Goth Church, Coventry

The development and understanding of what we mean by mixed economy of church is seen perfectly in Coventry cathedral and how it has been dealing with its duty of care and mission in the 21st century.

Goth Church Coventry

It does, of course have a pastoral duty to a wide variety of audiences. We could call them those who tend toward inherited expressions. But there will still be many semi-regular visitors to whom a fresh expression is their best route into the Christian paradigm. Two groups, two labels, have found a place in the flock at Coventry through fresh expressions: Goths and Hoodies. The results have defied the preconceptions attached to the demographic labels.

When it became apparent that groups of Goths (young people who listen to heavy metal music and wear dark clothing) were congregating in the city centre for want of anywhere safe to go, the Cathedral moved and found a fertile soil for evangelism.

The context might seem unlikely, but a survey of the Cambridge Gothic community suggested anywhere up to a third of 'Goths' considered themselves in some sense Christian, and as one journalist put it:

…church services are all about a misunderstood man who got nailed to a cross. They are held in a looming, bell-towered, candle-lit edifice in the middle of a graveyard. Indeed if you go catholic, you get to burn incense and drink blood, as well. By contrast, playing a bit of Rasmus looks a bit, well, townie.

At first, the cathedral was providing a place for Goths to hang out in safety; but it was soon observed that many of those taking refuge were also beginning to take an interest in church services and the church building, without really connecting. And so now, Wednesday nights, 7.45pm, they come and gather for the ancient Office of Compline, introduced in this form for their use – candles, prayer, silence, the Peace.

Utterly orthodox in its liturgy and theology, but utterly tailored in its specificity and missional context, the Goth Compline is a nuanced mixed internal economy within an expression of church.

Of more recent advent is work with 'Urban' youth, aka 'Hoodies'. Both are horridly misleading labels in themselves: to identify the young people of inner cities as characteristically angry, violent and antisocial is to misrepresent and disenfranchise them; and to associate those qualities with an item of clothing is even more bizarre and tragicomic. (As the owner of several hooded sweatshirts, perhaps I have an interest here!)

But all labels have a root: in this case, one can specially identify those from deprived inner-city areas, affected by family breakup, poorly financed education, and a fractured, crime-plagued community.

So, it seems to me, there can be nothing more in the spirit of the 2,000-year-old, adaptable Body of Christ than for it to find a place for 'Hoodies', armed with permanent markers, sketching scenes from the Gospel and writing 'Jesus Wept!' on the wall of their place at the Cathedral, before returning to a game of pool or sitting down and talking with their companions in this new community – as, perhaps, the great cathedral bells ring out as they have done in one form or another in this place for nearly a thousand years.

This story, written by Owen Edwards, was originally published in mixed economy, Autumn/Winter 2008/09.