Jackie Bellfield is minister of Bold St Methodist Mission, Latchford Methodist Church and Rixton Methodist Church, Warrington. She also leads New Song Network, which is becoming a fresh expression of church.
It all started four years ago with New Song Café at Bold St Methodist Mission; the New Song Network is a growing Christian community which has developed from that.
New Song Café was, and still is, a gathering of people that meet at 7pm on the fourth Sunday of the month at Bold St Church. Our initial intention four years ago was to start off in the church venue but eventually move New Song Café gatherings into a local Costa coffee shop to worship there.
I thought maybe 20 people would come to the first New Song Cafe. In fact, 65 people turned up so we quickly had to move from the church coffee shop into the upstairs hall at Bold St. We're still there. We haven't quite made it into Costa because 130 people are now meeting at New Song Café for worship, prayer and praise. Initially, our thoughts were that 7pm on a Sunday night was not the best time to arrange anything like this and we were 'warned' that no-one would come to church at that time on a Sunday night – but we discovered that it was a very good time for a lot of people. It's true to say that it has outgrown our expectations and become an amazing time of gathering together.
In fact the whole idea of New Song has grown more than we could possibly have imagined as New Song Network has developed. The initial impetus was to have a sense of being together and of fellowship and of doing something new that may attract those no longer being reached by our churches. Inherited church continued to be very important to us but we also felt that God wanted to do something different, something that sat alongside inherited or traditional church – not to replace it but to sit alongside it. At that stage we thought that would simply involve going into Costa as a new way of presenting worship but a much bigger picture emerged.
Among those who came to New Song Café were those who had drifted away from church for a variety of reasons; New Song has become a stepping stone or a safe environment for them to dip their toe back in the water of church. It also became clear that people wanted something to build on what they were discovering at New Song Café. That’s why we then started Discipleship evening, a separate teaching session, also monthly.
Then, just over fifteen months ago, we started New Song Breakfast – involving a lot of bacon butties – at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning at Latchford Methodist Church. Attracting some of the same people different people also started coming to that and suddenly this Network of Café, Discipleship and Breakfast started to develop.
And then under the umbrella of our calling, the four strands of priorities within the Methodist Church – worship, learning and caring, service, evangelism – we felt that we wanted to look at other areas too so under 'services we began to explore how we could reach out to our community. We launched the Community Action Team and people started saying, 'Yes we want to be part of that too'.
What had started out in New Song Café as a place to worship in a different sort of way was developing into an ecclesial community as New Song Network. We realised that a fresh expression of church was beginning to form before our very eyes and God was doing something far greater than we possibly ever dared dream or imagine.
Some people go to Breakfast and Café, some just go to Breakfast and help with our Community Action Team; others get involved in the various aspects of the Network. It is so exciting to see this community being born and this church being developed.
We are now encouraging people to step up and take responsibility for elements of the Network as part of the leadership. I already work with the most amazing team; they are kind, considerate, generous and they love being involved. People are passionate about what we're doing with New Song and they are passionate about worship, learning and caring, service and evangelism so we are urging more of them to take risks in the power of faith. There’s also a lot of fun involved because – in addition to the worship and the service – we have walking groups, quizzes, curry nights and lots of other things. There are many different ways to share the Good News of Jesus!
The relationship between New Song Network and the established churches is really strong and very, very important. New Song Café wouldn't exist without Bold St Church; the congregation supports the Café and the Café supports the church. After the morning service, people from the church go and set the hall up ready for Café and that means such a lot. It's a great relationship and they turn up en masse to support the Café in the evening too.
The same is true of New Song Breakfast; that has gone ahead because Latchford Methodist Church welcomed and embraced it. As part of what has happened there, families have now come into the church at Latchford so we see the growth there of inherited church and a new way of being church.
This is not about the inherited and the new being poles apart, this is how the two can work in tandem and, for me, as minister of both there is something beautiful and harmonious about that – how two can grow and learn together.
One of the most moving and far-reaching ways of serving our community takes place on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Mothering Sunday when we go to the local crematorium and cemetery to give out hot drinks to people leaving floral tributes in memory of loved ones. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2012, 35 volunteers gave out more than 700 hot drinks in what was an amazing and beautiful time. I'd previously heard of a small church that did this act of kindness to those visiting their local graveyard and we decided to pick up on that idea because I thought we, as Christians, shouldn't just be in our churches on those special and vulnerable days of the year, we should be out there with those who grieve. I asked the local council for permission, they agreed, and we're now in our fourth year of offering hot drinks and a listening ear.
We draw alongside people and hear their stories – whether it's their first year of being there or their 40th year of being there – hearing about who it is they've come to visit, showing that the church is not immune from their grief but stands with them. It's a way of saying, 'we're here' but actually more importantly, 'God is here, is alongside'.
So many things have come out of these times. It has made quite an impact on the volunteers who come and it has also started so many relationships and conversations. There have even been occasions when a bereaved family has rung a funeral director and said, 'There’s a lady with purple hair, a minister, who gives out hot drinks at the cemetery; could she possibly do my loved one's funeral?' That only happened because they had seen us handing out those drinks where they were, that then became a link to church they hadn't had before.
In this, and many other ways, we have seen God in action as we join in with him in sharing alongside people in our inherited church settings and through New Song Network.
So what next? We are developing our weekly Advent and Lent study evenings (which have met in a local coffee shop) into house groups to further develop discipleship and learning together. Then there is a desire for Pub Church, a weekend away and other ideas as to how we develop this amazing community. It is so exciting – and we are thankful to our God.