Vitalise – Sep15

Debs Walton, leader of Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries (WPM) which meets as a group on Sunday evening under the name Vitalise, describes a year of celebration and challenge.

Earlier this month, we had a service of baptism, confirmation and admission into church membership for five of our young adults. It was a real landmark for us at Vitalise as a fresh expression of church and very special to see them take such steps as part of their discipleship here.

We had been preparing them since January and I found it very moving to hear how they wanted to take their faith seriously as adults and actively join God's church, this 'thing' that's so much bigger than ourselves. The service was held at St John's in the Square Church, Wolverhampton, and we followed it with a BBQ and entertainment; it was a great day. All but one of the candidates involved have come since I have been in post; that's quite a lot in two years!

Those leading the service were the Bishop of Wolverhampton, Clive Gregory; and David Wright, the Team Rector of St Peter's and St John's; with Ian Heath, Methodist minister at Trinity Methodist, Codsall. Ian is also the chair of our management group.

Vitalise - baptism

Two of the young adults were baptised, all five were confirmed and admitted into membership. A couple of them had church backgrounds but three were from completely outside church; this was a very big deal for them with some rarely having had a major event celebrated in their lives.

I was assisting with the service, and one of the candidates just clung to the edge of the baptism pool and sat in the water shaking. I told them they'd have to let go at some stage, I didn't want to force people under the water! To me that just showed how much it meant to say 'yes' to God in baptism; those of us involved in Christian ministry over a period of years can forget that sometimes. We had also spent a long time preparing the liturgy for the service, and going through it very carefully with the candidates, but it was still quite difficult for some of them to deal with.  The service was very long and wordy. Again, we can take things for granted or assume that people will be able to cope but that's not necessarily the case.

We now have about 30 coming along regularly on a Sunday night although not every week and we reach 40, or so, during the course of a week. Christian people at Vitalise are being discipled for mission and we offer them opportunities to engage in our mission, offering something to the inherited church that it wouldn't normally be doing. Several of our young people also took part in the Growing Young Leaders' Course this year; we celebrated the end of the course with food at Bishop Clive's house and then went bowling.

Vitalise - altar

Interestingly, at one of my first Vitalise meetings, we had 60 or 70 people attend but amongst them were church groups and their youth leaders. That's not quite what Vitalise is all about! We were set up to reach the marginalised, the NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training). We need to keep on fulfilling that remit and retain the distinctiveness of our work – otherwise it becomes like an extended church youth group.

One of the results of intentionally returning to our original mission is that we have lost quite a few of the young adults from inherited Church backgrounds. I think that this is because of the type of young adult that we are now attracting to Vitalise. The demands on those who come for discipleship are quite high; this isn't a Christian 'club' any more.

We have been praying that God would send us a couple of older Christian couples, over 40s who would be like uncles and aunts within our community; people who will, for example, model Christian marriage – because that's the gap we've got. Bearing that in mind, my husband, son and I now just go to Vitalise rather than anywhere else; these young people need to see that sometimes we shout at each other but still love each other! We do have another couple who are going to move with us and just 'be' themselves. It's more important than we realise. One of our men took a couple of our lads fishing recently; that was a big deal because generally the adults who interact with these lads are doing so in a workplace paid capacity.

Vitalise - baptism candidate

We also recently had an amazing phone call from social services in Wolverhampton. They'd got a young person in her mid-teens who had started reading the Bible and wanted to go to church; they didn't know what to do with her but said Vitalise sounded like it would be a good place to come. This is a really exciting opportunity for us.

So, all of that is really good but we have had a very difficult year in terms of funding, particularly for the ongoing work of our outreach worker, Nicola. We don't want to change her role so we really wanted continuation funding but that's difficult because most funders really want to put money into new projects.

The long and the short of it is that, since February of this year, we have been the subject of a diocesan Growth Fund review with the remit of looking at:

  1. The need for a 2nd worker role being full time.
  2. The overall fruitfulness of WPM, how much growth the funders are likely to see.
  3. WPM's long term vision and sustainability generally.

We have secured funding from the Joseph Rank Trust to fund half of a full-time post over three years starting in January 2016 and the Wolverhampton Methodist Circuit are offering us one year of match funding. We are now looking for match funding for the other two years.

Vitalise - thumbs up

It has been a challenging time and the danger is that funding starts to lead the direction of your mission – and that may not be right. We are now awaiting the review report and results of funding applications but, in the meantime, we'll keep on trusting God as we disciple and serve those he has brought to us.

We have also got Christmas in mind and are planning a live retelling of the Nativity in what we're calling Wolves Sat Nav, on Saturday 19th December in St Peter's Church Gardens. During the afternoon there will be a Nativity trail when people can visit various characters and animals – including a live camel. As the time approaches 5pm, the characters (and livestock) will walk through the city centre for the play. It's ambitious but we wouldn't be Vitalise if it wasn't!


Vitalise – update Dec13

The Christmas story is being re-told for smartphone users in a new project by the Vitalise fresh expression of church in Wolverhampton.

Using the gifts that God has given them has prompted many talented members of Vitalise to use dance, drumming, rap and drawing – among other things – on a blog which can be accessed via QR Codes around the city centre. By scanning a code on their smartphone, people will see how the creative arts have been used by the Wolverhampton-based community to reflect characters involved in the Nativity.

The Christmas QR Codes blog has been created by Vitalise, which is predominantly made up of young people and adults under 30, as their 'Christmas present' to the city – something that can be given away for free. Posters advertising the QR Codes are displayed in coffee shops, YMCA hostels and many other places.

Deborah Walton took on the leadership of Vitalise earlier this year and tells us more.

Vitalise - treeIt struck me when I arrived that we had quite a mix of young people; some go to church with their family on a Sunday and then come to us later on in the day while others have only ever gone along to church for Christmas and other special occasions – if at all. But what is interesting is that, whatever links they've got or haven't got, many don't have an opportunity to express their faith in the way that they would want to.

If they are part of a church, they might get asked to make tea or coffee or welcome people when they arrive or help with children's work but many are not using their own gifts. So, when I came, I started by asking them, 'What are you good at? What do you really enjoy doing?'

It was sad to hear some of the responses. 'I'm really good at dance but I guess you are never going to need that' and 'I'm good at rapping but you don't have that in church do you?' So we began to think, 'How can we communicate the Bible in a way that's missional? How can we use what people want to do for God? How can we make the most of our unique context? How can we give back to Wolverhampton?'

So I sat down with a member of Vitalise who's brilliant at strategic thinking and we started to brainstorm ideas around creativity and Christmas.We decided to look at key figures such as Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, and the shepherds – and tell members of our community,'Pick a character that speaks to you and decide what you want to do to interpret their story.' There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we wanted it to be diverse. Some ideas didn't work out but we have been working on this since August so we allowed time for that to happen! The wonderful thing is that we haven't had anything submitted for the project that we couldn't use.

Vitalise - phoneThe creative expressions are very raw because we haven't edited or changed them in any way. It may not all be theologically sound but their hearts have gone into it and that's amazing because some of those involved have been genuinely on the margins. When I arrived, somewere the people who sat at the back and didn't join in but this has been quite a transformational project. It has enabled some people to make a massive statement of faith to their friends and family because it has allowed them to say something about their faith they may never have said in the normal way of things.

It is very important to me that this isn't seen as a one-off project and my hope and prayer is that these gifts of expression can continue to be used to speak of God. The dancer, for instance, has now set up the Vitalise dance group which will perform at the Fusion Mass covenant service towards the end of January which the Vitalise community is hosting with our partners in Wolverhampton Central Parish and the Methodist Church. She's now working on a routine for the newly formed dance group to express the Vine and the Branches reading from John 15. We are hoping we can keep developing these things.

I am often asked things like, 'Why should there be fresh expressions of church? Why is it important?' My response is that it is really important because we are able to engage differently which is what we have done with this project which would have been much more difficult in an inherited church context. The Vitalise community includes people of different denominations and so we sit in a 'neutral' place in terms of the wider city. I genuinely believe in the 'both/and' of mixed economy and this is a really good illustration of the practical outworking of this theory: we have advertised some traditional carol services happening in the city in other Churches on our Christmas blog as well as our own.