A town centre church in Hastings hosts a monthly Night Church to provide a safe space on Saturday evenings – a place where people have the opportunity to encounter God. Revd Annette Hawkins explains more.
Several people from different places had a vision to open a Night Church in Hastings. Some of them had been inspired by Church for the Night in Bournemouth (featured on expressions: making a difference and this website) as something that would work alongside and complement the ministry of Street Pastors in the area.
As we met together a team emerged and we found that the vision we shared was to create a safe space where people felt welcome and accepted. We would offer hospitality and be sensitive to people's needs; talking and praying for them if that is what they wanted but also giving them space and being careful not to get in the way of what the Holy Spirit was doing.
Towards the end of 2011 a team from various churches in Hastings transformed the interior of Holy Trinity Church in the town centre. We covered an 8ft cross with Christmas lights and decorations and set it in the chancel, organised a comfortable area where people could pray, light a candle and pin prayers to a prayer wall. We also set up a large café area with sofas, chairs and tables, good tea, coffee and cakes. The church was decorated with tealights and Christmas lights and different areas were created by using fencing panels covered in material!
There were poetry, art and multi-media displays and music and light projected out into the street to attract passers-by. Sixty people of different ages came in, some for a few minutes, others for a couple of hours. Some lit a candle and prayed silently, some chattered noisily and asked lots of questions, some poured their hearts out and shared deeply painful and moving experiences.
Most were amazed that they were allowed in at all – especially if they had been drinking, many of them expressed their appreciation and their intent to come back and bring their friends.
Encouraged, we opened the doors again on New Year's Eve and similar numbers of people came, several who had been to the first event but many new people as well. Our next event will be around Valentine's Day and we plan to open monthly from then on. Up to now we have advertised Night Church as running from 10pm to 2am but in reality we have kept it open as long as people needed us. We're thinking that we may now have a cut-off point of 3am though on New Year's Eve people were still walking through the doors at 4.30am. One person who had been contemplating suicide that night said the fact that they could come into Night Church had saved them from doing that.
Holy Trinity is an Anglo-Catholic church and a very beautiful building; the local council pay for the chancel to be lit and the light can be seen through the stained glass windows. It's one of those 'wow' sort of interiors and when people walk in for the first time their first reaction is one of amazement! The church is in an interregnum at the moment but the predominantly older congregation have been so helpful and are really thrilled that their church is being used in this way. They have also been generous in giving us storage space there. One of the most exciting aspects of this ministry is that at the last count there were people from 10 different churches and seven different denominations working together with no agenda other than to serve the community and show God's love.
Night Church is missional in that we seek to help people to encounter the living God, particularly the unchurched and dechurched. We actively discourage Christians from coming unless they are on the team. At the moment we are not in a position to disciple people although the hope is that, as we build relationships through regular contact, we will be able to encourage people in their faith journey. We are at a very early stage and are quite open to the leading of the Spirit as to what the next stage may be.