Church on the Bus, set up by Church Army Evangelist Alan Park, offers practical and spiritual support to more than 60 homeless and vulnerable people every week. Alan explains the development of this fresh expression of church.
It all started in 2004 and we now have two buses, one single-decker and the other a double-decker, which make various weekly 'stops' in Derbyshire to bring the Gospel to those who would never normally set foot inside a church building.
Before I became a Christian I was homeless for seven years, but my life was changed when I came to know Jesus. Since then, I've wanted to share the hope of the Gospel with others.
The buses, staffed by 45 trained volunteers from different churches, travel to Chesterfield, Matlock and Clay Cross four nights a week. Lots of people comment on the fact that it's very peaceful and calm on board and that helps to break down many barriers. We have built up a firm foundation of trust and respect so it's very easy for people to mention God and talk about faith. We also help with practical things our visitors may need, like food, warm drinks, toiletries and clothes.
It was great to show the Archbishop of Canterbury what we were doing when he came to see us as part of his trip to the Derby Diocese. I know he was glad to hear that, as a mobile church, we have seen God move dramatically in people's lives. Some people come to us specifically for prayer but we are there to minister to others no matter what and that means sometimes you can come away happy and sometimes you can come away sad. Every day is different; you never know who you are going to meet.
We always stop in the same place as part of our weekly round so we are in Chesterfield on Monday and Thursday, Matlock on Tuesday and Clay Cross on Wednesday. As a result people know where we are if they want to reach us.
I have been in situations on the bus where it is simply raw evangelism. I think this is what more believers should be doing because Christians have been trying to get people to go into church buildings for years and years and they simply won't do it. With Church on the Bus we are not just talking about reaching those in need, we are doing it. This is a fresh expression of church serving a marginalised group of people and building Christian community with them.
One man we saw had been homeless for 25 years and if you mentioned Jesus Christ he physically attacked you. At one point he attacked me and I turned the other cheek. That clearly spoke to him because after six months he turned up again at the bus and said, 'Who is this Jesus guy? I want him in my life.' He's still homeless but now he carries a Bible in his pocket at all times and evangelises other homeless people.
Over the coming years we are looking to expand the work of Church on the Bus and as part of this we hope to begin visiting an estate in Matlock ministering to single parents. We are also in need of more volunteers to join the team as well as people to support us in prayer and finance. Currently the project is part-funded by Church Army while the rest of the money comes from donations.
I pray that more and more people will come to know Jesus Christ through Church on the Bus. It would also be good to pray for nurture groups as we work through how to disciple those who come to faith with us. I am thankful to God for everything that has been done through the buses so far and I look forward to what He has in store for us in future.