The Welcome – Jul15

Ben Clowes reports on new staff, opportunities and challenges at The Welcome, Knutsford.

The biggest development for us this year has been the appointment of Julie King as our lay pastor. She arrived at The Welcome as a cook in 2005, famously saying, 'I don't do God but I do a demon chocolate cake!'

Since then, of course, she has come to faith here, served as senior steward and local preacher and will probably be candidating this September. Julie's 25 hours a week role is a three-year post and the funding comes from different sources:

  • a District grant;
  • a Mission Alongside the Poor grant;
  • local fundraising.

The Welcome - adult IT

She was commissioned here on Easter Sunday and started about a week later. In the three months since she has been in post, we have seen a marked increase in the numbers of people who have been coming in off the streets, having coffees, making contact. So many have seen her come through from The Welcome kitchens to becoming a Christian and now serving the community in an official role; that has had quite an effect on those living nearby. She is becoming known to all sections of the community and that sometimes has unexpected outcomes.

For instance, we recently had someone run into The Welcome and say, 'Julie, we need you now!' A local man, involved in drink and drug dependency, had died unexpectedly and members of his community had wanted to perform their own rites to mark his passing. Julie was called upon to stand guard and act as a 'bouncer' until the police arrived.

But this isn't all about an individual or a personality; it's about what God is doing through Julie's job. It's astounding.

So much has happened since the local Methodist Church in Knutsford started The Welcome 20 years ago. We now provide a huge range of activities, services and support to the people of Longridge and Shaw Heath estates.

The Welcome - Ben and the menu

The growth of our community activities partly prompted our 2010 decision to separate church and charity for fundraising purposes. We were advised to do it because it is difficult, when applying for money, to have the Charity Commissioners' listing of us as 'Promotion of Religion'. There was confusion about The Welcome appearing to have two 'agendas' – one as a church and the other as a secular charity. But then came the banking crash. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as we know, but I would say this decision to separate was one which hasn't proved to supply the needs of either church or charity and several of us feel that we need to move towards merging again. Thankfully, we may be starting to bridge that gap because Julie has now been invited on to the board of the charity.

The whole nature of funding has changed in the last five years; funders are becoming 'smarter' in their approach and are beginning to see the difference between social outreach projects and proselytisation. You have to be careful about how you fund these things.

The Welcome is 20 years old this year, one of the older fresh expressions of church. As such, it has been a forerunner of all that has happened since but we are still entirely dependent on grants and money from Circuit. At the moment I can't see that changing because this community is extremely poor.

The Welcome - plate of food

The Circuit give us £4,000 every year. We make a voluntary donation in return and I very much hope that the donation will grow as the community develops, but the 'money pots' we used to go to for possible funding are drying up and the District has said no further grants are available. I do believe The Welcome will continue to evolve but the wider church has to find a way of continuing to support it. To cut the church off would mean the loss of the whole community – a community who not only want to know they 'belong' to The Welcome, they also want to know they are accepted. In practical terms that acceptance would equate to not having to fight for every last bit of cash.

What we want to know from the Methodist Church as a whole is, 'What is the strategy for fundraising?' The Welcome created the procedures recently used elsewhere to become a 'proper' church and the thought process may therefore be that we should be more financially viable, but the deprivation level here is so immense. All the secondary-school-age kids from the estate go to Knutsford Academy – where there is such stigma associated with where they live. Deprivation isn't just about finance, it's about stigma.

It takes such a long time to build relationship here and we are just beginning to see the fruits of that. This year, for instance, we got a grant from Cheshire East Council to put on an outdoor Passion Play in Longridge. The Welcome was the Upper Room, the garden at the back was Gethsemane, and the tomb was a garden shed. It was pouring with rain but about 60 people followed us around the estate. We had primed someone from Longridge to remove the door early on the Sunday morning and, sure enough, someone contacted us to say, 'Your door has disappeared'. We then explained that was the point of the whole thing! Julie was commissioned next to that shed on the day to bring home the message of new life and new beginnings.

The Welcome - banner sign

One of the difficulties that we have at The Welcome is when we're asked to detail numbers attending the church. Our regular Sunday congregation has about 8-10 while, on the Tuesday, there are 10-12. 'That's rubbish', people say, 'rubbish numbers, not worth investing in'. But the fact is that we now have contacts and relationships right across this estate, and that contact is so godly. Essentially we have a church of about 4,000 people there.

The reason The Welcome works so well is that it is 'owned' by the people of Longridge. We work alongside them and they are our guide and we are their guide. They come to us when they have a need because they trust us – and that's priceless.

Pioneer Lay Pastor

Pioneers break now ground. They are explorers. Risk takers. Are you such a person? Do you have a heart for reaching the 18-30 age group? Do you have understanding and experience of pioneer ministry? Are you a team builder?

If so, St Alkmund's Church Derby is looking for such a person, who will be a pioneer to the significant and growing population of 18-30s within their parish, which includes students based at the Derby campus of Derby University.

You will have an active Christian faith and be passionate about mission and discipleship. This is a full-time post with a salary of £23,000 per annum.

Fresh Expressions Pioneer Enabler

Do you have a passion, understanding and experience of fresh expressions and pioneer ministry? Could you help foster and develop pioneer leaders, both lay and ordained, and help support and encourage fresh expressions of church in the Nottingham & Derby Methodist District?

The district needs someone with good communication skills, an active Christian faith, an understanding of Methodism and with the ability to relate to ecumenical partners as we develop pioneering and fresh expressions across the district.

This is a full-time post, open to both lay and ordained. For Methodist Presbyers and Deacons the usual allowances apply. Job share applicants will be considered.


St Andrew's, an established church with a small enthusiastic congregation, has recently become an independent incumbency and is seeking a part-time rector to help the church grow and deepen their connections with the local community.

They are looking for an ordained pioneer who will:

  • develop the spiritual life of the congregation by leading spiritual and scriptural activities;
  • support their work on the Mission Action Plan;
  • place a high value on pastoral care;
  • maintain ecumenical links in Milngavie;
  • help to enrich the worship in the church, particularly through music;
  • lead with energy and enthusiasm.

The church offers a welcome, involved, supportive and highly sociable congregation in a popular, thriving and attractive location. The post comes with half stipend, housing and a contribution to the SEC Pension Fund.

Pioneer Worker

Frontier Youth Trust (FYT) are seeking a pioneering youth and community worker to lead a new StreetSpace North East Hub based in Middlesbrough. This new role is to help establish a flagship StreetSpace project on the Whinney Banks estate, building on the excellent work of Trinity Family Friendly Centre.

Ideally living on the estate, the worker will develop detached youth work, open youth work, facilitate young people to develop an open space play resource, transitions school based work and support the FYT team as they seek to grow a further twelve StreetSpace projects across the North East over the next few years.

The worker will be part of the FYT national youth work team and be supported locally by other StreetSpace projects already established, and a regional steering group made up of the regional Together networks, Durham YFC and Methodist regional learning network.

Salary in the region of £22,000-£25,000 per year (plus pension) depending on experience.

Church Planter

The NYNO Project of Stockethill Church of Scotland, Aberdeen, is looking to employ a part-time church planter to join our team for an initial period of 18 months (with the possibility of the contract being extended).

The Church Planter will work together with a colleague already in post to create fresh expressions of church amongst elderly people, particularly, but not exclusively, those who live in sheltered housing accommodation.

The church planter will:

  • feel called to working for the NYNO project;
  • be committed to working collaboratively;
  • have understanding and sympathy for the ideas of fresh expressions/emerging church;
  • be able to lead traditional and creative forms of worship.

The salary for this 11.25-hours-per-week post is £7,560, with 5% pension contribution.

Director of Mission

The Diocese of Oxford are looking to appoint a new Director of Mission for one of the largest dioceses in the Church of England. This is an exciting opportunity for someone looking for a challenging but rewarding senior missional role.

The new Director of Mission will:

  • provide leadership in the development and implementation of the mission strategy across the Diocese of Oxford in line with the priorities of Living Faith for the Future.
  • as a member of the Bishop's Staff and of the Senior Management Group, lead diocesan engagement with the 'Reform and Renewal' and other key national missional initiatives.
  • lead the work of the Department of Mission, which involves being responsible of a team of 26 staff members with 7 direct reports.

The successful candidate will have a significant track record of strategic mission planning and evangelism. They will have a sound theological and practical understanding of holistic mission in contemporary society, alongside a proven ability to lead and motivate others in a collaborative manner. They will be a practising Christian, passionately committed to the life, work and growth of the Church.

This role offers a salary of £49,843 – £65,881 per annum or stipend at the Residentiary Canon level and housing allowance.

Fresh expressions of the United Reformed Church

Linda Rayner updates the United Reformed Church's progress in taking fresh expressions of church to heart.

These are exciting times for the United Reformed Church (URC). As part of our ongoing restructuring programme we recently appointed three Deputy General Secretaries: one each for Mission, Discipleship and Admin/Resources. The first two indicate that the attention of the denomination is clearly on mission and discipleship, and talks are continuing in order to discern how best to inspire our churches to share the gospel message with people in our local communities, helping church members to recognise that we are all today's disciples – and as such, Jesus has called us all to share in his mission.

The ideas that mission is local and growth is more than 'bums-on-pews' are hugely challenging for many of our 1,500 congregations, and fresh expressions is proving a powerful tool as we work together to become a truly missional denomination.

In 2011 I was privileged to be appointed half-time URC coordinator for fresh expressions, and after much prayerful deliberation (during which time I confess to having had some serious doubts about God's plans), I'm now thanking God every day that the post was extended to full-time this May. This has provided me with the luxury of time to think about how to develop a deliberate strategy for embedding a fresh expressions mindset into our denomination. It's challenging, but for me to see the penny drop as people 'get' the idea, and the excitement as they realise their own church can be part of this movement, is hugely rewarding.

The URC is divided into 13 Synods – huge geographical areas including the Synods of the whole of Scotland and the whole of Wales. Each Synod has at least one dedicated coordinator for fresh expressions of church, and according to the level of understanding and adoption in each area, I work with them in setting up local strategies for introducing/continuing to encourage fresh expressions into each Synod. We are committed to theological and cultural diversity, which means that each congregation is different and has its own ideas regarding mission priorities – and being a conciliar church means that no-one can instruct them to develop a fresh expression, it's a case of persuading them that this is important and effective local mission.

So the intention is to continue with a rolling plan of vision days and mission shaped intro in each Synod, taking into account the specific needs of each area as we go. (Such is the nature of the URC that this type of programme is already well underway in some areas, whilst others have barely heard of fresh expressions of church and need an introduction that is shorter than a vision day). We are also encouraging churches to send teams to mission shaped ministry courses, and talks are continuing at denomination level regarding training for pioneer ministry, both lay and ordained.

The denomination is halfway through a ten-year strategic framework called vision2020, which was adopted in order to inspire and support mission planning at all levels. It consists of ten statements and a check-list of missional indicators like 'intentional sharing of the gospel' and 'inclusivity'. Fresh expressions sit beautifully in many of the statements – including 'spirituality and prayer', 'hospitality and diversity', 'evangelism' and 'church growth'.

These are indeed exciting times for the URC. We now have nine pioneer ministers, and many truly missional churches with a fresh expressions mindset. Our Annual Church Returns now ask which churches are involved with fresh expressions, and I'm really looking forward to being in touch with the ones who ticked the box. It will be great to discover just how much is really going on. I have a feeling there's a lot more than I know.

PPP Messy Church

Emma Major tells how she followed a fresh expressions 'journey' to develop People, Prayers and Potatoes (PPP) Messy Church.

People, Prayers and Potatoes at St Nicolas, Earley, does what it says on the tin – we bring people together once a month at midday for a Bible story, craft, activities, worship and prayer before sharing a jacket potato meal. Since we started four years ago, we've served up over 2,200 jacket potatoes!

I will tell how it developed through the fresh expressions' journey of Listening, Loving and Serving, Building Community, Exploring Discipleship, Church taking shape, Doing it again.


PPP Messy Church - giantAfter completing my training to become a Licensed Lay Minister I spent a year in formation discerning what God wanted me to do at St Nicolas, Earley. Being a mum in the playground at the local primary school it became clear to me that there were many families searching for something 'God shaped'. I was forever being asked things like, 'What do you believe in?', 'Will you pray for me?' I encouraged them to come along to St Nicolas, and for their kids to join the thriving Sunday School, but the majority of the families had never come to church so this was a step too far.

Our standard 10am service at St Nicolas is quite formal so it's just not the right place to bring people into a church environment if they've never known it before. It really wasn't attracting the people who don't have a background in church.

Loving and Serving

Over several months of prayer and conversations with the unchurched families, the concept for People, Prayers and Potatoes evolved. Over the years I've found that God tends to speak to me in images and it was at this stage that I got an image in my mind of people sitting down and eating together, I then wrote what I thought that was all about in terms of exploring faith.

It sounds incredible but, within two weeks, I knew how it was going to work in practical terms and I'd chatted it all through with my vicar, Neil Warwick, who was really supportive. A friend offered to come and cook a jacket potato lunch for whoever was going to turn up and we'd see what happened.

With the help of a few keen teenagers, and two expert cooks, PPP was born as a place where families could come and meet God, many for the first time. Interestingly I only discovered Messy Church, and its resources, after about a year of us running PPP! So I did not have that model in my head and we are not exactly like a Messy Church because there is no set format each month but it gives a verbal shorthand for the type of thing we do.

PPP takes place on Sundays at mid-day. If children are involved in football on Sunday mornings, the matches have finished by then so it seems to be a good time. We don't try to make something that suits everybody because you can't but we keep it very simple with a talk, doing something with the kids, go into the church for some worship and prayer – and, of course, eat together.

Building Community

PPP Messy Church - craftAll we did was ask people we knew from the school and the community to come and join us. We told them that we didn't really know how it was going to look but that we'd have a God story in one way or another and that it would be a type of church. The line was, 'Come and try it. What have you got to lose? We'll feed you lunch!'

I thought no-one was going to come but People, Prayers and Potatoes, as a Messy Church, was popular right from the start and six families turned up for the first one. It was all very informal and unthreatening. Within three months, those initial families had brought friends who also kept coming; and families approaching St Nicolas for baptism came to PPP to explore faith as a family. Now, four years on, we regularly have 50-60 children – and their parents and carers – who worship together. We've got babes in arms, children at every primary school level and four teenagers who are part of the leadership team.

Exploring Discipleship

We have a jacket potatoes rota where the families volunteer to cook lunch for everyone else and we also have a craft team who come up with wonderful ideas every month. PPP is truly a community of families exploring and growing in their faith together. Two years ago I started the 'Mums and More' group to which a dozen mums from PPP belong; this is a group which explores prayer, the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. We also ran a nurture course which fed them further.

I am a person who likes to take the risks and start something new; I want to keep pioneering and you can't do that until you help what you have started to grow to be sustainable. In saying that, PPP is extremely cheap to run with the food costing about £30 and the craft materials no more than £10. It's also interesting that the families who come along now take it in turns to do the jacket potatoes; they say it's their gift to the community of PPP – others might donate some craft resources for use in our activities. That culture of giving is already there.

Church taking shape

PPP Messy Church - EasterWe have never had a huge team but have grown a planning and leadership group of three from the families who call PPP their church. Over the last two years we have had three Messy Church adults' baptisms and we are thrilled that six of the PPP mums will be confirmed in a Messy Confirmation at the start of September 2015. People, Prayers and Potatoes is truly a church in its own right at St Nicolas, Earley.

Doing it again

I am now in the process of handing over the leadership of People, Prayers and Potatoes – partly in response to the fact that a decline in health means I need to step back from those particular responsibilities. That's OK with me because I never wanted to hold on to the reins too tightly. When you step out to do something, you should create space for others to flourish and I've already been fortunate to see that happen. The leadership team have run three PPP services to great acclaim alongside the clergy worship team. They are gaining confidence in planning the year ahead and it is a joy to see their faith grow as they lead others as they were led. I have no doubt that People, Prayers and Potatoes Messy Church is in extremely safe, motivated and enthusiastic hands!