Kevin Metcalf, Church Army Evangelist, describes his early attempts at pioneering in Bangor, Northern Ireland.
My job title is community outreacher worker and I work alongside a Rector of a Church of Ireland Parish Church in the town of Bangor in Northern Ireland. My role is largely to reach out to the Bloomfield Estate in the southern part of the town and to build some fresh expressions with those who do not relate to more traditional forms of church.
The Bloomfield estate still has a lot of sectarian problems, so this type of work is hard but important. It takes a long time to build trusting relationships in a community like this, so I recognise this is a vision that will take time to be realised. At the moment, we are reaching out to children and young people, and through the children, making connection with families who live in these communities.
At present there is very little for younger people to do on the Bloomfield Estate, so I have been developing relationships with community workers to identify needs. I am passionate about children's work, so I have been focusing on activities that engage with younger people and provide positive opportunities. Although local young people have a lot of religious and bible knowledge through school education, many do not have a form of the Christian faith that resources their life. For example, at the local school of three hundred and fifty young people, only fifty have a stated religious affiliation, leaving three hundred with none. So in the context of Northern Ireland this is a bit of a paradox. Even though it is a very ‘religious' country, many do not have a committed faith that they find to be spiritually resourcing. My aim then is to enable younger people to come to faith and experience Jesus in a real and living way, not just knowing about him, but knowing him personally. Through this, I want to see whole families come to faith.
So far, I have built up connections with a local school, and a community association in the Council Estate. At the school I have been engaged with children through assemblies and after school clubs. In these times I have been using crafts and other activities as well as talking about God. In the Community house we have been running a 'Kidz Klub', using similar activities with a limited number of children as the space is quite small. To build on these relationships and see the work develop and grow, we have started running another Kidz Klub in the local primary school and a team of Christian volunteers visit the homes of the children who attend. Our first night we had 48 children! Through this we are building relationships with families on the estate and discovering how we can help support the wider environment of the children and witness to God's love.
The use of this primary school, I think will give us the space to build up a fresh expression of church. We are very aware that the local middle-class forms of traditional church are an alien environment for many people coming from the Bloomfield Estate. So we hope that a 'Messy Church' approach will be flexible, accessible and more laid-back and therefore appropriate. This will enable people to explore Christian spirituality, and the big issues of life, but also an opportunity to build relationships with local people.