Being a community for the community (Mark Berry)

Mark BerryMark Berry discusses being a community for the community.

Building relationships with different organisations, associated groups and denominational structures can be a challenge at the best of times – whether you are working within a traditional or fresh expression of church.

At safespace, general relationships with our own diocese have been difficult though, thankfully, we have good relations with the bishop, the rural dean and some of the newer staff. We also constantly seek dialogue in order to develop communication, but it isn't easy. We are currently talking with the diocese about mission as community/cultural transformation – not just increasing the size of congregations – and helping shape a conversation about rhythm and rule, connecting spirituality and mission.

One of our main challenges has been centred on finding a workable common language and evaluation criteria. With CMS, these things come more naturally because of the shape and values of the organisation itself. CMS has been a big part of the foundation story of safespace and of the ongoing exploration. It has acted as a sounding board, a critical friend and a resource for mission thinking for us. I suppose the best tool we have for building relationships is generosity; supporting projects and initiatives with which we do not always feel totally comfortable or connected. There also has to be a willingness on our part to try to put aside our own 'baggage' to listen to what is happening elsewhere.

A new development for us is to welcome Abbot Stuart Burns as our monastic visitor. We have begun to explore the possibility of an urban 'Abbey' as a community house, a hub for mission, a studio for creative spirituality and ongoing prayer, a home of radical hospitality and as a resource for mission in Telford and the Lichfield Diocese. As we move forward, exploring new-monasticism and particularly looking at an 'Abbey', we felt we needed to:

  • Hear and learn from the wisdom of the traditional monastic communities and heritage;
  • Get beyond the romanticism and simple practises to deeper understand the values and rhythms of community life and spirituality;
  • Engage with as much connectivity and wisdom as possible if we are not going to either just be 'the latest gimmick' or be constantly reinventing the wheel.
Evaluation cannot be quantitative so it must be qualitative and, most importantly, narrative – telling and sharing stories rather than ticking boxes or filling in numbers

Stuart is also a man of great love and we all need to be surrounded by love and parenting as we make mistakes and do stupid things! We also recognise a language in the values of the monastic communities which feels more apposite and natural to us and is beginning to be helpful in developing wider relationships.

Some people have referred to safespace as a glorified house group. I have no real problem with that as it stands, but the question is, what is the 'glorified' bit? For us we would say it is a deeper reality of communion and mission. We are not simply a Bible study, prayer or small group which is intended to support the existence of a larger group, nor a subdivision of a church; we are a vocational and intentional community of mission.

Our whole focus is on deepening our relationship with each other, with God and with Telford (warts and all). Yes, we do a lot more than your average home group, but it's not all about 'doing' – we are a community which exists for the community.

Interestingly, Willow Creek discussed some of these themes in their 'reveal' report and in some of their resultant re-strategising and developing Table Communities which were:

…designed to be the catalyst for all that God is seeking to do in neighbourhoods and beyond. The Table became the vehicle for doing church in the community rather than bringing the community into a church building … it was a radical concept because in our society sharing a meal has become a lost art … part of the table experience is about intentionally creating an environment – a sacred space.

They identify seven shifts in small group ministry, from:

  1. A program to an environment
  2. Having meetings to building community
  3. Small groups as a church system that delivers church programs to groups practising a lifestyle
  4. Content to process
  5. An optional ministry to an essential practise of the church
  6. Training leaders to training groups
  7. An institutional approach to an incarnational approach

Walter Brueggemann writes that:

Ministry cannot be about maintenance, but it is about gathering, about embrace, about welcoming home all sorts of and conditions of people; home is a place for mother tongue, of basic soul food, of old stories told and treasured, of being at ease, known by name, belonging without qualifying for membership.

So when we do gather we seek to have a very real sense of intimacy, a radical hospitality and a deepening and broadening spirituality – all of which helps to re-focus away from simply gathering to us, to serving and transforming the place in which God has put us.

Our thinking on leadership and evaluation in, and for, mission has shifted as we have journeyed together. Leadership becomes a community activity, where all are involved and everyone's gifts are vital, and evaluation cannot be quantitative so it must be qualitative and, most importantly, narrative – telling and sharing stories rather than ticking boxes or filling in numbers.

How deep are we willing to go? (Mark Berry)

Mark BerryMark Berry asks how deep we are willing to go.

Graham Cray told General Synod last week that a crucial factor in the spread of fresh expressions has been 'a new imagination about the form or shape of church'. He is right. We have seen over the last half decade an exploration emerge which concerns not just the stylistic aspects of our gatherings – music, dress, structure, location, etc – but concerns the very substance of what it is to be church. The question is, if this is good, how deep are we willing to go?

At the heart of the matter is how we have sought to be community and how this journey has led us into a new romance with the God who is by nature community. We have had a new encounter with God as Trinity, not a hierarchical Trinity with God the Father as the CEO, Jesus as middle management and the Spirit on the factory floor, but with the Trinity as the root of radically mutual community … of the meal table, not the boardroom table!

This is changing how we see and do leadership within communities, where we put the emphasis on the flow of gifting rather than the authority of a title or position. Each of us surrenders our gifts to the community and so each of our gifts, rather than being lost becomes animated from use and spreads through the community. When a prophet is willing to give their insight then all our eyes are opened in new ways; when the artist creates, we all find new ways to express ourselves.

So, how deep are we willing to let this change affect us? How much of our systems and structures are we able to challenge? Can we let a 'ground up' shift impact how we think about every part? Can it change the way we think about leadership, about ordination, about our structures? 

Can it change the way we think about leadership, about ordination, about our structures? 

A colleague of mine from Lichfield Diocese, Revd Richard Moy, challenged Synod why it 'locked its trainee clergy away for three years in a place full of other Christians'. I agree. We need to reflect on how we train our leaders, but have we got to go deeper? In this changing world, which will force our church to change, is it time to release leadership, to give it back to communities, to create a new way for sustainability which does not rely on a professional body but on equipping and resourcing communities to lead themselves? 

After a recent visit from our new bishop, one member of safespace said how great it was to share with him as he was not at all 'bishopy'! Is it time to reflect the shift from hierarchy to community, not only on the ground but can we as a church become a community of communities, where we rely on each other, where we support each other and allow the quietest voices to be as significant as the most powerful ones?


Mark BerryDoing mission and ministry in the context of fresh expressions of church, requires creative imagination and an incarnational approach to evangelism. Mark Berry, a Lay Pioneer Minister, tells the emerging story of safe space, a fresh expression of church that draws on celtic spirituality, radical hospitality and a form of new monasticism.

Safespace was born in 2005 from a converging of a small group of diverse people (about 10 of us), people who had a yearning to serve and to transform the place we find ourselves in. I came to Telford as a Lay Pioneer Minister, challenged to do something new by the diocese in a town where the vast majority of it’s youthful population had or seemed to desire no contact with Church. Others already living in the town drew together with a desire to step outside of their comfort zones and to connect with new people and new challenges, to engage. So we found ourselves jumping into a boat together – inspired by the local leather fishing boat of St Brendan the Navigator – turning our backs on the comforts of "home" and pushing out into the chaos and danger of the ocean of culture. We have only the Trinity as our model, the Creator as our provider, the Spirit as the wind in our sails and the Christ as our navigator.

In the boat

Safespafe - exhibitWe see the community as itself an embodiment of the Kingdom inwardly and outwardly. The community is a small but rich tapestry of Christian expression seeking to live in shalom and self-surrender. We actively allow space for different views and interpretations of the Christian faith in the context of relationship and community.

We believe that a big part of our living is to celebrate unity in diversity, to model community rather than being a club or niche expression, in a culture where family and community are strained and struggling we believe a major part of a missional response is to model real community and love. Becoming family is hard, but wonderful, committing to share such intimacy with each other raises all sorts of issues and hang-ups which we cannot hide or ignore. Doing it in a way which is deliberately exposed makes it even harder.

Safespace crossIt has been important for us to develop a rhythm of living which ripples out from our main gathering – The Table, where we have a meal, spend time in prayer/reflection and share communion – so we have  developed a weekly rhythm which has seven aspects:

  • See and appreciate something new in Creation;
  • Explore something about Jesus;
  • Listen in silence to the Spirit;
  • Bless and be blessed by someone;
  • Listen to and share a God story with someone;
  • Pray for and ask for prayer from someone;
  • Rest.

Amongst the islands

Safespace candlesPerhaps the best way to describe who we are is as a new-monastic community, a community of followers who are seeking first and foremost to be equipped, resourced and supported in living a life that exudes mission, to reflect a mission and holistic spirituality and to live that life alongside those for whom church has no meaning or real life connection and to be focussed on being agents of transformation in the world in which we find ourselves.

Safespace - shoesWe took to heart the instructions in Luke Chapter 10, to step out, to go lightly and to offer peace where we meet community. So we began to get involved in community: in AFC Telford United Football Club – where we help sweep up after games, spend time in the bar with staff, players and supporters and have got involved in the Trust which owns and runs the club; we regularly have a stall/prayer corner in our local Mind*Body*Spirit fair; we organise children's creation walks – a mix of nature hunt, learning about the environment and Bible stories; and in partnership with our local council and the Methodist Church we run sank•tuary, a safe haven/chill out venue for Clubbers from Midnight to 4am every Sunday morning. In each of these situations we have encountered "people of peace" who welcomed us in: the Chairman of the Football Club, the nightclub owner etc. all of whom have no connection with Church.

Safespace - tablesOur emphasis then is not to grow the core community but to "share lives" (1 Thessalonians 2) which reflect the Gospel and model a different way of being.  We seek to be people of shalom, to begin by offering peace and by living in the wider community rather than "reaching out" into it and drawing people "back in". Brueggemann writes* that the "Towel and the Basin" are the tools of Shalom, and that the Towel only becomes three dimensional when it is wrapped around the foot, so we believe our faith and church only takes on a third dimension when it serves, when it is lived for the Kingdom.

The destination

Safespace sanktuaryWe don’t know where we are going, we are a pilgrim people. We know that we hope to keep going, to keep serving, to keep challenging, to keep being people of shalom, the destination is up to God. We long to take bigger risks, to live deeper in the love of God and each other, to see individuals name God, to see community restored and to see culture transformed. The things we do follow from who we are and where we are, the particular winds and currents that lead us.