From ‘exploring’ to ‘church’: Grange Park

This story illustrates the principles of From 'exploring' to 'church' in the Guide.

Residents on a new Northamptonshire housing estate, Grange Park, have to go off the estate for medical care. In 2003, the health visitor from the nearest general practice noticed that a number of young mothers on the estate were being diagnosed with post-natal depression. So she approached the estate's vicar and his wife, Charlie and Charlotte Nobbs. 

The Nobbs offered to open their home on Thursday mornings for two hours to any young mum who would value the chance to meet others and consult the health visitor. The aim was to build community so that the women could grow in confidence, discover friendship and find support.

'Talking Point' now offers an informal, welcoming setting. Good quality coffee and cake is available in the sitting room covered with cushions, blankets and inviting toys, while any older siblings are provided with easy activities in the kitchen. Around 12-18 women at a time take advantage of this purely social service.

As a result of this contact with the church, a few mothers asked to have their babies baptised. Two of them attended an Alpha course and have been instrumental in developing the church's work on the estate.

With Talking Point established, Charlotte began to pray about how to build on it. After much prayer, she sensed God was asking her to do two things: set up pizza-social nights for the Talking Point women and talk to one of the Alpha course graduates about how to share Jesus more overtly. Following these discussions, an informal monthly session for children and their mums, called Stepping Stones, was set up.

'Praying about each step was key, asking God what to do next, and waiting upon him to give the team promptings'

Stepping Stones is held on Tuesday mornings in the Community Centre Hall. An interactive telling of a Bible story ends with a time of reflection. Around 25 adults bring children each month. Attendance jumps to around 100 adults at festivals. Occasional breakfasts attract a further 25 adults.  

Charlotte and the team asked the women who attended Stepping Stones to see it as a pilot and after three months offered them the chance to fill in a questionnaire and comment on how to take it further.

In the questionnaire we asked if any of the adults would be interested in a social night/themed evening or discussion evening,

says Charlotte.

Around a third of regular Stepping Stones members responded that they would like something for adults as well. Praying about each step was key, asking God what to do next, and waiting upon him to give the team promptings.

The result of the questionnaire was the arrival of 16 women at the vicarage for a 'pizza and pud' evening to be followed by a discussion. Many had been to the vicarage through Talking Point, which made it a familiar venue.

'Always tell people what you are going to do; don't have any hidden motives'

Always tell people what you are going to do. Don't have any hidden motives,

Charlotte advises. She offered the women a choice of purely social events, a course on family, an Alpha course or a course called Journeys (a five-part course of Christian testimonies from the Willow Creek stable). The women decided between themselves to do the Journeys course fortnightly.

It is vital that the group owns how they want the group to run, rather have an unwanted choice imposed,

Charlotte believes. Between each meeting she was keeping in touch with the women, having coffee with them and praying and fasting in her own time.

By the end of the Journeys course,

all the women had owned a move towards Jesus,

Charlotte says. They took up another Willow Creek course, Life Stories, after which their group grew into a cell in the Grange Park cell church.

A core number of these new cell members are on the team for either Stepping Stones or what is now known as Stepping Stones Plus, a revision of the Journeys course, in which a further 24 women took part in 2006.

Five or six husbands meet separately with Charlie, either for socials in the pub or for an express version of Alpha over beer and pretzels in each others' homes.

Jesus is already at work, and all we have to do is see where Jesus is already,

says Charlotte.

If it is steeped in prayer, however inadequate what you do is, it will work. Whether you meet fortnightly, weekly, with new Christians or old, in small teams or large teams, it will work.


Kairos - Charlie NobbsThe Kairos Centre has opened its doors as a building for the community in Grange Park, Northampton. It's a dream come true for project chairman Charlie Nobbs and the start of another chapter in the story of Grange Park Church. Anglican minister Charlie tells the tale.

It has been such an interesting journey for us all at Grange Park Church. What started off as a germ of an idea has become a reality in the shape of a central place where people can get together from all walks of the community for all sorts of reasons at the same time.

We have worked with many people along the way but, most recently with South Northamptonshire Council, to transform an empty shell of a building into a much-needed facility. It is the vision of Grange Park Church to follow the call of Jesus to be the good news to Grange Park and beyond – and the Kairos Centre will certainly help us in that.

Kairos - posterAs an Anglican and Baptist Church Local Ecumenical Partnership we meet together on Sunday mornings in Grange Park Community Centre in a nearby part of the village but the Kairos building, in a parade of shops opposite a doctors' surgery, is the base for our church office and coffee shop.

The Kairos Centre is not a church – it’s a place where people can have 'kairos' moments. Kairos is ancient Greek for a critical moment in time, a moment when God draws near and the opportunity to take new direction or restoration is available. Jesus uses the word in Mark to announce the drawing close of the Kingdom as he starts his ministry.

Our vision is for a place that provides facilities and a home for the existing church family, provides services and relationships with the wider community and ultimately will be home to future fresh expressions of church. We are just relaunching a cafĂ© style evening service and hope to develop an after-school club fresh expression and maybe even a film church – as and when we are able.

Kairos - balloonsThe larger meeting room can take about 60 people and there is also a quiet room; a place where people can have 'kairos' or just find some peace from the hectic pace of life. The lounge area also has a coffee shop currently open four mornings a week as well as a small meeting room and the church office. These rooms can also be used for affordable conference/meeting facilities.

Lots of people these days are concerned that new housing areas run the risk of becoming soulless dormitory estates, but we are working hard to combat that. We also hope to develop a menu of wellbeing and lifestyle events, such as advice on debt management, counselling, social events for adults and children's and youth activities.

Looking back, and I was just coming to the end of my curacy in 2001 at St Giles Northampton when it was suggested I could maybe do a church plant in this new housing area.

Kairos - girlsI gathered a few people together but the Baptists had beaten us to it! They felt that God had called them to plant a cell church at Grange Park and we had a similar sense of calling to what God was doing so we joined forces and started to gather a team.

Just a few hundred houses had been built at the time; you could walk around the place in an hour or so and knock on every door. I joined the parish council, while my Baptist colleague helped to set up Neighbourhood Watch in the area and got involved when the primary school was being built.

Initially we were church planting with a traditional Sunday service plus small groups model rather than a fresh expression, but we were keen to connect with those who might not usually attend a traditional church and focused on young families.

To launch the first public worship, we did a holiday club type 'thing' called Kidzone. There was no building to have anything in and all the issues with child protection were getting to be a bit of a nightmare so we set up a 'camp' around one of the school playgrounds – we had lots of gazebos and each gazebo was an activity zone. Naively we thought that all the children and parents who flocked to Kidzone would also flock to church the following week. That didn't happen but what we did notice was that groups of parents would be chatting together while waiting for their children and the conversations would be along the lines of 'Where do you live?', 'O I'm just round the corner from there, come and have a coffee.' We had stumbled upon community building as a means of being good news to Grange Park!

Kairos - crossKidzone has continued and grown as an annual event and we usually get 400 to 500 children over three days in the last week of the summer holidays. As our aim is to be good news in the community, Kidzone is something that has worked very well in letting people know there is a church, that it is good to have it and begin to build relationships.

The other area in which we have seen very encouraging results is through the work of health care professionals. We got to know one of the health visitors and she said that all of the doctors' surgeries were over-run with depressed new mums. We suggested she use our home for appointments with the mums and so Talking Point got up and running on Thursday mornings. My wife Charlotte has been very instrumental in helping to develop something that has become phenomenally successful.

Visitors are offered tea, coffee, cake and a warm welcome. They just meet and chat in our lounge, comparing birth experiences and sleep patterns. The Health Visitors love it because they can see eight or more at a time; the mums love it because they make friends and realise they are not alone. There aren't many babies born in Grange Park that haven't been through our house!

Kairos - toysThe good news is that the Health Visitors believe Talking Point has significantly improved the mental health of struggling mums as it is a network which picks up different people. We now have various Talking Point groups in and around Grange Park. We use cell principles and organise a social night for the parents without their kids; it welds them together as a cohesive group.

Midwives in the area have also picked up on Talking Point, telling mums-to-be about it as a place to go after the birth. Things shifted again when one of the people coming along to the sessions asked about getting their baby baptised; another wanted to do an Alpha course.

The upshot of that is a group called Stepping Stones which we now run fortnightly on Tuesday mornings in the Community Centre. We make it clear that it is run by the church but it is all very informal; we offer a breakfast of croissants and orange juice for carers, mums and children, hear stories told from the Bible in creative ways, and provide a craft activity. We say it's an opportunity to take a stepping stone towards God. I would say Stepping Stones is a fresh expression of church; it has been going for nearly four years and we regularly get about 50 mums and their children.

Kairos - cakeThat in turn has developed because several mums said they wanted to find out more; their children were asking questions they didn't know the answer to and the parents also thought of the Bible stories as being a 'good thing' to teach the little ones.

To meet that need, we offer a five-week introduction to Christianity course through a DVD series called Journeys. As a result, a number of people have come to faith, some continue in that faith and others disappear.

The Kairos Centre now offers further possibilities in our life together in this community. I believe God wants us to be blessed through it and in turn bless Grange Park and beyond.

Kairos - waving