Ashburton Methodist Church

Ashburton Methodist - baptismRev Kevin Hooke, of Ashburton Methodist Church, Devon, tells how a District Review and involvement in msm helped to change the church's approach to mission – and its impact on the wider community.

As a part of the whole Christian Church our aim at Ashburton is to respond to the Gospel of God's love in Christ and to live out our discipleship in worship and mission.

We always wanted to share the riches of our faith by working through Teignbridge Circuit in partnership with other local churches and a wide range of organisations in the community.

Ashburton Methodist - ChurchThe church is on a large central site with great potential for development in service of the community but there are practical considerations… it is a listed building within Dartmoor National Park and is in need of repair and modernisation. Work on the exterior has been started and architect's drawings have been done on adaptations to the interior to meet modern-day requirements. Major fundraising will be required before any developments can take place.

We attract a congregation of around 30, about 50% of whom are in a more elderly age group with the rest tending to be people ranging from 45 to 65. We got to a point where we knew the church needed to be doing things differently but as half of our congregation didn't have a huge amount of time because of work commitments, we didn't quite know how that was to be achieved.

We invited the (Plymouth and Exeter) District to come and do a Review with us in 2008. One result of this saw 11 members of the church deciding to go on the Pioneer Disciple Course – the specially tailored mission shaped ministry course for this area – during the following year.

Ashburton Methodist - StreetThe Pioneer Disciple experience proved to be a great benefit for us in that it emerged as a church leadership course because the thoughts of all our folk taking part were stimulated collectively. It was permission-giving as well in that it was deemed OK to take risks and try things. If they didn't work out it wasn't necessarily a failure.

To develop further work within the town, we also employed Youth and Community Worker Martin Parkes whom we share 50:50 with Ipplepen Methodist Church. One of the things we asked Martin to do was develop opportunities for working ecumenically. During One World Week 2010 he put together a whole programme of activities, including a film night and shared prayer space with the Quakers. A particularly popular evening started off as a social and talk on a topic associated with One World Week in a local pub. This was followed by 'sacred jam' at the church: somebody interested in music asked if they could have a 'sacred jam' session by playing some gentle music in an event at the chapel. They had a group of musicians playing and – at the end – some Celtic prayers were said. Quite a few people came in to that. We are now wondering if we might try something similar on a more regular basis.

Ashburton Methodist - horsesMany different things came out of the whole mix of the District Review, Pioneer Disciple course and the period of thinking it through, but we didn't know exactly what God was calling us to do. Of course it's a challenge when there is a change in the air – if you ask 30 people as to what they would like to see developing, you will get 30 different ideas! However, it's wonderful to see people having those ideas and wondering about what will work in our context.

One or two people came to join us around that time and lots of ideas were then coming to the fore: film evenings, a puppet ministry, book club. People would say, 'This is my particular area of interest, can I try it?' Each time I just said, 'Have a go. If nothing else it will give you experience and confidence. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – and see where God leads us.'

Regular activities now include daily prayers from 7.45 to 8.30am, a Christian meditation group and a fortnightly Church Community group time for puddings, prayers and discussion. It's wonderful to follow on from the sense of community built up through the course and maintain that momentum by meeting together so regularly to discuss where we go from here.

Visiting preachers sometimes say there is more of a buzz about the church and there's no doubt that people are looking forward now with anticipation. It feels as if we are at a very early stage but it's a good place to be as we seek to use our interests for the glory of God and serve those around us.

Ashburton Methodist - tor