Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops’ Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team, looks at how a fresh expression of church can both continue and develop after its founders move on – and that the gift of pioneering has little to do with age.
GraceSpace in Bradford is 'a church for people who don't go to church.' It started life five years ago when Andy Bowerman was appointed as Pioneer Minister and he, and his wife Ali, set up the Vicars Café in Saltaire with a vision to create a community in the Aire Valley. The Café continues to operate today, providing a 'third space' where people can enjoy hospitality while building relationships and sharing God with those who are interested. When the Bowermans moved to Dorset, the Café became a social enterprise with a project manager.
Colin and Katy Blake arrived in 2009. Colin had been ordained for 27 years and, at 59, thought he was 'one of the oldest pioneer ministers in CofE history!'
A four month gap between Andy leaving and Colin arriving meant that the community dissipated – with only six or seven people turning up at the licensing service to represent GraceSpace. Colin said,
Many people associated with GraceSpace related to Andy and Ali very strongly but it was clear, when we came on the scene, that they weren't relating to each other in the same way. As a result we decided not to get involved in lots of missional activities initially; instead we wanted to help people to get to know each other.
Mine is a five year appointment and we knew it was vital to get strong building blocks of community in place right from the start. We moved a lot of events away from Vicars Café and hosted them in our home. We began to meet together as a group around meals. Food and drink became the staple of what we were doing and when people eat together, somehow there is a little heaven in the ordinary. The number has now grown to 25 with many people coming who have either been bruised by church in the past or with no previous experience of church at all. They range from families with teenage or adult children through to people in their 50s and 60s. We also have about 10 younger children, aged from two to 12, coming along with their parents. Some come as a result of personal invitation from a friend though many have turned up as a result of the information and publicity we put out through our website.
A turning point came when GraceSpace came up with the idea of a different meal theme for each Sunday in the month. On the first Sunday we have Breakfast when people turn up at 10am to help us cook breakfast together; we will then organise a spiritual thought or reflection while we're eating. The whole thing can run for about three hours as people often want to stick around and discuss things.
The second Sunday is Lunch. This starts at 12.30 and people bring different foods around a theme so we might have a Chinese meal or what we call 'Yorkshire food' which means three types of curry! Everyone takes part; we don't offer separate things for different ages.
The third Sunday is Tea or 'Creativitea' at which we bring along cakes and biscuits and make big crafts together from 3pm. I'm a regional co-ordinator for Messy Church but we don't have enough space to run a Messy Church. However, Creativitea is a variation on the theme because we do have a celebration, activity and food as part of the mix. The adults are happy to join in with cut and paste but generally they want to make things that will last, something with a purpose.
The fourth Sunday is based around supper time at about 6pm. It is called Ikon; this is more reflective and allows people to share what comes out of that time together. Typically they will have bread, soup, pate and cheese at that one. When there's a fifth Sunday in the month the children choose what the adults have to do on that day and tell us what the spiritual element is going to be.
We also offer Explore sessions during the week. These are cell church like in structure but are about Bible application rather than Bible study, giving the opportunity for a much more interactive approach. It's all about giving people the freedom to have different opinions. It's no good saying, 'this is the only answer to this passage'. Instead I approach it as, 'I know what I think this passage is about but tell me, what do you think?' It's about trying to step back, not telling people what to think but allowing them to grow.
At the end of 2011, Colin had to take some time off work for health reasons but he was very encouraged to see what happened at GraceSpace while he was out of action.
The people have been brilliant,
offering their homes and their skills to keep things moving along. My absence prompted the devolving, training, encouraging and mentoring of new people into leadership. For this fresh expression to develop we want to create another network of community – a second GraceSpace and, for that, we need leaders but we have also taken a long, hard look at our purpose in all of this. It can't just be to build community. How do we look outside and make a difference?