the PCC said yes, why not? And then I had to put my money where my mouth was!

The new "weekend" would be an activity morning for the children (primary school age to start with). Sunday would change from Holy Communion at eight and sung Eucharist at ten to Communion with hymns at nine o'clock, a service for all ages at eleven followed by lunch at 12.30.

Messy ChurchFirst things first. Festivals. We decided on Pentecost, Harvest, Advent, Candlemas and Palm Sunday. Then who to ask? I looked around and knew exactly who to target, inviting them all (fifteen) to a planning meeting.

I produced a pack of ideas and agreed to do the upfront bit and the games if everyone else would prepare craft activities. With some trepidation they agreed and went away armed with designs and materials. A couple of ladies were roped in to do the refreshments and CRB checks were put in place. "Jaffa cakes!" said Julian. "I'll provide them."  Posters were distributed and our first activity morning would be a Pentecost Party.

The day dawned brightly and by nine o'clock everyone had arrived to set up. The music player was plugged in, the kettle was on, games equipment was set out and tables were covered with the ingredients for a variety of crafts – fairy cakes with candles, streamers, kites, doves, an altar frontal for the Sunday service …. And at five to ten the first children arrived. By five past ten we knew we weren't going to get any more. There were ten children aged from five to nine.

Disappointment? Of course. But actually… it was a Godsend! Instead of being overwhelmed with hordes of children, the helpers were able to spend quality time with each child who made something of everything. Everyone had a go at painting the altar frontal and writing prayers for the service. We sat round the tables together for refreshments and played different games to the team games planned. The closing worship included simple songs and a story. When the children had gone and we had cleared up, many of the volunteers said, "that was easy", and what's more, they all turned up to the service the next day!

Messy ChurchThe altar frontal was a riot of reds, oranges and yellows and depicted Pentecost to a "P". The music was lively, the prayers were sincere, the reading was dramatic and the talk was to the point. The children participated, not called upon to stand at the front and hold up pictures, but as part of the worship. Virtually everyone stayed for refreshments and about forty people sat down to lunch.

With little time to draw breath we met again to plan for Harvest and decided on the same format. Planning meetings now are timetabled before lunch and ideas are discussed again while we're eating. This time we'd have all the traditional harvest crafts, including apple heads and harvest loaves.

All the children who came to the Pentecost Party received a personal invitation and all the children in the schools were given invitations too. Lunch afterwards would be a harvest lunch.

Messy ChurchOnce again the day dawned brightly and everyone arrived laden with goodies. By ten o'clock we knew this was NOT going to be a quiet event. Sixty children turned up. Would we have enough for them all to do? Would there be enough space for the games? It wasn't quite chaotic but it was lively and tremendous fun. A number of parents stayed and drank coffee in the corner and chatted (rather too noisily during the story!) and they all left noisily at noon while set up for Sunday.

The church was packed for the eleven o'clock service and the new song went down a treat.

H for hops and HP sauce

A for apples red and green

R for rhubarb and radishes

V for veggies crisp and clean

E for every kind of egg

S for strawberries and spuds

T is for tasty take-away

Spelling HARVEST. Thank you God!

Sung to the tune "Doh a deer…"

The altar frontal looked like the fruit and veg stall in the market! Young and old alike chatted over drinks and biscuits and then ambled across for Harvest Lunch. The hall was packed.

So what did we learn from this event? Well… the children were younger than we'd expected, mostly about five and six rather than across the age range. Participation and activity are vital if young people are to find their place. It also needs to be fun. We need to ensure that the children didn't start the craft activities before the welcome and "setting the scene" and we needed to involve the parents who stayed.

Seven weeks later we learnt from our experience and were set to start on Stars and Angels (for Advent). A roll of bin liners and labels with the children's names on meant all the crafts could be stored in a bag and picked up as the children left. The labels that the children wear have the morning's logo on them and as they arrive each child now writes their name on two and one goes straight on to the bag. Some simple activities were layed out in the middle of the space for the children to do while everyone arrived. Parents were asked if they'd like to help behind the scenes while still leaving time for them to chat.

Messy ChurchThe opening songs, warm-up activities and story are a huge success. The children are then absorbed in the crafts and ready for refreshments (still Jaffa Cakes!) and games. We provide about eight different crafts – more than can be completed but no time to get bored. And the final story time is eagerly anticipated by parents and children alike!

This time, the altar frontal was a street scene in Bethlehem without the stable specifically marked.

Again, the service was well attended with a good mixture of children, parents and grandparents. The use of a simple round has been most successful. By taking a traditional tune (London's Burning or Frere Jacques, for example) and writing simple words on the theme, then dividing the congregation into four groups to sing you get instant harmony!

Lunch this time was baked potatoes but bring your own fillings – we had so much chilli sauce!!

On Christmas Eve the altar frontal was moved at the start of the carol service from the front of the altar to behind it, thus becoming the background for the Nativity Scene, set up in the altar. The work of the children was thus integrated into the Christmas celebrations for the whole of the season.

Candlemas was soon upon us and the theme this time was "Leading Lights". No prizes for guessing how many candles we used!! The story of Simeon and Anna was simply and effectively told in the Godly Play style and children were invited to respond to the story with their art and craft work. The tune the Bear went over the Mountain was utilised for the words Simeon went to the Temple… and what do you think he saw? It was also an opportunity to make Christingles and talk about what each symbol means as we worked. A dark February day was lit with the lights in the children's eyes and in church the next morning a huge lighthouse shone out from the altar.

Families were chatting together and it was obvious that friendships were being forged. Lunch this time was a warm and hearty stew.

And so to the fifth of our chosen festivals – Palm Sunday, and Palm Parade. This time we decided that the children would dress up for the service and parade into church and tell the story of Palm Sunday. Among the activities were donkeys made from brooms so each child had a hobby-horse donkey. The parents at the activity morning were asked to make palm crosses while drinking their coffee and so everyone was included. Living crosses were made by the children from willow, and planted in pots.

The clock struck eleven on Palm Sunday morning and Julian introduced the service by saying "It was a quiet day in Jerusalem…" and that was the cue for the children to enter. And so, to shouts of Hosannah! and Praise the Lord! The children paraded in with their donkeys and the story of Palm Sunday unfolded.

The altar frontal depicted one of the gates of Jerusalem with a crowd on the right shouting "Hosannah! Jesus is King!" and on the left, "Kill him!" all done using potato prints. The talk drew on having the strength to stand up and be counted and not just being part of the crowd.

Messy ChurchAnd so, as Pentecost looms again, what have we learnt, gained, achieved?

Well, we are a good team with a shared vision and a lot more confidence than a year ago, supported by the prayers of the regular church congregation. Our times of planning, reflection and fellowship have enabled the sharing of ideas and easy discussion about the activities that didn't work too well and what we could do better.

The thank you notes I send to everyone who is part of the event are much appreciated, and that also helps to encourage the team. We may not be particularly young (average age probably well over 60!) but we have enthusiasm and a heart for reaching the children where they are.

So, by listening to the needs of the children, church became more participative, more relational, more centred on being a dynamic community. In so doing, it became increasingly attractive to 'de and unchurched' families and importantly, parents. Mission then becomes a key relational component to arts-as-worship activities with children, and the church now continues to grow with new life.

Ordained pioneer ministry in Rochester

Rob RyanRob Ryan, an Ordained Pioneer Minister, starts out building a fresh expression of church in Rochester.

On September 6th I was ordained in Rochester Cathedral. I have an elaborate job title of 'Pioneer Curate'. I am the curate on the staff of the cathedral and I am being trained in everything that a Church of England curate needs to be trained in – such as learning how to deacon at the Eucharist, process, preaching, funerals, baptisms and so on.  For some Anglicans that would be normal stuff, but coming from my 'low church' background of St. Mark's Gillingham alongside around 14 years of working with Youth for Christ it was quite a culture shock. Despite the shock, this part of my role is very well structured and so ticks along quite nicely.

As an ordained pioneer minister my remit is to connect with people in the community in various locations with the hope that within 4 years, which is the maximum possible length of my curacy, we will have developed a new expression of church, a new missional community. Although this is an exciting opportunity, and one I grabbed with both hands eagerly, none of us really knew how to go about doing this as we were looking to start from scratch. A number of fresh expressions seem to start by using a group of Christians to plant something new in a new area. Although I see merit in that approach I felt God was calling me to do something different  in order to reach the unchurched of this area and build some form of fresh expression of church.

A dream

Rochester high streetI have had a dream for a good few years; a dream of connecting with people who long, maybe are even too scared to dream, of church being a place which really connects with people outside, but also with themselves. People who dream of a church where differences are celebrated, where diversity adds to the community's flavour. They are not worried so much about what people believe, but more concerned about how people believe: how they live out faith, how they are Christ-like. People who don't care so much about worship style, but rather, are interested in something that's authentic and enables them to connect with God where they are emotionally and spiritually.

Such people really do believe Christianity is a journey, and that we can all exist at different points on the road, or even off it, with no fear of condemnation. They long for a community that does not judge a person by how they look, sound or by what they believe. They want to see a community that loves and has people at its heart rather than a programme that must be delivered. They believe a community should be one that meets throughout the week to enjoy relationship with each other and with God, which is not restricted to any one day or meeting. They are willing to pay the cost that comes with developing relationships and want to see this as a place where people belong because they are connected and on the journey, not a place where they can only belong if they turn up at a particular time, day and place. They want to see a community that really believes in mission, that not only welcomes the stranger, but expects and allows the community to change due to what that new person brings with them. They believe church is about participation and engagement of the majority, rather than being consumerist and led by a few specialists. They are tired of being told the same stuff and want to discover together how to live Christian spirituality in their world! They long for their experience of church to inform their experience of the world and vice versa.

Forming a team

Rochester high streetI felt strongly that, first, God was calling me to gather a group of people, with the above dream in mind, who wanted to explore their relationship with Jesus Christ and consider how they could authentically live as Christians in a 21st century world. As I prayed I felt God challenging me to put aside all ideas and plans that I had conceived, and to search for interested people where God led. It became clear to me that if I had a blueprint then I would be at risk of merely finding people to fit the gaps in my blueprint. The very thought leaves me feeling uncomfortable as that approach lacks an integrity which is core to building genuine relationships. It seemed right to me that it was more about being open to people that I came into contact with, and listening to their needs, discerning what God might call be to do in response, in loving action.  God was calling me to listen and get to know unchurched people, without jumping in too soon with some form of responsive action.

To help with providing some focus, we had already decided that I should concentrate on the Rochester High Street area and on a local leisure centre to spend time on. In the weeks leading up to my ordination I gave this quite a bit of prayerful thought. I believed I was called to be ordained to do this role, to develop something from new from scratch, but was concerned with how this was actually going to work out in practice. My big question was 'what am I going to do all day?' I knew this was going to be an issue for me. My diary with YFC was packed weeks in advance and seeing an empty diary for all the months from September onwards did cause a slight panic.

Prayer, places and presence

Prayer is essential to all of this. Before doing anything I recruited a team of people who were happy to receive my weekly 'diary' via email and pray for whatever I hoped to be doing. Through this email I shared stories, struggles and prayer requests and I am confident that this group of 30 people are regularly praying for me. It's massively encouraging when one of them phones up to ask me how something went or passes on something that they feel God may be saying into a particular situation.

I spent the first four weeks prayerfully walking around the High Street and asking God to make it clear to me where I should 'hang out'. All the time I wore my dog collar on these wanderings. We thought about this a lot and felt that if I was going to build relationships of integrity with people, then the wearing of my 'uniform' helped that. We felt that not to wear my 'uniform' would have been wrong. The collar has certainly given opportunities, as well as attracted antagonism.

Rochester WetherspoonsI prayed to be led to people and places of peace, to areas where I could interact with people on their terms, conscious that I had no right or purpose to be there, and was in fact a guest in those locations. During these early weeks I visited nearly every shop in the High Street and had a mixed reception. I have got to know some people better than others. After some time I felt strongly that God was saying I should spend time in a local Wetherspoons pub and a local sports centre.

More recently God seems to have pointed me to a newly opened coffee shop as well where I have been welcomed by the owner and can be found during the afternoon. I aim to be a presence in these locations as much as I can and visit them on a near daily basis. On good advice from others, I have also used these locations for any meetings that I have had to have rather than using a room at the cathedral or an office somewhere. This means that I can be a presence in these places in a variety of ways.

I am following the process that is known well to those that have been on Fresh Expression training days. I have started by gaining prayer and support while I look for connections in the community. While making those connections by being present I have been trying to listen to God and follow God's call as he leads me within the community. I am now asking myself 'what does loving service look like here?' As I seek to answer that question and act upon it I believe that we will start to see community developing from which we can start to explore the things of God.

A typical day

So, in short that is what I do with most of my time. A typical day in the life of this pioneer curate starts at 8am with morning prayer in the cathedral. At 8.30 I will venture outside and do a prayer walk around the High Street. This is a good time as people are wandering to work and shops do not really open in Rochester until about 10am. At 9ish I will return to the office to do a variety of things from reading, writing, reflecting and general admin and planning stuff.

Rochester CathedralMid morning I will drift back to the cathedral to spend time in prayer before slowly walking along the High Street to Wetherspoons where I am normally seated with a coffee from about 10.45. I sit, I listen and wait to see what happens. After lunch I will then move to the local leisure centre, use the gym, sit in the sauna, which is often a hotbed of discussion, and hang around in the coffee bar area and again wait to see what happens. I then return to the cathedral a couple of times a week to end the day with Choral Evensong. I find topping and tailing my day with the cathedral helps to keep me rooted and feel connected with the wider Christian community.

This connection with the wider Christian community is vital to me. Having a role where I hang out in a pub, a coffee shop and a gym sounds like the ideal job. In many ways for me it is. It is also very lonely and a lot of the time I seriously ask myself and God what I am doing in this place. It's hard to describe what it is like to constantly be returning to the same places over and over again just to 'be' there. A lot of the time I am 'just there'. Days can go by where I do not have a conversation with anyone and sometimes I even wonder if I have become invisible. When everyone else, particularly colleagues at the cathedral, seem to be rushing around you can feel very guilty when your role is to just be in places.

Struggles and doubts

Rochester CathedralIn the earlier days I struggled quite significantly with issues of identity and achievement. To sit day after day in the same place and be on the receiving end of a variety of reactions has been very uncomfortable on occasions. I have had very strong negative reactions along with threats of violence as well as warm welcoming reactions from a variety of people, some who have asked me to pray for situations in their lives. The stress of the day arises from really never knowing what is going to happen and, I guess, fear of missing an opportunity.

Three months into this, my wife asked me 'what have you done today?' A perfectly innocent question asked in many homes at the end of the working day, but one which caused some turmoil for me. I did not know what to answer. I don't know whether this is a man thing – but I needed to feel a sense of achievement at the end of the day. I loved my lists on which I could tick off completed tasks.

I asked the same questions over and over again.  What had I done? What was I achieving? What difference was I making? What did I have to show after a day at work? After 3 months of sitting in the same place day after day after day I knew the name of 2 people – and they were both Christians attending church twice a week! That was a time when I seriously wondered whether I had got this all wrong and whether I should have really stayed with YFC.

Because of this feeling of inadequacy and wondering of 'why' there has been a real and strong temptation to try and rush things and force God's hand by setting up stuff, or putting on some event to invite people to. Building community takes time. It is not about planning a worship experience, or putting on some event to invite people to. I'm convinced what is needed is time for people, time to love people, time to serve people. From that time then organic community will develop. It will be very slow, but it will be authentic if we really want to focus on the unchurched.

This waiting and feeling of isolation is really quite key to what God is trying to do through my pioneering ministry. Waiting is a theme that carries through so much of scripture with the wait of Advent, Lent, the 40 years in the desert and, as I write on Ascension day, the wait between Jesus exalted and the church empowered at Pentecost. God works in us in our waiting, and I have needed to learn more about what it is to wait for God. If I was asked to give advice ever I think it would be 'wait… don't succumb to the pressure to produce something too quickly. Wait on God and go with God'.

During my waiting there have been some interesting and exciting moments that I would have missed if I did not take the time to wait.


Rochester WetherspoonsI remember one Tuesday morning in October which I had planned to use to pray in the cathedral rather than go out. I felt God say that I should go to Wetherspoons although it was only 10.00am. I did and met an older married couple who I have been having conversations with on a weekly basis. This was my first real connection with anyone in the community. This encounter had a profound experience on how I managed my day as until then I had been visiting the pub at lunchtime and later. I now go in the mornings and have found this is the time when people like to chat and have the time to as well.

I visit a local sports centre in the afternoon and have been amazed at some of the conversations that I have had with men in the sauna. One guy asked me to pray for a smoothing out of the relationship between himself and his father. He then told me he had been plucking up the courage to speak to me for 3 weeks. He has since asked to be 'kept informed' of any 'new church' that I may be involved in.

While sat in the pub one morning a man was leaving, noticed me and seemed to aggressively walk towards me. As I braced myself for a torrent of abuse he knelt next to me and cried for nearly 10 minutes. When he was ready to talk we spoke about stuff that was going on in his life and I was able to pray with him.

Being a constant presence in these places is allowing some people to trust me with parts of their lives. It seems that my role here is a 3-fold one of pastor, pioneer and prophet. Pastor as I seek to support and love these people, pioneer as I look to engage in new ways and prophet as I seek to imagine what God's kingdom could look like in this place.

Alongside connecting with the 'unchurched', while waiting I have come into contact with a group of 'de-churched' people; it is probably more accurate to say that they have found me. These people are interested in a relationship with Jesus Christ but have been hurt by or rejected inherited church and most have not attended a church in over a year. I have met or come across these people in a variety of ways and we are now starting to gather monthly to investigate faith. The gathering starts with people sharing how their week has gone. The model revolves around discussing something from the bible (we have started by looking at the names of Jesus in John's Gospel), worship (which individuals/families plan and bring to the gathering), prayer and eating together. It is very early days as we have only had two gatherings but it is an exciting progression.

Looking forward

Rob RyanI have no idea where this is going, and neither (I think) do the people that are part of this. We are simply agreeing to journey together and, again, to wait and see what God does with us. How, or whether, this links with people I meet each day in the community I do not know; I hope so – but that really is not up to me or any of us. We will simply have to wait and see what God does. In time, I am sure this will build a community of unchurched and dechurched people through a truly incarnational form of missional church.

Rob Ryan, Ordained Pioneer Minister, Rochester Cathedral.