From ‘exploring’ to ‘church’: Heyford Chapel

This story illustrates the principles of From ‘exploring’ to ‘church’ in the Guide.

When Church Army pioneer, Ian Biscoe, was sent in 2002 to work among a group of Anglican churches in north Oxfordshire, he took on responsibility for an estate with no church. The only worship building on this former US air base was a military chapel.

Ian and his family started to build relationships with their new neighbours and discover whether any other Christians were living there. One close neighbour was particularly interested in their reason for coming to the estate and kept asking

When’s the church starting? I want to come.

The Biscoes invited the neighbour to their home, along with another person who had expressed interest, and suggested an Alpha course. Meanwhile, through their community links they put on a Christmas talent show at which they advertised Alpha through posters. The course started in the new year with 24 members.

We had a sense that God had already been working in people’s lives long before we showed up,

Ian says.

The early meetings were held at the Biscoes’ home but soon moved to the military chapel when they realised that entering one another’s homes did not come easily to residents on this estate.

When the Alpha course was over, members wanted to carry on their Thursday evening meetings.

‘We had a sense that God had already been working in people’s lives long before we showed up’

We started with a mission emphasis, then realised it was discipleship time,

Ian says, adding that the ‘up, in, out, of’ vision of church is a key element of this new Christian community’s mindset.

As a worshipping community is growing and different needs are emerging, there is a sense of a maturing church with a core of believers and lots of explorers,

Ian explains.

Greater structure to what happens in the church has become necessary. Meetings follow the tried-and-tested format begun with the Alpha course of welcome and refreshments (now usually coffee and biscuits rather than a meal), corporate prayer and worship, a time of Bible study, interactive prayer and three small groups for discussion. These groups are open to anyone, but Ian has found that people tend towards their usual group without this inhibiting their wider community life.

A prayer ministry is being developed at services, which now happen weekly. As the church has grown, members have gained confidence in taking responsibility, enabling the new church to be ‘a continual meeting’.

Communion happens once a month in the adult congregation. Children and young people have their own services on the estate, with the whole church family coming together for occasional ‘celebrations’. Heyford Chapel’s four age-related congregations each have their own leadership team.

We are a growing, worshipping community and are thinking about how we meet together,

says Ian.

The UP dimension of church: Heyford Chapel

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

Heyford ChapelWhen an Alpha course on a north Oxfordshire housing estate came to an end during 2003, the 24 members wanted to carry on with their Thursday evening meetings, led by pioneer minister to the estate, Ian Biscoe.

Ian began to explain to the new Christian community – residents on an estate formed out of a former US air base – ‘what church means’, including communion.

The first time we talked about communion, I put out the chalice, patten, bread and wine,

Ian recalls. The community had been used to the Alpha tradition of eating together each week and rounding off with After Eights. Ian added a plate of After Eights to the display to demonstrate how communion would be a development of the sharing they had already experienced.

Everyone just sat and looked at the stuff on the table,

Ian recalls. The ensuing discussion showed that the significance of the display had not been lost on the new church community, but also that there was a strong feeling of unworthiness.

On a later occasion, the community was planning a celebratory meal. One member, a New Age seeker, suggested passing round bread and wine. Since Ian, a Church Army officer, is not ordained, he discussed the possibility with the ordained minister with whom he shares responsibility for the estate. They decided to turn the meal into an agape supper, which Ian describes as

a biblical re-enactment rather than communion.

Communion was a development of the sharing they had already experienced

I am very careful not to do what I’m not licensed to do within the Anglican church,

Ian explains.

So in the agapes I pointed out that we were exploring together what Christ meant.

On a later date, a clip of the Last Supper from the film Jesus of Nazareth was shown, after which bread and wine was passed, without liturgy, round a circle.

Both events were

hugely powerful,

Ian says.

They were clearly something very very important for people.

This ‘long period of time exploring together’ developed into a monthly service of communion which continues to be experimental. The ordained minister comes to preside, taking the service in a variety of Christian traditions – for example, fully robed, using Ignatian meditation, or in the Brethren style of approaching the table when ready.

This variety is important, Ian says, because of the mix of people within this new worshipping community (which meet in a former military chapel). Some of the 40-plus members have no church background, others a Church of England or Roman Catholic background, others a free church experience.

By developing its understanding of the significance of communion, this pioneering church is finding a way to become a sacramental community without a full-time ordained minister.

Heyford Chapel – update Jul11

Pioneer minister Ian Biscoe looks back on developments at Heyford Chapel since its launch in 2002 and looks forward to many new opportunities at the former US air base in Heyford Park – and further afield.

Since Heyford Chapel started eight years ago, it has become self-governing and a conventional district within a group of seven Anglican churches in the Cherwell Valley benefice. A lot of what we've been thinking of as a result is sustainability.

Initially we just had an informal leadership team within another parish. Then for a while we had a joint PCC with the parish church of St Mary's, Upper Heyford, and then – probably 18 months ago now – we were recognised as a conventional district. We have our own PCC, we contribute to the parish share for the whole benefice and we also contribute towards ministry expenses. We're basically looking at the self-governing, self-financing and self-propagating model.

At first we just put in small amounts to the parish share but we have increased it each year. The plan is that we continue to step it up so we are completely paying our own way.

As of April 2010, there are 76 adults on the electoral roll and about 80 children and young people involved in the 10-12 different groups associated with the Chapel's different congregations, all of them age specific. In all, we are getting about 200 or more people going through the different groups each week.

There are also a number of new groups which are very missional. The Eve Project, for vulnerable women, meets in a community centre. It has been running since September and the woman are now beginning to meet in smaller groups to look at the Christian faith. One of our churchwardens leads the Project, and we can see it developing into a fresh expression of church.

We have also got a youth minister now and he has started a pub church for young adults. That has got a very missional emphasis about building community and modelling a positive way of life. They meet in the local pub in the village every week, and they’re currently running it as a trial with a group of nine.

Our core church now has a Sunday gathering as well as a mid week contemporary service at 8pm on a Thursday. We didn't initially meet on a Sunday for quite a few years but a number of Zimbabweans have moved into this community and it seemed culturally appropriate to respond to their requests for a Sunday meeting. Alongside all of this there are also plans to build a lot of new housing here, redeveloping the site for a further 1000 new homes.

Formal structures are now in place to relate to the established church with two churchwardens, a PCC and so on. Each of our congregations has its own leadership team and helpers, and most also have representatives on the PCC. We have set up pastoral clusters, seven small groups which have a key person or couple of people as leaders and these act as the first point of contact for pastoral care. That small group system runs alongside the different congregations.

It's very exciting to see the way that God has called people to faith here and led mature Christians to come along and help with leadership. Looking to the future, I was initially trained as a Church Army evangelist before being ordained as a pioneer minister in 2007 so the emphasis moved from evangelism to developing church and now I'm considering what the third stage is going to be.

My wife Erika and I planted the church together. Now she is exploring ministry and looking at perhaps becoming a pioneer minister herself. I have got one year left on my current contract so, as it stands, I will be leaving in July 2011 but I'm currently discussing what might be next with the bishop and the deanery.

Heyford Chapel

A church community on a former US air base turned housing estate has separate age-related congregations.

We are a growing, worshipping community and are thinking about the way and how we meet together,

says Ian Biscoe, Church Army officer and leader of Heyford Chapel since its foundation in 2002.

Each of the four congregations has its own leadership team.

Kidz Church, for any child up to the age of 11, meets on Sunday afternoons in the former military chapel used for much of Heyford Chapel's activities. Worship and prayer are mixed with games.

HeyU for younger teenagers meets in the chapel on early Wednesday evenings, while Revival, for older teens, meets in the chapel later on Wednesday evenings, with a half-hour gap between the two.

Unity church for adults meets in two cells on Tuesday and for worship and small groups on Thursday evenings, beginning with refreshments and chat. A social evening, Fusion, happens on Fridays.

This growing worshipping community of between 100 and 120 members is working out ways to meet the differing needs of its members whilst maintaining a sense of being part of a whole.