What form should our fresh expression take?: New Creations

This story illustrates the principles of What form should our fresh expression take? in the Guide.

New Creations is a craft group begun in 1998 that developed into a church cell attended by over 40 women in a Merseyside parish.

Getting together

Getting together to explore an idea was the starting point. Lay reader and bereavement co-ordinator, Janet Cross, found that one widow she was visiting had taken up crafts. A keen card maker herself, Janet 'could see that it was helping her' so she took the idea of a craft group as 'occupational therapy' for the bereaved to her vicar.

She also approached two friends: a fellow member of the bereavement team and the widow whose hobby had inspired the idea. She asked them both to meet with her to pray for the new group every now and then and to help her run it.

Exploring the possibilities

Exploring the possibilities occurred on a try-and-see basis. An invitation was given out through the parish for anyone interested to join in a crafts meeting every Tuesday afternoon. Tables were set up in the body of the church. An opening prayer was followed by a demonstration and the opportunity to practise.

As New Creations developed, the group discovered that members enjoyed making cards and this has been the focus of the craft session ever since.

Exploring the possibilities occurred on a try-and-see basis

Janet got to know the group and could sense what would work. In time, the opening prayer developed into a monthly ten-minute 'God slot', a short talk centred around the theme of the cards to be made that session.

A while later, Janet asked the members individually whether they would like to come to a support and prayer meeting for half an hour before lunch. A few said they would.

Those who were unchurched (around twelve) began attending one meeting, while the churched (around seven) attended another at the same time, forming two new 'clusters' meeting for discussion and prayer.

These sessions grew into hour-long meetings and eventually merged as the unchurched grew in faith, making one large cluster ready to divide again. Over 40 members are now registered with New Creations, with 16 of them attending the cluster.

Thinking ahead

Thinking ahead in the way that we have described the process doesn't seem to have been part of the story. However, Janet was in a church with a strong tradition of cells and clusters, and it would be surprising if this did not influence her expectations for the group.

Might New Creations help you as you 'think ahead'? You probably won't want to do exactly what Janet did, but does the example of a short prayer evolving into a 'God slot', which then develops into two clusters, spark some thoughts? Might it help you develop a vision for how your fresh expression could develop?

Organising support

Organising support is illustrated in the way Janet has continued to meet with her vicar – the key permission giver – to discuss New Creations. The question, 'How's it going?' is a chance to talk things through and find support. It also means that the work of New Creations is plugged into the life of the church.

Support from people within the group is evident from their financial contributions. Members pay £1 a week subscription to the group, which covers expenses such as heating, cake on birthdays and flowers when a member is sick. They also pay a second £1 for the craft kits.

Janet tries 'to get all involved'. For example, one member provides a cake on birthdays, another arranges flowers when a member is sick, another is good at encouraging members to demonstrate their skills. Several members now take turns at leading the demonstration.

One person, whom Janet describes as 'a listener' and 'very quiet', is the first to call up a fellow member if she is absent one week. She also gives cards and candles to every member at Christmas. Her faith is coming out through her actions, Janet believes.

Nurturing the team

Nurturing the team has taken a while to become a strong feature of New Creations. However, after nearly 10 years Janet is moving on and away from Merseyside. With this in mind, she is inviting the nine helpers within the group to form three teams of three.

Members of New Creations sit at three tables. Each week one helper will lead and assist at their table, and provide a demonstration. So each person in the team will be on duty once every three weeks, sharing the load and helping to avoid burn-out.

The response

When members were asked what New Creations meant to them, the response was overwhelmingly positive. One member spoke of rediscovering a lost childhood faith. 'I realise now what I've missed,' she says.

From an idea conceived by one woman who identified a shared interest and need, several women now participate in supporting a group which offers fellowship and discipleship within the wider support of a church community.

New Creations

A Church of England reader and bereavement coordinator in Merseyside, Janet Cross, became aware of the need for some kind of support group for the bereaved.

She had the idea of a craft session as 'occupational therapy' and opened it up to anyone who wanted to come. Around ten churchgoers took advantage of the group, New Creations, which began in 1998, always opening with a prayer.

At first they focused on general crafts but soon gravitated towards making cards. A monthly 'God slot' centred on the theme of the cards being created that week – for example, 'leaves' and the idea of falling.

Through Janet's invitations to those she met in the course of her lay ministry in the parish, and through members telling their friends about it, the group grew. Now around 50 people are registered at New Creations, with up to 35 attending at any one time.

New Creations meets on Tuesdays. Since summer 2006, the sessions have started with two 'clusters' and thus become part of the cell format used by Janet's church.

The clusters are led by one woman each, with Janet mentoring and assisting. Both clusters meet at 11am in the church building, one made up of twelve previously unchurched people and the other of seven churchgoers.

'The people who weren't going to church would come to me with prayer requests, so I could see they were warming'

Just over an hour later they join for lunch in the restaurant attached to their church, after which the card making session begins.

Janet describes the 'unchurched' cluster as

a support group

in which members are beginning to open up to each other.

The people who weren't going to church would come to me with prayer requests, so I could see they were warming,

she says. A monthly cluster was offered at first, but this developed quickly into a weekly meeting in response to the enthusiasm of members.

We're looking for a vision to develop more,

Janet adds. A breaking of bread just before Christmas 2006

went down beautifully

and members have begun to pray out loud together.

Janet cites one lady who has openly expressed a sense that she now considers New Creations to be her church.

She is also considering an away day combining a morning of meditation and an afternoon of card making.

New people are coming each week,

Janet says.

If we carry on like this we'll need another cluster.