The OUT dimension of church: Eden

This story illustrates the principles of The OUT dimension of church in the Guide.

EdenIt was the vision of a youth worker turned bishop that saw the appointment of Derek Spencer to Deanery Youth Missioner in the largely rural Horsham area of Sussex.

In 2001, Derek was given the simple remit to ‘invest time in the hotspots’. For Derek and Bishop Lindsay Urwin that meant the largest school in the Diocese of Chichester.

Right from the start, Derek hoped that what emerged would become a deanery-wide venture. He began to talk to local churches and found that there was next to nothing happening for young people in their parishes.

It took five months to get something going,

he says. He began two groups for the young people already connected with church, each fortnightly at different ends of the deanery to enable everyone who could to attend.

I emphasised the social aspect: bowling; pizzas,

Derek says. Around twelve young people came from the 20 surrounding village churches, to either a local grammar school or a Methodist village hall, depending on which venue was nearest to their own home.

As time passed, Derek found that the new groups were so popular, members would come weekly regardless of the distance. Around 35 teenagers were meeting to socialise and ask questions.

This youth worker gave them a place to belong, provided them with a means to become church and enabled them to demonstrate church to the wider community.

In the meantime, Derek had been taking lessons and assemblies in local schools. He began to think of holding a regular service in the drama hall of one: the largest, Steyning Grammar. By now more familiar with the people of the deanery, he approached a numberĀ of deanery members, including some parents, to pray and plan. The result was Eden, a multimedia service held on Sunday evenings once month.

The pilot in 2003 attracted 130 people, 30 per cent of whom were interested adults. Three months later Eden established itself as a regular event with its own blog and website. It now meets fortnightly with a regular gathering of about 75-100, while the original groups also continue.

For a good number of the young people, Eden is their church,

Derek says. He hopes it will eventually meet every week.

Eden’s influence is felt beyond the deanery, across the whole diocese.

It is seen as a big thing so people bring their youth groups. It’s great for resourcing other groups,

Derek says. A service at which Matt Redman (who lives locally) led worship attracted 400 people.

Derek believes that Eden’s ability to break the boundaries of its locality is due to its strong connection with its roots.

Other deaneries tried but failed, because they didn’t involve the whole deanery,

he says.

Starting with a vision to seek out local young people, this youth worker gave them a place to belong, provided them with a means to become church and enabled them to demonstrate church to the wider community.


When, in 2001, Deanery Youth Missioner Derek Spencer began researching youth work among the parishes in his Horsham area deanery, he found that nothing was on.

He invited young people connected with his 20 local, largely village churches to fortnightly meetings. One was held in a village hall, the other in a grammar school, both at different ends of the deanery to make the groups widely accessible.

With an emphasis on the social aspect of the Sunday evenings, the initial twelve members grew over a year to 35 Christians and non-Christians, who were keen to attend every week regardless of distance. As a result, the two groups amalgamated.

The best youth work is done in social events when the guards come down and they are relaxed,

Derek believes.

We built in a spiritual programme, but it was relaxed, not hard-line, a platform for their questions.

Further activities included a week's camping and a weekend away in a forest cottage, events still regarded as highlights.

'The best youth work is done in social events when the guards come down and they are relaxed'

Derek had also been visiting local schools, giving lessons and assemblies. The drama hall of the largest struck him as a potential venue for a service.

I spoke to the young people who were excited about using their school for God,

he says.

A meeting was held in Derek's own home – of those he had approached from among the adults of the deanery, including some parents – to pray and plan. A pilot service in 2003 led to Eden, a monthly, Sunday evening multimedia service, often employing zones (which people could dip in and out of), and with the freedom to grab coffee or coke at any time. While generally around 100, for special events such as a visit from Matt Redman, numbers can rise dramatically as young people and interested adults come from across the diocese.

In 2004, Derek was ordained in a unique training programme, a development in his personal journey, and this has enabled Eden to hold services of Holy Communion, often using material from the Iona Community. Derek's ordination to priest was held during an Eden service at the school.

Despite Eden's diocesan-wide appeal, Derek is concerned for the youth he began with, many of whom count Eden as their church and who were uninvolved with church previously.

'I don't want it to become just another church; I want to keep original and keep pushing the boundaries'

I want to make church for them,

he says. In 2005, Eden became a fortnightly service, alternating between a service and a 'talkzone' which takes the form of a public debate between local experts, followed by discussion groups and feedback. An extra service was held on Easter Day

to show that Eden is a church.

Derek foresees the ongoing youth groups amalgamating within Eden to become weekly cells and Eden itself happening weekly. In the meantime, it already has its own bank account and support from donations.

I don't want it to become just another church,

Derek says.

I want to keep original and keep pushing the boundaries.

What began with twelve local teenagers meeting in two different spots has grown into a fortnightly Eucharistic gathering held in a school, attended by around 100 young people and adults with a vision to grow into deeper fellowship.