Mark Broomhead, leader of The Order of the Black Sheep in Chesterfield, tells of a new initiative called Geochurche.
The idea first emerged after I had been talking to the leadership of The Order of the Black Sheep about our pattern of meetings. We thought it right to continue to meet every fortnight because that seems to be very much of The Order's success but it meant that we started to think and pray about how we might develop further opportunities to reach those we weren't reaching through the Order.
So we looked again at the place in which we find ourselves, at the edge of the Peak District, and started to find out more about the people who regularly visit here for all sorts of outdoor pursuits.
There is a considerable, weekend population taking part in everything from mountain-biking and rock climbing to rambling, canoeing and… geocaching. This involves people searching for hidden things, or 'caches', by using Ordnance Survey grid coordinates. It's like treasure hunting, with participants using their smartphones, GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking devices or traditional maps to find a series of caches as part of a wilderness 'adventure'.
What we plan to do with Geochurche is to hide elements of a service – including prayers and meditations – in pods/caches around the Peak District on routes that can be used by walkers and mountain bikers. The grid coordinates for the 'hidden treasure' will then be shared on our website – along with a final reference point and time for a 'meet'.
This gathering in the wilderness will include opportunity to think about what it has been like to share in such an experience. This will not be the same for everyone as we will set it up in such a way so that different people will access different pods, depending on the time and mode of transport they use – and not everyone will be able to find them. This will hopefully lead to time for reflection on our spiritual journey, some songs around the fire and a sharing of bread and wine.
Geochurche will be a combination of very hi-tech in the way people find the components of the service but very low tech and quite informal in how we all meet up together at the end. It's almost the complete opposite of what we usually do here on a Sunday but we are quite excited about it.
In a strange sort of way, I think it's very similar to a traditional church model in that some people will want to come to all types of service, from Family Service to Sung Eucharist and everything else in between – but others don't want to do that at all. There will be people in our Order of the Black Sheep community who will want to do this and others who just want to interact with one aspect of it. We have people who love the outdoors and they'll be really interested in finding places to hide the caches while there are others who are interested in doing new forms of liturgy, meditations and reflections so they'll be able to help put the material together. Our hope is that the community will be in the preparation as well as in the finding and the using.
This is about enabling other people to get involved because it's something that isn't highly dependent on me, it's something you can hang things on and other people can use quite easily
Maybe new communities will grow out of Geochurche as people come together and find similar interests, share things and find support and love. It is obviously very different to the current format of The Order of the Black Sheep but we pray it will be used by many to start, and continue, their journeys of faith. We are hoping to create resources so that other groups around the country can do the same, set up their own Geochurches and register the co-ordinates on our website as a central resource. The pods, or caches, can then remain hidden and – over time – become a resource that can be accessed for years to come.
All the information is on our new website (geochurche.com) so that people can join in – initially just in Derbyshire but in time, as more groups form, further and further afield.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has officially launched The Order of the Black Sheep in Chesterfield. The Order, led by pioneer minister Mark Broomhead, is a fresh expression of church for those who feel like the black sheep of society.
Mark welcomed Rowan Williams to The Order's church base, known as The Gates, during the Archbishop's visit to the Diocese of Derby. The Order was made a Bishop's Mission Order earlier this year when Mark was licensed as its full time minister by the Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern.
Extensive renovation work on the premises during the summer continued until just a few minutes before the Archbishop's arrival. He toured the building, which includes a chapel, café/bar and media suite, and met many of the people involved in its development.
Speaking at the launch, the Archbishop said,
Jesus took it for granted that if there was somebody around, that somebody was worth his company – and that's how the Church started. Jesus' company is whoever's around and whoever's prepared to spend time just wondering, listening to what he's got to say to them. It's as simple as that.
He said that was what The Gates and The Order of the Black Sheep was all about.
It's about letting people experience a bit of that company… in the sheer mysteriousness of this world you never quite know what's going to happen, what's going on, you never quite know what God's got in store, there's no real way of telling (the difference) between insiders and outsiders. Like all sheep are black in the dark, we struggle with the real darkness of experience sometimes. We’re all in the same boat.
Mark Broomhead, and his wife Sarah, said their serving of the alternative culture, to anyone who felt they didn't fit in, was not alien to them.
For us it's a culture we understand, our 'village',
I'm like a village vicar really. It's a different sort of community but, for us, it's one we are very familiar with. We're focusing on that community because we don't feel it's catered for elsewhere but we want to be inclusive to anyone who wants to be around.
I really believe in the Anglican Church and I really believe in what's going on through pioneer ministry and fresh expressions. In some ways it would be easier to try and break away and just get on with it but I think it's really important to do things properly so there is accountability and people know we're serious about what we're doing; that it's not a fad or an add-on, it's a genuine expression of church.
The Gates will be open to the public from 21st October.
Mark Broomhead, an Ordained Pioneer Minister in Chesterfield, is starting a new fresh expression of church for those who feel like the 'black sheep' of society. He outlines his hopes for the new community and its church, The Gates.
I am in the last year of my training at St John's on the mixed mode course. The first part of my curacy was spent at Clay Cross and Danesmoor where I was involved in planting Sanctum, a community based rock-oriented congregation.
I have been involved in the heavy metal music scene since my teens and have played in several bands so it has been very much part of who I am for many years. That interest has developed in all sorts of ways, one of which has seen me helping to lead the welfare provision at the annual Bloodstock festival.
It's one of the main heavy metal music festivals, probably the more specialist end of the market with Viking metal, satanic metal, pirate metal and all kinds of things. We offer a Christian presence in that sort of arena.
Sanctum offered an alternative way of being church and it continues to develop in its own way. The Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, was very supportive as I moved on to Chesterfield in order to set up a new community called The Order of the Black Sheep. I chose the name, or the name chose me, because a black sheep was for many years seen as the worthless sheep of the flock, the one that couldn't produce any wool that was worth anything.
In medieval times it was even seen by some as a sign of the satanic. I really pray that The Order of the Black Sheep will be a home for the marginalised, for members of the alternative community who feel a little bit like the black sheep in society – and the church. Our motto will be along the lines of 'better a black sheep than a goat'.
The church will be known as The Gates. Gates are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible, including '…I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it' (Matthew 16.18) and 'Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in' (Psalm 24.9). We want to build church in what is traditionally seen as the devil's territory and to allow the King of Glory to come in to that community and do what he wants to do.
The 'alternative' subculture is a difficult one to describe but it has grown from the 1950s and 60s Teddy Boys through Mods, Rockers, Hippies and people who generally feel themselves to be on the edge of society and don't fit in with the 'in' crowd. These days there are all kinds of different expressions of it, whether it's Goths, bikers, skaters – all sorts of things.
Our challenge is taking the Gospel to these groups; sharing Jesus with those who have a sometimes well founded mistrust of the Church and Christian culture. We're not planning to 'dress up' the Gospel for this culture because it is perfect and relevant to all as it is. I want it to be a place where the community can meet, a centre where it can be safe and talk through things, where the Church can be reached, where we can be accessible, where we can allow a space for worship and a space to meet with God in various other ways and for us to be of service to that community.
As a fresh expression we maintain that this project will be Church rather than a gateway to 'real' Church but we are keen for members to explore and take their place at the table of the wider church family as part of their discipleship.