Annie Spiers looks for fresh expressions in Liverpool's Narnia.
In Another Place is a group that came together six years ago to take the good news outside church walls through large, creative arts projects – and lots of other things. The name and inspiration came from Anthony Gormley's Another Place installation of iron men statues at Crosby beach, Merseyside, where our first performances were produced.
Today we continue to work in collaboration with community organisations, offering a gospel choir, schools and puppet teams, a group for 18-30s, and a festivals and exhibitions team. This all helps to bring alive our mission statement of 'Christians and community working together, inspired by our love for God and the people around us'.
In 2009 we 'visited' Narnia for the first time, staging a walk-through presentation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in a church hall. During its three week run we were visited by more than 3,000 people – with 25 performers and 40 stewards on duty throughout the three weeks. Over 100 others were involved behind the scenes.
Two years on and we decided to repeat the experience on a somewhat larger scale … the manager of Liverpool city centre landmark, St George's Hall, had been inspired by our previous Narnia and asked us to stage it at the historic venue. The Great Hall is 169 feet long and 74 feet wide!
Hundreds of volunteers from churches across the city, and some from no church background at all, have been involved in making this happen. In fact, the two-week show goes on, running until Saturday (19th February) and bringing in thousands of people to walk through the wardrobe and share in the experience.
So far, so good – and any fresh expressions practitioner would be more than welcome to come and see for themselves how we deal with building, and sustaining, this extraordinary community of people of all abilities and backgrounds. But what happens when we dismantle the false 'sky' we've had to install and one of our team of White Witches goes back to being a teacher? What happens to that community, that team, and those with questions about Aslan?
At the moment we are not a fresh expression of church, but In Another Place could definitely be heading in that direction. The activities we routinely run all year round are open doors for those affected by our large-scale events – which always contain the Christian message – to find out more.
This year 500 people have been involved in Narnia, including some 100 adults with additional needs, all having a go at creative arts, acting, stewarding, construction, and much more. The performance team is also substantial with ten actors for each of the five acting parts and countless Dryads, statues, and general support staff.
What's the next step? It depends entirely on the outcome of this event. But we have already seen clear results from staging such community activities, with people taking on more and more responsibility than they would have done previously. The sheer scale of recreating Narnia in the middle of a major tourist attraction, for instance, has meant that many individuals have had to rise to the challenge – and they have done it brilliantly.
Numerous churches provided financial support for this event, and many have provided the catering to keep the team going. Money has also come from various trusts and individuals, and a large amount from ticket sales income. Prayer is vital and an email prayer bulletin goes out daily to people across the city, and beyond, to detail specific prayer requests based on the events of that day.
Many of our helping hands have indicated interest to participate in future events, and we have seen most volunteers – of 'churchy' backgrounds or not – touched by the scale of the project and the determination to make it a success driven by our Christian faith.
Visitors are told of the Aslan/Jesus allegory and they have the opportunity to write a prayer/wish/dream on a snowflake at the end of the experience. A stall also offers CS Lewis books. We do not offer specific opportunities to find out more about the story and its Christian links, but if people were to mention that, we would of course answer them.
We have lots of ideas for future large-scale events, but nothing concrete will be decided until the madness of The Narnia Experience has passed! As for lessons learnt along the way, I would say that detailed planning is essential – even when you think you have done enough, there will almost certainly be something you've missed.
But also we've learnt to trust that God will provide everything we need. This has been a huge leap of faith, but faith comes with reward – as we continue to see day after day through the wardrobe in Liverpool.