Ecumenically Challenged?

Jules Middleton asks why we find it so hard to work together.

Eighteen months ago, I found myself in the somewhat unenviable position of chairing a meeting of several local churches. It was the first time that all of them had agreed to meet with a common goal, and – coming from the only fresh expression of church in the area – I think I carried with me the awareness of other people's suspicion. My hope was that we could find a way to work together; a way of working built on the essential foundation of prayer.

Let's face it; churches are notorious about not wanting to work together. They can so often be like kids in a playground, name calling and whispering, sharing half-truths about each other, instead of recognising that at the heart of all that we do; in whatever form; with whichever words, props or attire; we all worship the one true God. In Philippians 2, Paul speaks of unity saying:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Working ecumenically, this has to be our goal: to share that same love that we all experience with those around us. Moving forward from that initial meeting, I am delighted that we have managed to do this, having just celebrated the first birthday of 'The Melting Pot' – a community café which the churches now run together. Our combined interest was to reach an area of a nearby village which had long been overlooked, sneered at and ignored, and it was about time we changed that.

Melting Pot Café - kitchen

As I prayer walked the area recently, I stopped and looked around. On two sides, rolling fields stretched away from me; on another was a view past a playground to the beautiful South Downs, and in front of me stood the social club in which we have made something of a home. This is truly a beautiful and blessed place. I was struck by how so often we only see things from one viewpoint; here perhaps a few unkempt gardens, an old bike going rusty in the grass, cigarette butts littering the ground, but just turn to one side or another and the view is transformed. It's the same in the church too; we tend to view things through the lens of our own brand of Christianity, rather than through the eyes of Jesus.

Of course, running the café hasn't been completely plain sailing! Making relationships is key to the heart of any missional outreach, not only with those we are reaching but also with each other. We've needed to work within, and yet also stretch, each of our boundaries and barriers. As a fresh expression of church, we have a Bishop's Mission Order and are licensed to cover two deaneries, but that isn't to say we can then stomp all over other clergy's 'patches'. We recognised that careful conversations and planning behind the scenes would be the backbone of what we were aiming to achieve but in acknowledging that knowledge and desire, we knew that misunderstandings could still happen because – even within the same denomination – we sometimes speak different 'languages'!

Another part of the learning curve is that we must be realistic; knowing that we are unlikely to be united in all things but being clear that the purpose of the project has to be something which we are most certainly in agreement about. There's no doubt that having complete clarity on this can help avoid challenging conversations later down the line.

Coming from a fresh expression of church, we had always assumed (admittedly with an unspoken hope) that this café would – in time – develop into its own fresh expression but how, and when, that happens was really up to God and our first priority was simply to make relationships and bless the area. However, I've subsequently learned that if the phrase 'church plant' looms on the horizon, it can strike fear into many a church minister – however much well-intentioned planning goes on!

Like any relationship, a degree of compromise is required. We have had to learn to work together, pray together, and find a unity that we can focus on.

After 18 months, we are really only just developing those key relationships with each other and with local residents, so time will tell where and how the café develops but, for now, we are just taking it one step at a time. I really believe that the future of the Church as a whole relies on us uniting and reaching out: united in that love we share. Jesus' 'new' command to love one another is just as relevant now as it was then: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Loving each other doesn't mean we get it right all the time, but it means we are trying to be with each other, to pray with each other and to work with each other, united in the love of Christ. Now that doesn’t sound too hard does it…?!

The Point Church: ten years and counting…

Point Church at tenThe Point Church in Burgess Hill has just celebrated its tenth birthday in style with a weekend full of celebrations. Jules Middleton reports in an article written for the Mid-Sussex Times.

Ten years may not seem that long in church terms but The Point is part of the Church of England and is a 'church plant' or new church, started under the fresh expressions banner – an initiative set up to think about different ways of 'doing church'. Begun back in 2004 with a just a few people meeting in the living room of Vicar Will Kemp, the church has grown quickly and now meets at St.Paul's Catholic College, Burgess Hill on Sunday mornings. 

The TEN celebrations included a glittering awards evening and party, with the theme 'dress to impress', a fantastic morning service with special guest Bishop Lindsay Urwin, who was instrumental in getting the church off the ground in the first place, and finally an evening celebration which gathered many friends of The Point from local churches to celebrate together, including Bishop of Lewes, Richard Jackson and special guest speaker, church planter Rev David Cooke from Holy Trinity, Barnes.

Will Kemp said that the weekend was

an amazing celebration of all that God has done through The Point in the last ten years

and noted that it was great to look back at some of the highlights so far, including the very recent story of Point regular Tim Adams who miraculously found his mum after 50 years. Plus many other things such as the 'Church in a Pub' initiative, which meets at the Woolpack in Burgess Hill; Walking the Land, a giant prayer walk across Mid Sussex over 24 hours involving many local churches; and the many community events and ventures that have impacted people across Mid Sussex.

Will Kemp added,

We are delighted to be celebrating ten years as a church, but it also seems like the start of a new season and we are really excited about the next ten years and where God will take us next.

The Point Church

Jules Middleton, Pastoral Assistant at The Point Church, Burgess Hill, tells how it is re-evaluating its role as a fresh expression.

We are at a very interesting stage in the life of The Point because we have been looking again at our vision for the church and really seeking God as to what we do and how we do it.

The church started in 2004 when our vicar, Will Kemp, and his family moved from London and a group of people started meeting in their home. The then Bishop of Horsham, Lindsay Urwin, offered great encouragement and support at a time when the Church of England was really starting to think quite seriously about church planting and 'fresh expressions'.

Bishop Lindsay initially also helped to guide our thinking about the BMO process. This was finalised about 18months ago but it certainly took a lot of time and effort to get it right! It's a five-year Bishop's Mission Order but, if all goes well, we would expect it to be automatically renewed at the end of that period.

The Point - crossIn the early days of The Point, it was very much 'café church' and low key in its style, focusing mainly on families and young children. What happened over the years was that a lot of what we were seen to be doing focused on a Sunday morning gathering with modern, contemporary worship. The result was as more and more people came, we struggled to maintain our original vision to reach the unchurched, and the majority of those we were reaching were 'de-churched' and some transferring from other churches.

It was time for us to review what had gone before and look ahead to something new by asking 'what have we got now?' and 'what are we going to do next?'. To do this, we went through a twelve month vision process in 2012/13 which included a whole church questionnaire, a prayer week and input from members of the church.

I also started ministry training in September 2013 at the South East Institute of Theological Education (SEITE) and this, in conjunction with the vision process, has really fed into my role as Pastoral Assistant at The Point, particularly in the area of exploring how we can be more intentionally missional in our approach.

As part of finding more ways to reach people who wouldn't set foot across the threshold of the church, we now run 'Church in a Pub' which meets every quarter at The Woolpack in Burgess Hill.

The Point - pubIt started in July last year at the invitation of the landlord who was really keen for The Woolpack to be seen as a community pub. We had over 50 people come to that first session. It's all very informal and we have a Church in a Pub team to coordinate the interviews or testimonies, songs from a small worship band and a thought for the day. It's early days but response has been very positive so far and we're looking at whether it could go into different places or roll out to other pubs in the area.

One of our existing projects is 'The Sanctuary'. It's much more than a parent and toddlers group, it's a place where a mum with pre-school kids can come and be 'pampered' a little. They can relax, have a chat, maybe have a hand massage, that type of thing – and a few dads enjoy coming along too!

The Sanctuary meets on Monday mornings in term-time at Hurstpierpoint Village Centre and it aims to be a really welcoming place to build friendships and community in that area. We are really excited about something growing from that, for those who might want to explore faith issues because people would find it a very big leap to go from The Sanctuary into what we would recognise as a church setting. There are some really interesting conversations going on at the moment about how that might happen and we look forward to seeing it become a reality.

The Point - treeAll in all, it feels like a very exciting time at The Point because we have regained our focus as to what and who we're doing it for! We want to be a transforming presence throughout mid Sussex and part of that involves pioneering authentic communities of Christians to reach out to those around them. We've been thinking a lot about context in recent months and being relevant to that context is vital – though it does throw up some challenges.

The vision process helped many of us to realise that we needed to be doing something different for the Kingdom but we reach about 300 people in the Sunday morning gathering at St Paul's Catholic College, Burgess Hill, and we have to ask if we will alienate many of those by taking a new direction? How do we release something new? How do we remain true to what God wants of us and help others to catch that vision too?

They're not easy questions to answer and much of it will only become clearer as time goes by. For now, we are looking to God to help us in this fresh expression as we reimagine what it means to be church in today's world.