VentureFX pioneer Bart Woodhouse gives the latest news of The Beacon Church at The Bridge housing development, Dartford.
Since we first came here in 2008, one of the biggest changes has been the Methodist Church creating a framework to authorise lay ministers to preside at communion services in cases of 'missional need'. I now have permission to do that, which is great, but I've used it sparingly to be honest.
One place where I have used it is our monthly family gathering; it’s a kind of bridging event – in between a Messy Church and Café Church. It's on the fourth Sunday and that's where we have been sharing in the Eucharist. There is a table with lots of fresh bread, honey, jam, butter and jugs of grape juice; we get the kids together and distribute it out to tables around the room. We use a very simple liturgy around sharing this meal together; it's all about the sweetness of God’s grace. Based around the children and families there, this has proved to be quite powerful.
We have stayed clear of the formal liturgy but instead decided to base it on the ancient prayer of Hippolytus. He was one of the first to write down liturgy for the Eucharist and it amazed me when I read it. You can see how the modern liturgy draws on it very heavily.
It's not hugely different to how many churches would do it but it is just expressed in a different sort of context. It is really good to have that sense of permission from the Methodist Church to do it, and to explore how we do it, but it's also about recognising the importance of continuity – no matter what context you're in. We also recognise the active presence of the Holy Spirit both in our time together and the missional activities and relationships we have forged as we live and serve in this new community.
God has brought us a long way since the days when a small group of us started to try and discern what God wanted to happen here at The Bridge. We have grown from 6 to about 40 in that time. It's not happened quickly but, over the past year or so, it has been gathering a bit of pace. I, and my wife Rachel, have had a lot of support from the Methodist Church and the Circuit are still keen to have us around for as long as we are willing to stay – so that's good news for us!
I think that, as far as VentureFX pioneer group is concerned, what we are doing is probably the most conventional expression of church because we are – in essence – a community-based church plant and we stay well within the confines of what many contemporary ministries would do.
We will get the next renewal of a five-year block of VentureFX funding in September but this is money which will now diminish year on year. The Beacon is not yet in a place where it is self-financing but you could imagine that within another year or two that goal may well be achievable.
We have been saving money as a church for a long time now for a launch of a Christian coffee shop as a physical presence in the community – that’s our next big thing. We really feel that God gave us this vision a long time ago, namely that it was really important for this community to have us as a physical, daily presence on the site. We have got half of the money we need already and we are hoping to get help from Circuit and District.
We are still in negotiations for one of the three retail units on site. They are owned by a gentleman called Mr Patel; there is quite a Hindu community in this area and they have been very open to our plans and who we are because of what they believe – namely not to put any 'borders' or 'boundaries' around religious activities. They have talked about coming to church because their Hindu temple is too far away.
That reflects the broad spectrum of people who we see at The Beacon. We have Christians who moved to the area and stumbled across us through different things that we do. We have also got a de-churched element but not too much of that and then there's a fairly broad number of people who are relatively unchurched; some of whom have found faith, some haven't. We do have Pub Theology sessions and that's where the guys who have not been involved in church previously tend to gather.
We have a fairly small, quite fragile, leadership team. That includes me and my wife and at least another three individuals who have leadership roles in the church. So there is a good team here but I think that if I was to pull out of the project now, it would be a struggle. Most of the group are in their 20s and 30s and commute into London as well so there are many demands on their time.
Our programme of activities has expanded and we have a café-style Beacon Gather Church on Sundays at The Bridge Community Primary School Hall. We don't have a Gather on the first Sunday of the month because that's when we have Messy Church at The Bridge Campus Community Room. Our toddler group meets on Monday mornings and in the afternoon during term time at the same place. At most of the Gather Sundays, there are separate activities for children and young people.
Connect Groups meet every fortnight to give people a chance to catch up and get into conversation about a theme from the Bible or questions about our faith. They usually meet in people's homes and involve 5-8 people on average.
We also have groups meeting on Monday and Thursday evenings as well as the Pub Theology night at The Wharf Pub, Crossways, and an early morning prayer meeting at 6am every Friday.
We are now planning our 7th 'Bridge Big Lunch', as part of a national initiative, on 7 June. The annual event is really popular here with over 400 residents coming last year, giving people the chance to get together, share food and skills, have some fun and get to know others living in the area.