Ian Hu is Methodist minister at Somewhere Else – Liverpool City Centre Methodist Church. Ian tells how the 'bread church' has developed since being featured in expressions: the dvd – 1.
I was Superintendent Minister in the Liverpool South Circuit when Barbara Glasson, the founder of Somewhere Else, was moving on. I was in the third year of a five year post so was not able to be considered for the 'bread church' but, in the end, the community was unable – through the normal Methodist procedures – to secure a minister and the church got permission to advertise the post nationally.
When that happened, I could throw my hat into the ring. I did, went through the process, and eventually was asked if I would become the minister here.
I'm a long way from home in that I'm originally from San Francisco, California, but was recruited by the British Methodist Church to come to England. After serving as an Intern in the Preston Circuit, Lancashire, I was asked if I would take on a full post.
Following discussions with my family and church authorities, I made the move to Merseyside. Things have moved on quite a lot at Somewhere Else since it was first filmed for the DVD; I would say the main difference is in the community's overall maturity. The team of volunteers here have really gelled together and it's kind of a well-oiled machine. There was proof of that last summer when I took my sabbatical leave and, while we had ministers from all over the region coming in and assisting on bread-making days, it was really the core of volunteers who held everything together and kept it running – something they did so very, very admirably.
There is a really strong core team of volunteers and we hold regular training sessions on all kinds of areas, from food hygiene to troubleshooting in the bread-making process and group dynamics to health and safety. What is interesting to me is the make-up of the team; I would say that probably at least 75% of people who volunteer here are aged 25 and younger.
They come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of them are Christians and there are lots of denominations represented; others have had exposure in their childhood to the church with some people coming into Somewhere Else who are at the very early stages of identifying and being able to talk about their faith and to really understand what makes them tick.
We continue to gather as a faith community around the making and sharing of bread. We have the bread-making every Tuesday and Thursday and it is very rare that we don't have at least one person who has never been here before. The session is open to the public and anyone and everyone is welcome to come up the stairs and join us. We've got single mums, single dads with kids during school holidays, job seekers, the homeless, all sorts of people.
We also have retired people who come in and help and there are a lot of regular care groups. Care agencies helping people with learning or emotional difficulties bring their clients because there's a great opportunity for them to develop social skills and they really like what happens here.
Our worship time – for someone traditionally churched – does not resemble standard 'preaching from the front' church worship. It's scripturally based but is very much more in a discussion format; as a result we try to ensure that everyone feels safe within the worship space so they can express what they're feeling or how they're responding to the scripture.
This community sees it as important that people don't debate points within the worship. We are here to share and to feel safe rather than to argue a point home. This community likes to light candles when lifting up intercessions, joys, concerns and celebrations – it's just part of the personality here. Some people among us like to light a candle but prefer not to put their intercessions into words and that's perfectly fine too.
A large group of the regular bread makers will participate in worship though some people choose not to. They prefer to stay in the bread-making room and help those setting up for lunch at one o'clock.
A question that comes up quite often centres on whether we are an ecclesial community or another social agency? First and foremost I think this community places its priority on being a church. It would see the entire process of community building and faith sharing and story telling that happens around the bread making table to be an all encompassing Christian experience – including the sitting down for a communal meal together.
We make great efforts to ensure that those selling the Big Issue along Bold Street and a regular core of homeless persons and rough sleepers in the city are aware of us and know that they can come up at one o'clock and get a really warm welcome and a hot meal. We let them know that it's their choice to come up when they choose; some people we see quite regularly, others we will see occasionally and there are those who come in cycles. One thing's for sure, if they haven't been here for a while and they do come back they are instantly recognised and given what we like to term 'outrageous hospitality'.
Each Tuesday and Thursday sees a different community because we never know who's going to be here during the day and I would say probably one of the most exciting things about my post is being able to witness that and to see the dynamic as to how that plays out.
We do regard our communal lunch to be quite special because we have people sitting together around our table who wouldn't normally be together at all. We always have home made soup and fresh bread rolls made by us that morning. It's a wonderful, wonderful time. We also continue to meet on the third Sunday of the month to worship in fresh and creative ways.
As to what happens next within this community, we are actively looking ahead by taking the opportunity to look at where we have been and what challenges are in store for the future. One of the key issues is location. I would say that every square inch of space is utilised and there are times when we do get a large group visiting us and it can be quite a challenge to make sure that everyone's accommodated appropriately.
There is a very, very synergistic relationship that was established from the beginning with the News from Nowhere bookshop which is the owner of this building. They are fabulous but basically the ministry and the mission of this place is evolving and we have to seriously consider what happens next. Another factor is our working closely with ecumenical partners – the Church of England and the United Reformed Church in particular. There are some very close ties now and this community is looking at how those ties can help us to strengthen the Christian witness in Liverpool city centre.
It's exciting for me as the minister that the entire community is taking that on board because it just feels like we're listening to the Spirit and intently praying for guidance.
I'm here for a five year post but at the end of my fourth year the community and I will talk about whether or not that post would be renewed – that's the normal process in the Methodist church. There's no doubt that it is a challenge and it's an entirely different dynamic working in the city centre but it is great and I feel like I've quickly become part of the furniture around here.
We get a lot of visitors from all over the country. They have read about Somewhere Else – in Barbara Glasson's books and elsewhere – seen the Fresh Expressions DVD or heard about us through word of mouth. We also do a lot of training and we have had placements here for people training for ministry in the United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of England.
We are aware of several other communities who like to use the 'bread church type of ethos' – there's one in Ellesmere Port and another in the city centre of Chester. They're both doing quite well so it's good to know that Somewhere Else is inspiring similar initiatives along the way.