B1 – update Jan11

B1 - treeJonathan Dowman became leader of B1 in autumn 2010. Here he gives an update on the fresh expression of church in Birmingham city centre.

B1 has been going since January 2001 when it started with a core group of 27 adults and 16 children. It really was a journey into the unknown as to what B1 would come to look like, but we knew that 'church' – as it had been done previously – simply didn't mean anything to for large sections of the population.

It was called B1, partly because it's the central Birmingham postcode, but also because it emphasised our sense of being community. We are very much a network church in that people live work, relax, socialise and worship in a variety of different communities or locations. In this day and age there is no longer the sense of common identity necessarily being forged through community; it is more about having interests and friendships in common.

The City Inn / Mint Hotel in Brindleyplace, a very smart, redeveloped part of the city, is where we meet on Sunday mornings and we will celebrate in all sorts of different ways.

We also run a cafechurch in Costa Coffee in the Bullring, Birmingham. Wherever we are, we aim to be a community where we ‘live’ God, live community and live differently. Thankfully our relationship with the management of Brindleyplace and local businesses like Costa Coffee is very good. The message seems to have been well received that 'we are B1, we meet in this area and we'd like to know how we can get involved with – and support – the wider community'.

B1 - snowOver the past 18months to two years, B1 has been in a state of flux but now we hope and pray to make the most of these relationships we have around us. Since I have been in post, I have been working – with the help of others – to put things on an even keel again and we now have some more regular worship patterns in place. A number of people left during that period but that’s fine as generally they felt they had done their bit, were aware that the call and the mission of the church might change in the future and often their own personal circumstances had changed as well.

In recent weeks there has been much more talk and discussion about what happens next. On the whole, the people still at B1 are those who would say, 'why would we go back to a form of church that we feel we were called out of?' As a result, people are now beginning to talk enthusiastically about what that means which involves exploring and listening and discerning our future path.

I believe that part of this involves finding out where there are already Christians in places of work and the residential area and how we might support them. This might give us a lead on what an expression of B1 might look like at midweek or lunchtime, for instance. It also means enabling one another to be B1 in our own networks throughout the city and living as a dispersed worshipping community. We would still have a core community gathering on a Sunday morning but now we can really take a fresh look at what it means to be a network church at other times of the week.

We have about 30 committed adults, some with families of children and others not. There is also one family with teenagers who worship at one of the big Anglican churches in the city; some families have left us in the past because we were unable to provide that level of youth work for young people of that age.

We are hoping to be part of the msm course in Birmingham towards the end of next year. At the moment we are looking at venues and times and we are very excited about that. There are some really great projects going on in the city but many people have been working in isolation, msm provides a wonderful opportunity to meet together.

B1 - giftsA wonderful opportunity also presented itself when the Brindleyplace management gave us the go ahead for a public event at which we distributed candle bags outside Costa Coffee. We gave away 400 of the flame resistant bags which come with sand inside and a tea light. We wanted to offer busy shoppers the opportunity to have a moment of reflection while the light was glowing.

In 2011 we will consider where God wants to take the life of B1. Maybe there will be a moving away from organising 'events' as such to something very different. I wonder if there has been a similar change in many a fresh expression. At the launch of any group the natural inclination is to do lots of flyers and tell the world about it but now we're willing to say, 'let's see what naturally emerges as a matter of course and be willing to change our ideas and aspirations.' This in turn may involve adapting a slightly different approach to what we have had before.

Brindleyplace is a huge complex; along other things it is the base for the Sea Life Centre and many financial institutions. Much business is conducted here during the working week and it gets a lot of footfall. However it is all 'inward looking' physically with a lot of gated apartments; this results in it not easily relating geographically to what's going on in the wider city.

B1 - giftIt is at the edge of the inner city parish of Ladywood and we get on well with the new parish vicar. His church is at the other end of the parish – another world economically and socially – so he is keen to work with us on 'church in the apartments'. He very much sees it as something that we could support one another in.

Something else to consider is Birmingham's ChaplaincyPlus which resources, encourages and supports Christians in the city centre business community. They have a group that meets in Brindleyplace and we will be thinking and praying about how we may be able to partner with them in some things too.