Youth and community development worker Dan Evans tells how a fresh expression of church aimed at 18 to 30-year-olds is providing 'shelter and a place of diversity' in Mumbles, Swansea.
We have got a good mix of people; some of them have grown up in church or been 'burned' by church in some way and others have had no experience of it at all. It is primarily for the 18 to 30s though we do get people coming along who are a little older than that!
I'd say that the wider church tends to be very good with children's work and young teens but seems to be haemorrhaging people in the young adults age range. We now have a regular core group of about 20 but we can have up to 60 coming along for music nights, mostly 'post'-students in their late 20s and early 30s from the Mumbles area.
I oversee all the youth activities offered by Linden Church so Under the Canopy is only part of what I do. I lead it but I'm always looking for other people to get on board; it can be a struggle and a drain at times.
I'm trying to develop a team and there are two or three of us who are fully committed to this at the moment. Thankfully there is a real understanding from the church, and people are very supportive of it, but it's difficult to get individuals to take it a stage further and help in running it.
The name, 'Canopy', first came about because we thought of it in connection with the Rainforest as a place of refuge. We meet on Sunday evenings at the community Red Café – run by Linden Church – but we developed four very different approaches to our Sunday gatherings, saying that all these styles of Sunday come 'Under the Canopy'. They are:
- branch 1 – Transmission (alternative/creative prayer and meditation)
- branch 2 – Headspace (discussion and debate over current affairs)
- branch 3 – Sustenance (a good hearty feast)
- branch 4 – Unplugged (the best live acoustic music)
Under the Canopy is building and developing because it's fairly organic. It all started when we launched music nights on the last Sunday of the month. We then wanted to develop the faith side of things so we came up with so-called Headspace nights when we have panel discussions on major topics. At our most recent Headspace we looked at the Benefits System and Government reforms. We have people with different views on the panel to look at things from a Christian perspective. In the past we've looked at 'Is the Bible really true?' and 'Does Love Win?'
I have done a theology course and it was when I was looking at the Early Church that I realised the importance of eating together as a community. So we introduced Sustenance, a meal on the third Sunday of the month. Around 15 people come along to that; we do some slow food and spend a lot of time being in relationship with each other.
We have tried all sorts of things when looking at prayer and meditation for 'Transmission' Sundays. At one point we tried something called Nine – this centred on nine different Bible verses with a theme. We then asked nine different people to present those verses as creatively as they could in five minutes.
Looking ahead, I don't want to be too forceful in what I want people to get out of it. I'm happy if they just want to come and be together but if this is church for some people, I'm more than happy with that as well. My hope in the next year is for it to continue to develop and that people will support us, grow and come to faith.
Our seafront base at the Red Café is great because the building has been run as a community project by Linden Church Trust since 2001 so lots of people – young people in particular – use it for all sorts of activities. Partnership is very important in that Linden Church is strongly linked in with churches around Swansea. I also meet up with others involved in youth work and we support each other, which is vital. The work is demanding and we all need to be reminded we're not in it on our own'