Andrew Dunlop asks how we share together and learn together.
I recently spent a very enjoyable day meeting pioneers on new-build developments from the St Alban's diocese. Both Peterborough and St Alban's dioceses receive money for pioneer posts from the Church Commissioners and we have a reciprocal arrangement for mutual accountability and encouragement in how the money is being spent.
I found it immensely useful to hear from others about what they are doing. It was also clear that although the house designs may look similar, no two new-build developments are the same.
I first visited the de Havilland Community Project near Hatfield with Nik Stevenson, a pioneer in Oakley Vale, Corby, and Brian Withington, Bishop's Adviser on Pioneer Ministry in Peterborough diocese. The project is run by Community Development Worker, Jason Blight. The development is built on the site of a former British Aerospace factory, where the de Havilland planes were built.
The first thing to note was that Jason was moving into a development that had already been there for seven years before he arrived, so there were lots of issues from the start. After seven years of not much community engagement, there was a high level of anger against the developers and others for things that were promised but not yet completed.
His role was envisioned by local ecumenical groups to build community, not to start a church. This he has been doing very well over the last two and a half years, running summer clubs for children, Saturday gatherings for the whole family, youth clubs, a community choir, mentoring disadvantaged children from the local school, engaging the students who live on the development into joining in (Hertfordshire University campus is on the doorstep), and even running free guitar lessons.
He wasn't really expecting church to form and tries not to assume the label 'pioneer minister', but there have been enough people asking questions about faith to warrant starting a 'not church' group, as he called it. This 'non-pioneer' is starting a 'not-church'!
The second place we visited was the village of Wixams just south of Bedford. This is being billed as four adjoining villages, but when it is finished it will be one fairly large new-build town with its own railway station on a line into London. Tim Jackson, the pioneer minister, has been in post for about six months.
This development seems more straightforward. A pioneer moves onto the development near the beginning of the building (there are currently about 450 houses built), so the issues he faces are more familiar: lack of places to meet, lack of shops, lack of infrastructure, developers still in charge of the land and open spaces, etc. He has begun by learning as much as possible from an existing community worker employed by the local housing association and by getting stuck into meeting people in the local school. In many ways he is still searching for a strategy and a core team, but I'm sure it will come. A village hall will be ready in the next six months and he is in talks to ensure a management committee is ready when it opens.
The benefit from days like this is in hearing, being encouraged and working out whether anything you've heard can be applied in your own locality. I've taken a few ideas away and I'm sure the others were similarly challenged too. In a few weeks, Jason and Tim will come to Northampton to visit me and Jacqui Burgess, pioneer with the Wellspring project in Wootton Fields. Sometime after that, we'll all make the trip to Corby to visit Nik and the new pioneer who will be installed there.