Minister licensed to new estate – in a pub

The Bishop of Hull, the Rt Revd Alison White, will license a new minister for the Kingswood Estate in Hull – in a pub.

The Revd Ben Norton will be licensed as the estate's new Pioneer Minister at the Oyster Catcher Pub on the Kingswood Retail Park on Tuesday 20th October 2015 at 7.30pm. Ben will be the first minister to be appointed to the Kingswood Estate. He returns to Hull, where he was born, from St Cuthbert's church in Marton in Cleveland.

Ben said,

I am looking forward to this for many different reasons, but especially because I will have the privilege of serving the people in the city of my heritage. I was born in Hull, as were my wife and my children, and I am proud to that I can once again call it home.

The role that the Diocese of York have created in Kingswood is one of great vision and in many ways one of great risk. My hope and dream for this role is that it will allow people living in and around Kingswood to find a safe space to explore their own faith journey and that, as a result of this, fresh expressions of church will begin to develop.

Bishop Alison commented,

We think this might be the first time a minister has ever been licensed in a pub! But it's really appropriate in Ben's case. There's no church building on Kingswood, so the new church will be meeting in pubs or caf├ęs. Ben is the perfect person to be the first minister in Kingswood – he brings not only his knowledge and love of Hull, but gifts of imagination and energy.

Ben was ordained as a Pioneer Minister in 2007, was curate at Emmanuel Church, Bridlington, from 2007 to 2012 when he moved to Marton in Cleveland. During his time in Bridlington, Ben created new expressions of church including XY Church, a lads' church that met in a pub, St Max's church, and a Beach Hut 'Advent Calendar' on the seafront in December. When he moved to Marton in Cleveland, Ben drew on his past career as a hairdresser and worked every Monday at Jargon hairdressers in Coulby Newham as a way to get to know people in the area.

Homes started being built in Kingswood in the 1990s, and the urban village is now growing at a considerable rate. By 2028 there will be over 6,000 homes, as well as the new primary school, the 'village centre' of shops and amenities and an extensive retail park. As Kingswood will soon be one of the biggest estates in Yorkshire, the Diocese of York committed to providing a Pioneer Minster for the community.

Franklinton Community

Ben Norton, Pioneer minister for Kingswood, Hull, describes an intentional community for young adults in the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

When I travelled to Ohio earlier this year, I met Jed Dearing – the project leader for the Confluence Episcopal Service Corps Program hosted by St John's Episcopal Church in Franklinton. Jed showed me around the area and told me of some of the amazingly creative missional enterprises they are involved with as a community.

Franklinton is a neighbourhood immediately west of downtown Columbus, Ohio's largest city. Jed and a group of friends moved there a few years ago with the intention of wanting to live out the gospel incarnationally. They soon found that St John's Episcopal Church was already doing so through a ministry called 'Street Church', a weekly Eucharistic service out on the street for the homeless communities in the area.

Through getting to know people at this service, Jed and his friends soon found that there were many needs they could begin to address. For instance, not many people in their community could afford cars and the bus routes where not always helpful so many people either didn't travel or, if they did, they rode bikes. This meant two things; the only shops nearby were corner shops that did not sell fresh food but rather sold crisps and sweets – so the diet of the local community was predominately unhealthy; the bicycles that people were using were not always safe.

Out of these issues, two projects have developed:

  • Franklinton Cycle Works: This is a project where the local community can come and learn how to fix their own bikes or can choose to fix a shop bike. The time given is added up as store credit which can then be used to buy a bike from the project.
  • Franklinton Gardens: Volunteers give their time to create an urban farm right in the centre of the community, using plots of land where houses once stood and turning the ground in to a place to grow fresh crops that are then sold in the local area.

Franklinton - working

Confluence is hosted by St. John's Episcopal Church in partnership with the Diocese of Southern Ohio and the Episcopal Service Corps. Confluence is a volunteer corps program for recent college graduates or young adults who commit to a year of spiritual formation, vocational discernment, social justice and intentional community.

The interns live in intentional community, sharing the Hospitality House in Franklinton. The Hospitality House has a long history of being open and available for the community. The house was repaired, repainted, and refurbished during the summer of 2013 to provide a peaceful home as the centre of community life for the Confluence volunteers who aim to:

  • spend a year in intentional community learning to live simply and sustainably in a home with four others;
  • go deep into vocational discernment working with a leading social service organization doing dynamic work on the margins;
  • enact social justice through volunteering with neighbourhood non-profit organisations;
  • pursue spiritual formation through contemplative practices with housemates, and worship with the homeless at 'Street Church'.

Franklinton - prayer

Timing is everything for fresh expressions (Ben Norton)

Ben NortonBen Norton discusses why timing is everything for fresh expressions of church.

For me, to be called to live as a pioneer means to live without any form of certainty: 'there are no guarantees'. This, I believe, will have an impact on the sorts of communities we see emerging under the leadership of pioneer ministers. 

These are new Christian communities that don't focus on micro details of seeking answers such as: 'How can we make sure we are always going to exist in this way?', but rather communities that ask questions such as: 'Where are we travelling next on this journey?' and 'What will we look like as we grow?'

I am now heading to the end of five-and-a-half years as an Ordained Pioneer Minister in training, and the next step is going to be some sort of deployment. What this next role will look like is very undefined at the moment, but it brings with it many different thoughts and feelings – both for me personally and for the communities which have been formed during my time in this part of the world.

I have one quote that has stayed in my mind more than any other when it comes to thinking about pioneering ministry, and that comes from Vincent Donovan when he states: 'to enable people, if they wish it, to learn about and understand the basic Christian message, the Good News, to baptise those who then ask for baptism, to bring them up to their first Eucharist – and then to GO! It was for these new Christians to work out their own life as church.' Although the context is very different, the essence remains that these new communities need to be given the space, within inherited structures, to be able to stretch their wings.

New communities need to be given the space, within inherited structures, to be able to stretch their wings

Many people have asked what will make the new communities identifiable as Anglican, Methodist or URC? This is a great and right question to ask from an inherited viewpoint, but if one was to give an answer it would unravel the question being asked in the first place. 

For example, when a football manager buys in new players for his team, those new recruits wear the club shirts. They also adopt the ethos and heritage of the club, but the way they play may be nothing like anyone at that club has ever seen before. Therefore for someone to ask before a ball has ever been kicked, 'What makes them part of our team?' would be to reject their identity before it could be formed.

Timing is everything when it comes to fresh expressions of church – whether that is considering a BMO, the leader moving on or how the vision is going to be worked out. I am just glad that it is God holding the timepiece and not me!

Lost in translation? (Ben Norton)

Ben Norton reflects on the importance of language and storytelling.

Earlier this year I spent 10 days in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. The Episcopal Church there had invited me to go and spend some time talking, listening and teaching about fresh expressions and pioneer ministry. As a result, I met people in very different contexts doing some amazingly creative missional enterprises.

Here are some of my reflections on what was a very busy trip:

I saw God at work in people and situations that, although the context was very different, the work of the Spirit was very recognisable. People were very naturally getting on with the job of listening to their own communities, making connections, building relationships and allowing new Christ-centred communities to be born and begin to flourish. Right from the start it was obvious that the pioneers involved were not 'copying' what we have seen in the UK but rather it was an organic response to what God is already doing in their own context.

It reaffirmed my understanding that this movement of fresh expressions is not something that has been dreamt up by a committee in order to grow the church. It is a movement of God to renew his church and allow those seeking faith to do so from within heritage we have been given. Fresh expressions of church are a movement of God being translated into new cultures, sub-cultures and contexts right around the world.

I began to again realise the importance of language in this type of work. The right words allow us to translate what is already going on, both for the practitioner and the observer. This is important for two very different reasons:

(a) for the practitioner to understand that what they are doing is something that God has a hand in. Although, at the time, it might not look like anything that has been done before, there are still elements of common factors we can identify as issues of discipleship and markers of the church.

On occasions when it comes to understanding what is happening as a new community is coming into life, questions can be far more important than answers. The wisdom is knowing what questions to ask. Who are the people and what are their stories? What makes this community Christ-centred? What are we doing? Why are we doing it and where are we going? These are just a few of the questions that I believe all forms of churches need to be constantly asking. At times, it is only by exploring the questions – rather than seeking the right answers – that we can really begin to understand what God is doing.

(b) for those who have an investment in one way or another. They might be the Church that is paying the stipend of the Pioneer, or it might be the parish of the inherited church where the fresh expression is developing. It is important that the language allows an open and honest conversation to flow between the fresh expression and the Inherited churches.

There is at times a great amount of risk and vulnerability involved in this type of ministry and it would be easy to for both sides to become defensive. To pioneer means to break new ground, something which – at times – is going to call for new tools to do the job and a new language. I believe that this is something that everybody who has an investment is going to have to commit to working hard at if we are going to continue to listen and connect with the new things God is doing in the world and the church.

I am now working with Jane Gerdsen, the Missioner for fresh expressions in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, to produce some short video-logs of practitioners – both in the UK and USA. The sharing of story is such an important way of learning the lessons that we so need to know as we continue to go forward in mission.

Don’t be so defensive! (Ben Norton)

Ben Norton lays down a challenge to not be so defensive.

Reflecting on the developing fresh expression of church that I was part of in Bridlington, one thing has struck me recently – and that has been that when it comes to fresh expressions of church we should not be so quick to defend and justify them.

It is an easy trap to fall into, especially for the pioneer who will have ploughed a lot of blood, sweat and tears into birthing a new community. Of course everyone wants newly formed fresh expressions of church to be successful in reaching those who have no connection with either faith or church. We want them to look good, but it is easy to miss the reality of authentic markers of church. There is also the fact that at times we might want to measure how well they are doing by comparing them to other inherited forms of church to see how well they are getting on.

One of the hardest things I find when it comes to critiquing fresh expressions of church is that the only yardstick we have got is one that seems rather inadequate for the job. The tools no longer fit the situation, tools such as critiquing new communities using orthodoxy and doctrine as a way of interpreting what is going on. Whilst these issues are important they might not always be easily recognisable in the way we might want to understand them.

For example, one of the comments of the fresh expression in Bridlington was that it seemed that we never actively preached the gospel, in so much as there was no recognised reading and expounding of the scriptures. I believe the question therefore is one that can be found in the Psalms, at a time when God's people found themselves in an unfamiliar place, with no recognisable markers to order their sense of God. In Psalm 137.4, we read,

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?

The ‘foreign land’ for us is cultural rather than geographical.

What we did do is take a hermeneutical approach to exploring issues in the news. Exploring, sharing and debating the topics that everyone was facing. It was through this way of engaging with each other that conversations of faith, ethical, moral, and spiritual ideas were put forward and critiqued and pondered by those who did not profess a faith-based worldview. Viewpoints were aired and language used that some people may feel shocked or offended by. Indeed I often asked myself the question 'what would people say if they thought this was church?'

Of course this was an environment in which everyone was welcome and all views were encouraged to be shared. They would be challenged at times and although there were never any serious consequences the debates would get heated. It was messy and I, as the pioneer, constantly felt vulnerable about what it was we were doing. With questions like 'Is this church?', 'Are these men seeing and hearing the teachings of Jesus?', 'Can we see authentic signs of the Kingdom here?' and always in the back of my mind were the voices of those who would criticise no matter what we did.

But on reflection, I believe that if a fresh expression of church is authentically engaging with and creating disciples then it will look most of the time anything but successful – just like the disciples, and the early church. In fact I would go so far as saying that a mark of authenticity would be that the community would be very fragile – and most of the time in crisis. I say this not only from my own experience but also reading Paul's letters to the early church (1 Corinthians 1.10-17) in which he sorted out the issues arising as new disciples worked out their faith in a messy and uneasy way.

There is an album by the band Dubh called 'Fractured, broken and beautiful'. I believe that this sums up the church in every place and not just fresh expression communities, but this is what we want. A church reliant upon the saving grace of God though the continued work of the Holy Spirit.

XY Church – update Oct10

XY Church started three years ago as a developing community of spiritual travellers. Pioneer Minister Ben Norton gives an update on what has happened to the lads' church meeting in a pub every week.

We still get together every Sunday night in Wetherspoons, Bridlington, for a drink and a chat about key issues of the week and what the Christian faith has to say about those issues. There is now a core group of about 10 guys who come along to that and there's another 10-15 who drop in and out depending on family circumstances, work commitments or money. Similar pub churches for men have sprung up all over the country and it has been great to see the idea catch on.

Things are going really well but, of course, there have been questions along the way – things like 'What is it really achieving?', 'Are we a church or a drinking club?' The fact is that all of the core guys who come along now have some affiliation with church, some going on a Sunday morning to Emmanuel Church, Bridlington; others going to different churches in the area or our other fresh expression of church, St Max's.

Although XY is about discipleship and people have journeyed on in faith through it, it's interesting that the guys have become involved in other Christian communities. It has proved to be an easy way to access the Christian faith.

There have been lots of lessons learned along the way, particularly leadership lessons. At what stage do you bring people through into leadership roles? Some of these guys don't resemble the sort of leaders we have come to expect in the Church but I find great comfort in the thought that if St Peter and St Paul were within many of our church communities, they wouldn't fit in at all!

We just keep focusing on what we are doing and learning. The guys come from very varied backgrounds and are at very different stages in their own faith journey; sometimes it's difficult for me – as leader – to recognise their development. It's like you never see how your own kids are growing up because you are there with them all the time; it often takes others to remark on how much they've grown and then you realise they have travelled a long way.

We are doing things like running Alpha all the time but I'd love us to reach a point where we are a Eucharistic community – something that would be terribly normal for us to do. It is one of the benchmarks that we tend to measure this sort of community by.

It has always had the feel of being an open group so we are accustomed to people just turning up on the night to see what we do; the guys take it on the chin. Interestingly we have had some Christians come along with very firm views on certain things and they have found it uncomfortable to be challenged on those views. Yet that's how I believe men begin to grow and become disciples.

The age range remains roughly 18-40. It has been interesting to see how the community grows and develops and how it deals with issues. One of the big questions revolved around 'who buys the drinks?'. Of course we had never had any rules about it but at one point it was a little unfair because it always seemed to be the same people getting a round in. It all just bubbled to the surface, there were a few big swear words and quite a lot of finger pointing and then the whole thing was sorted out – much easier than trying to resolve issues in church sometimes!

A lot of churches are going out and doing events for blokes but I haven't seen many people discipling blokes. That's what the XY stuff is beginning to achieve. 

There is an incredible amount of pressure these days on men, whether it's about gender roles, there being no such thing as a job for life any more, becoming unemployed, or living with a partner for a long time but not committing to marriage. Statistically the suicide rates among young men are dreadfully high because they are very vulnerable. At XY, they say they really need to come and be there at the end of the week because they can just talk everything out. Looking at it traditionally it's simply confession so that they can start again afresh.

The dynamic of what works in the XY context is that of small growth. I would very much like to see the leadership develop and eventually take on XY for themselves; I would then step out of it and do something else. But these things take time.

XY Church

Ben Norton, who appears on the Fresh Expressions DVD, on the edge, traces the history of XY lads' church in Bridlington.

The idea started back in September 2007 when I was thinking about what it meant to be an ordained pioneer minster and how that was going to work out in Bridlington. So I made lots of contacts with people in the town – but most of them seemed to be with blokes my age. So I began looking into how we could begin to reach them with the gospel.

I met with two other guys in my church to think about creating some events. The first event we had was a curry night at the church, which was really well attended. The month later we held a pizza night, again in the church. The atmosphere was laid back and relaxed and the idea was just to get to know the guys better. We continued to run events like, paint-balling and we also had a meat and beer night.

The momentum quickly grew and we had about 20 lads that we got to know really well. We began thinking about how we could develop the relationships and how we could engage with the gospel. We came up with the idea of meeting weekly in a pub and having a discussion based around the Bible.

So I began printing off a flier with some Scripture and some questions. The idea and the structure of the night worked well and we soon got a small group of five or six lads every week. But we began to find that starting the conversation with Scripture put some people off.

So we changed the format to picking an item from the news and basing the discussion around that with some faith-based questions and relevant Scriptures. This has worked really well. And, a few months in, we had a core of about ten lads who came every week, and about 30 who came to our events.

Over the last 18 months we have continued to make contact with more lads and things are going well. 'Where next?' is the huge question that we are looking at and praying about. I would love to see us develop into our own church that has a Eucharistic focus. But how we get there is another question! However, it is a hugely exciting part of the journey.

The most compelling thing about all we are doing is that we are meeting men who are interested in the issues we look at from a faith perspective, and how this changes their world view. One guy who came recently said: 'I don't do religion but this is really good!'.

I believe very strongly that as the church we need to go and meet people exactly where they are at, and allow them to see that we value their thoughts and ideas. We want to live a life that says: 'Have you thought about life the way that Jesus did?'