Side Door – update May13

Elaine Watkinson is on the Mission Team at Gainsborough Methodist Circuit. She was involved in the ministry of the Side Door fresh expression of church in Grimsby for 12 years and continues to volunteer there.

I was Circuit youth coordinator in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, and Side Door came about when people from the nearby Nunsthorpe estate turned up in increasing numbers to find out what was happening there.

When the children from the estate first started to come, we felt very inadequate because they brought many issues with them. Initially we tried to integrate the children into existing churches but they would do things like whistle through prayers or applaud worship songs. So instead we developed church where we were and people started to respond to it, so much so that – in 2005 – we became a recognised Methodist church in our Circuit and in 2010 became managing trustees of the building.

In 2010 the Circuit gave us a year's trial to prove that we were self-sufficient. That went well and we continued. There was a real test last year because the whole heating system broke down and our congregation of 30 members (10 of whom are at university) managed to find most of the £76,000 needed to renew the system and continue our mission on the estate and surrounding area.

It is a very difficult area and it is clear that if Side Door wasn't there, the young people wouldn't come to a traditional church at all. We believe that variety is very good for this sort of community; that's why we do a regular prayer weekend, take them to all sorts of events and also go out as a mission team. The encouragement is that we are reaching new people of all ages with the gospel, not just young people – children, young people, parents and the elderly.

The biggest question we have is, 'Where do we go from here?' We have always had to fight our corner and plead our case but the concern is that Side Door is gradually being moulded back into the framework of what already exists in the Circuit; it feels like putting new wine into old wineskins.

It's important to maintain its recognition as a church but it's difficult and finance is quite an issue. We don't have a collection, for instance, and – by the very nature of the outreach – the people we attract are not financially viable. Also we have not been established long enough to build up reserves or to have had legacies like those a traditional church might have. This is not always taken into account.

The money comes in through tithes and donations but now, because we are recognised, we have to pay our assessment and we have a very large building. There is only a limited amount of money and resources available so to continue to put yet more in is very tough. I believe the problem is that many churches have become money-driven not passion-driven about mission. They think it's all about saving money for a rainy day but it’s pouring down outside.

But it must be said that, on the whole, this work has been – and continues to be – a joy. When things get tough we need to remember that people's lives have been changed forever by the work and outreach of this small church family and it's important to celebrate that.

Quest-ion? Youth Project

Elaine Watkinson is on the Mission Team at Gainsborough Methodist Circuit and, with her caravan, is pioneering the Quest-ion? youth project.

I was Circuit youth coordinator in Grimsby and Cleethorpes and was involved in the ministry of the Side Door fresh expression of church in Grimsby for 12 years. However, I left the Grimsby Circuit because I was sure God wanted me to extend the mission, which wasn't possible within Grimsby at that time in the way he was calling me to do it.

What I wanted to do was to go out and meet the young people wherever they happened to be. That meant going to places like car parks, playing fields, bus stops – all the areas where they just 'hang around' and wait to see what happens.

Quest-ion? youth project - gatheringI and a colleague then moved to the Gainsborough Circuit. We got a caravan – we called it Gabriel – and we'd hitch it up and move it on all over the place for what became The Quest-ion? youth project. Since then we've replaced 'Gabriel' with 'Abraham' – a more modern caravan – but the work to reach those beyond the reach of inherited church remains the same. We've started to build up quite a regular community but I have no idea how that will develop, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Quest-ion? youth project - skateboardingThe project is not officially recognised as 'church' by all the Circuit, although recognised by individuals who are mission orientated, so we are looking to make it clear that what we are doing is not 'new' or radical or strange; it's exactly what John Wesley did!

I still volunteer at Side Door and the work has been – and continues to be – a joy. When things get tough we need to remember that people's lives have been changed forever and it's important to celebrate that.

Side Door

Side Door - minibusThe Side Door Youth and Community Church, featured on expressions: the dvd – 2 and once threatened with closure, now attracts more than 150 people – aged between 4 and 95 – every week. Circuit youth co-ordinator Elaine Watkinson explains the turnaround in fortunes.

Side Door is based in the Laceby Road Methodist Church building. Laceby Road ceased to meet in May last year but the community church is open seven days a week, running a variety of different groups on the Nunsthorpe estate.

The changing status of Laceby Road prompted fears that Side Door would also have to call it a day but Grimsby and Cleethorpes Methodist Circuit decided to allow a year's trial from March 2010 to prove that we could become self-sufficient and secure its future. Our members are now responsible for maintaining the building, setting budgets and keeping accounts.

Side Door - RIP

The Circuit has supported us very well and provided oversight of all we have done. The first months of being sole trustees were extremely successful and it has been marvellous to make the most of any opportunities that came our way. Of course we didn't have to wait to get permissions to try something; it was up to us to get on with it! Having the freedom is excellent but we still need an income from the building for it to be worthwhile.

The local YMCA now uses our building once a week and so we have been able to engage with all their young people, we even did a panto with them. Here is a church that is 'being' church, 'being' outreach, affecting the lives of ordinary people on the street. That's why I can find it so difficult when we seem to be continually questioned as to whether we're really 'church' or not. It seems particularly odd when there so many churches which cannot lay claim at all to 'being' outreach or affecting the lives of ordinary people and yet their status is never queried.

Side Door - crossThe situation will be reviewed at the end of March but, at the moment, we continue planning on being here for the foreseeable future because this is a live and going concern.

It's an awesome responsibility, an albatross of a responsibility at times, because the Laceby Road building is a huge, rambling place but is also so right for what we are doing here. I wouldn't say we 'wanted' the building but we do need a base and it's perfect for that. There was a time when we would have fitted in a tent on the lawn outside Laceby Road but there's no chance of that now!

We are very forward looking and intentionally missional because we know this building has got to earn its keep. We are not going to meet that by relying on a membership of 25, many of whom are at university, or short of money, or older in years. We are very reliant on God's grace.

We have a church council and everybody who comes along to The Side Door is, more or less, on the church council and our leadership team. They can't all vote of course but they do all have a say. There are about 35 people who come regularly to worship with us and that's great.

Side Door - floorSide Door started as a project but developed into a church. We had our outreach before we were a church, which is the opposite way round to the way it usually works. It officially remains a Circuit-based outreach more or less owned by the church. Some churches can exist without outreach. We can't. Now the outreach needs the church, they are inseparable.

We are open every day of the week at some point in the day and the breadth of people we are in contact with is staggering because of all sorts of activities. It may be something for children aged five and over, lunch clubs currently attracting people up to the age of 95, and the YMCA crowd which include that missing generation of 30-somethings.

We are still very much focused on reaching young people but others are now being drawn in. There is a community event on a Wednesday lunchtime where those in their 40s, 50s and 60s come along from the local estate to sell items of their personal clothing or belongings in an auction. We were unsure of letting it go ahead at first and we were quite uncomfortable with it but this is something that is very much needed in this area and now we are so glad we said yes because we have been very blessed as a result. All sorts of conversations are now underway that we would never have had without it.

Side Door - poolThose on the estate will, in all probability, not be moving on from there because many will not have that freedom of choice. Those people are now saying to us, 'We want to spend time with you.' The mindset has changed completely. In turn we have to be prepared to cope with ways of thinking or doing things that we may personally find difficult or strange.

There are pressures involved in all of this, of course there are but we all feel called to be there. No-one is here out of duty, we are here out of love. We are as vulnerable as any other church but I'd say the difference is that we are very aware of the need to avoid complacency. There's too much to do and too many people to reach.