Pioneer curate James Gwyn-Thomas is based at St Andrew's, Leyland, and also leads Buckshaw Village Church.
Buckshaw Village, known to many as Buckshaw, only started to be built 10 years ago. It's a huge area between the towns of Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire and is one of the largest sites for urban development in the North West. There's a population of about 10,000 at the moment but that's set to rise by a few thousand more as new housing becomes available.
It is being developed on the site of what was the Royal Ordnance Factory, Chorley, and Buckshaw is sandwiched between the M6 and M61 which means that a lot of the residents work in Preston or Manchester because the road links are so good.
Interestingly, there's a huge craving for community because everyone who moves here is new; no-one's grown up together in this place and that means they want to find a community spirit. Many people choose to come to Buckshaw because it was built with that expectation of creating community.
Instead, it can seem a bit strange to newcomers at first because Buckshaw Village is all very manicured and neat, like living permanently in Center Parcs! That's why, when I first came, I spent the first four months just talking to people, finding out more about them and their lives, and listening to what they wanted to see happen here.
Buckshaw Village Church is a church plant from St Andrew's in Leyland and was established in the summer of 2010, with the support of the local Methodist and Anglican congregations in Leyland, Chorley and Euxton. Led by my predecessor, Ken Campbell, a small group of people started meeting together on Sunday mornings. The idea was to make gatherings accessible to everyone, regardless of age, background and any previous experience of 'church'.
When I came to Buckshaw, I found that the key thing was to hold everything lightly. We just wanted – and still want – to find ways of church getting involved with what the community is already doing, such as what happens through Buckshaw Village Community Association. It's very important to me that the word 'we' – rather than 'I' – is used when talking about the church here and, as part of that, we now have a church leadership team in place. I'm not on my own in this. Buckshaw Village Church exists for the community and in the community.
I work quite closely with local Anglican and Methodist ministers because we see Buckshaw as a kingdom priority; and we find it's so important to meet, pray for and support one another. The Methodists are also starting to come into the local primary school where they're running a Messy Church with our support.
Our main meeting of the week is on Sunday mornings in the Buckshaw Community Centre. We don't have a church building but we do hire the community centre room and that's our biggest financial outlay. Shops are being developed and some have already opened, including a café called Cowshed which is where we now run the Alpha Course on Thursday evenings.
But some of our greatest growth is not through outreach courses like Alpha, but rather, through the relationships that form through times such as our toddler group: Semi-Quavers. Meeting on a Tuesday morning for many parents on the village has proven to be a life line and they greatly appreciate the time we spend together. Relationships, relationships, relationships! It has been great to provide events where we, as a church, can get to know the community. We've had a whiskey night, curry nights, afternoon-teas and hope to have cheese, wine, sausage, coffee and film nights too, all open to the community. As relationships are being built, we are starting to see crossover into our Sunday service as people realise they quite like us and can certainly trust us and that they too are actually quite interested in their own relationship with God!
It is of course also so important to have our midweek youth groups (sorted) and the recently started growth groups for fellowship and discipleship.
Buckshaw became a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) because this is quite a big village but not a big enough community to have lots of different types of church. There was a danger that the area would attract all sorts of church plants which could weaken the overall mission. By working with the other local denominations, we said, 'Let's protect this and work together and be strategic for the kingdom'.
It's my first curacy but I already feel that, in future, I'm not going to long for a parish that has a church building because there is something very special about not having one! At the community centre, if people feel comfortable coming through the door for karate or acting class then you already have a head start. But a question is, 'How can we make that space that was sweaty on a Friday night for karate become one where we go to have a really special place of worship? Is it possible?' The answer seems to be, 'yes we can' because we are not limited, we can explore and discover, we can make mistakes as we continue to think about, 'What is the best way to do church in Buckshaw?'