How do you set up a fresh expression of church in an affluent 'commuter' village? Klynn and Susan Alibocus have been helping to lead Food for Thought in Winterslow near Salisbury for the past three years. They're still on a steep learning curve, as they explain.
Changing work commitments saw us move from suburban Kent to a large south Wiltshire village, and that was quite a shock at first. It really was a very different world but we chose Winterslow for many reasons, mainly its busy community life and the fact that it was home to four active churches of different denominations.
At the time, before the term 'fresh expression of church' was commonly known, Winterslow did benefit from having a number of outreach activities going on in the area. Despite that, we still felt there was a gap in bringing the message of Christ to the unchurched and dechurched community in a new and fresh way.
Some years previously we had been involved in setting up The Carpenter's Arms, Sandwich, working with a team experienced in instigating one of the earliest Anglican church plants in Deal and we had a heart to carry this work on.
As an affluent 'commuter' rural village, Winterslow's needs aren't as obvious as those of other places. Setting up a fresh expression of church to make the message of Christ relevant to such a community was therefore somewhat more challenging.
A few of us who went to the parish church of All Saints, Winterslow, started to look at the possibility of creating a more accessible, non-traditional and complementary fresh expression of church in the village.
We came up with some specific ideas after a workshop exercise in which we looked at How To Make The Worst Church Service Ever! In it, we listed all the things that we normally do as part of church that may put someone off if they haven't been to church before. Then we tried to understand those barriers and come up with ways to remove them.
We decided that the new-look church service should involve Welcome, Word, Worship and Witness. Much prayer and planning went into the original proposal. Thankfully our vicar, Revd Nils Bersweden, and the PCC, gave us their blessing and we got the go-ahead to begin a monthly meeting in the village hall.
Food for Thought emphasises good food, short services, plenty for children to do and an informal atmosphere. Many people have found that it's right for them, and we continue to welcome in newcomers who want to find out more about us and more about God.
Many commuters miss out on daily village life. Food for Thought connects people, particularly families, to hear the message of Christ, have fun, eat together and bring back that sense of community.
Using our rural environment to our advantage we regularly go on picnics, nature walks, and so on; often networking with other village organisations such as the Scouts, Brownies, conservation groups and local charities to see how we can support each other. On one occasion we were granted private access to Salisbury Cathedral for a treasure hunt followed by fish and chips in the cloisters. About 60 people came to that.
The Ven Alan Jeans, Archdeacon of Sarum, really helped us to look at where we were going with Food for Thought and why. We looked at questions like: 'Are you really a fresh expression or have you just moved "church" into the village hall?' We also considered: 'How will Food for Thought nurture people into the wider Church?'
We think it very important to keep it truly fresh so we're encouraging leadership potential with different people taking on responsibility for organising services. For the first six months we were pretty much running the whole thing but we didn't want to be seen as the husband and wife double act who do it all. That doesn't help us, or encourage discipleship and the building of community.
We also regularly change the layout of the hall; it sounds quite a small thing to do but it's very effective in staving off complacency about the way a place 'should' look. Varying the activities or location or timings or leaders is all useful in keeping the momentum going.
A survey told us, yes, people like it and we must continue, but we feel there's still so much to do. To say it's been easy and a record of successes would be far from the truth. On the contrary, there have been highs and lows and that learning curve can be very steep. However, we marked our 3rd birthday on 24th January with a Scottish ceilidh – plenty of food, dancing and live music from a piper. There's plenty to celebrate. The Revd Cynthia Buttimer, a team curate at All Saints is tremendously supportive and she joins in as one of the many wonderful Food for Thought volunteers who make it all happen.
Looking back, it's clear to see that when you're willing to take that leap of faith, God will be with you every step of the way. At times it's exciting, frustrating or just plain old hard work, but there's nowhere else we'd rather be.