Kairos, Harrogate: From parish to network

From traditional parish to mission-shaped communities: adversity or adventure? Mark Carey describes the transformation of Kairos Network Church in Harrogate in an article for the New Wine magazine (Autumn 2011 edition).

Harrogate calling

First my attention was grabbed by a job advert promising a 'mission-shaped opportunity'; then I heard a passionate verbal appeal for the same post at the 2007 New Wine Leadership Conference. I was hooked. Here was a fantastic chance to do a new thing.

I arrived in Harrogate to lead St Mary's and All Saints' that October. Within 12 months we began the significant transition from parish church to a 'fresh expression' of church, serving beyond the traditional Church of England parish boundaries.

The parish was originally established to serve a particular part of the town. It had two centres of worship: St Mary's, the main parish church, and All Saints', a chapel for an outlying area. Due to severe structural problems both buildings were closed down shortly after January 2007.

The congregations continued to meet – St Mary's in a school, and All Saints' in the local Methodist Church – but numbers were dwindling and there was a real lack of vision. Something had to change.

Doing a new thing

And change it did. During a transitional period, we:

  • Decreased the number of services, to create space for mission;
  • Moved out of the school into the old church hall, making it simpler to gather together for worship;
  • Began 'café style' worship to help create community;
  • Purposefully shared faith stories, raising expectations of Kingdom activity;
  • Began to ask: how can we gather as communities of disciples, in simple, flexible and purposeful ways, and still be 'church'?

Out of this process emerged the first mission-shaped communities (MSCs). Each one of these small- to mid-size groups (up to 30 people) is treated as a church in its own right, meeting not in church buildings, but in homes, cafés, pubs, or workplaces. There were thrills and spills, false starts, uncomfortable tensions and downright difficult confrontations; but this new thing began to grow, with a vision to release communities of followers to live out the mission of Jesus.

We renamed ourselves the Kairos Network Church. Jesus used the word kairos of the 'appointed time' in the purposes of God:

The time [kairos] has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news

Mark 1:15

For this church, it was indeed time for a new thing. Kairos also describes how we hope to act in our missional communities – looking for where the Kingdom is coming, and becoming part of it.

We also began the process of becoming a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO), laying down parish status and becoming a network church. Encouragingly, senior Church of England staff were hugely supportive, and we began operating as a BMO in May this year.

Different shapes of mission

Those brave souls who have started a MSC find themselves on quite an adventure. Things can change quickly and look very different within a few months of start-up, as the community responds to the opportunities and calling of God and the personal circumstances of those involved, finding things that don't work – and things that do.

The groups enjoy low control by the church leadership, and we encourage high accountability, aiming to create an environment of trust which allows people to be the disciples Jesus wants them to be. At the time of writing we have a handful of MSCs at varying degrees of development, each seeking to have an impact either on their networks of friendships or particular geographical areas. They tend to meet in between our twice-monthly central gatherings:

The Wanderers are a vibrant example of disciples in mission, paying attention to the transformation of the whole person. This MSC started out with four people connecting with others through social activities. They became part of a walking and exercise group, carrying out street surveys in the centre of Harrogate, and have launched two discipleship groups.

Recently I led communion in the main room of a Wetherspoon pub with The Wanderers. We were with people who – because they have relationships of trust with this missional community, though professing no faith – wanted to share in what was happening. We were seeing people, there and then, coming closer to the Kingdom.

Tom and Hetty Wildblood joined The Wanderers through one of the small Alpha courses they run. They were nominal in belief and their experience of church was largely limited to traditional forms. They describe being involved in a Kairos missional community as having:

a dramatic effect on all aspects of our lives over the past two years.

Following a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit, they are being encouraged to continue living life in the Spirit. In practical terms, Tom and Hetty have been helped to be more financially secure by attending a CAP (Christians against Poverty) course with someone else from the MSC. Another member helped them both stop smoking. They say,

We have certainly become less selfish in our day-to-day actions. Kairos is bringing goodness and understanding of God into a wider community and it doesn't require bricks and mortar as a foundation.

Vintage is a group of young adults building a shared life around meals, worship and mutual encouragement, reaching out to people they meet through workplaces and family life. They recently gathered nearly 40 people for a picnic. One of the couples from the core team is bringing together a group of men for Thursday evening football, as well as getting to know their wives and girlfriends.

Links is a MSC that may point to the development of the wider Kairos network. This group is from another Harrogate church. They want to do 'a new thing' with Kairos, but remain in good relationship with their own church. Thus they are finding missional accountability, supervision and support from Kairos, and pastoral support and encouragement from their 'sending' church. They are now working out a vision for a particular geographical area.

Elpis is a new MSC serving in elderly people's homes and aiming – among other things – to develop discipleship cells. It may not be the most glamorous mission field but promises to be very fruitful, with an ageing population both locally and nationally.

Off the map

Someone who was praying about my ministry a while ago had the words 'off the map' come to mind. How true! Going from traditional parish church to network church is not a much-travelled journey for many churches. Our friends at St Thomas' in Sheffield have been really helpful, but there is still a sense of going into uncharted territory.

We take inspiration from the journey of God's people after the Exodus, especially Numbers 9:23:

At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out.

This is what I continually encourage the community of Kairos to do: live and move at the Lord's command. There is a lot of muddle, we sometimes don't know what to do, and we often fall back into old ways. We aren't anything like perfect at this – but we are learning, and enjoying the adventure.

Mark Carey

Mark leads Kairos with his wife Penny. Their vision is to release communities of followers in the mission of Jesus. They are also on the New Wine North & East Leadership Team, and are members of the Order of Mission, a network community of missional leaders.

Kairos, Harrogate

Kairos – previously St Mary's Low Harrogate – was launched when the Rt Revd John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, gave his blessing to the latest Bishop's Mission Order church. What does it mean to be a BMO? Pioneer Minister Mark Carey outlines the story so far.

We launched our radical form of network church in October 2010 so obviously everything is still very new. It's a fledgeling community but we are very excited about the opportunities opening up.

In saying that, we are very much in a transition stage with elements of inherited church in the midst of all the other stuff going on – it’s a classic mixed economy encapsulated into one setting!

Kairos Harrogate - picnicFormerly Priest in Charge at St Mary's, I have been here for three years with the first being taken up by testing and seeing. Two years further down the line and there have been some really encouraging things along the way, not least the development of Kairos, but now we need to try and embed a new vision and work out how it looks to be in a way that's centralised – yet decentralised. We're in new territory here so things take time – but that's fine.

Some things look familiar, such as our using a hall in Harrogate for Sunday worship once a fortnight and a weekly 9am Communion service but other things are very different. Kairos, while one church, is also a group of smaller network churches, small to mid-size groups of up to 30 people known, officially, as mid-sized/mission-shaped communities (MSCs). Each of these communities is treated as a church in its own right, meeting not in a church building but in all sorts of places like homes, cafes or pubs.

Kairos Church is about becoming a new kind of church which focuses on releasing communities of followers to live out the mission of Jesus. This is being worked out through people who are good news in our workplaces, families and friendships.

Kairos Harrogate - Meeting

In saying that we very much value our place in the Church of England as a fresh expression of church within the Anglican tradition. We are:

  • influenced by rule of life of the Order of Mission;
  • involved in the New Wine movement;
  • focused on prioritising partnership in mission with other churches.

But the history of St Mary's and how things have changed in this area can find echoes in CofE parishes up and down the country. This parish was originally established to serve an area of Harrogate from the centre near the Pump Rooms right up to Harlow Hill at the edge of the town. Two worship centres were built, St Mary's as the main parish church and All Saints – a chapel at the top of Harlow Hill for the surrounding area.

St Mary's was closed in January 2007 due to severe problems with the building. At almost the same time All Saints had to close its doors, again because of concerns about the building, and it was formally shut down in 2009. The church continued to pray and work towards effective discipleship and mission and St Mary's moved into Harrogate Grammar School for Sunday services until Summer 2008.

By then it had started a significant transition from parish church to a fresh expression of church serving the whole deanery of Harrogate. Fully part of the Deanery and the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds, St Mary's became Kairos Church because Kairos is a Greek word of great significance for Christians as it speaks of the appointed time in the purpose of God.

Kairos Harrogate - Winter Gardens

We continue to meet together twice a month in a hall that houses the Kairos Church office and various activities. It is also used by a number of local community organisations.

Our vision is to release communities of followers to live the mission of Jesus, encourage many communities of followers of Jesus released to do what they think Jesus would do – and is doing – see all ages engaged in the joy of being the church on the move people and learning together how to be disciples as they go.

We have got a great bunch of people here with some joining us because they fully support our vision while others have taken the journey from the old St Mary's into the new Kairos. There are those who just take it on board instinctively and others like being part of it but who are struggling to understand it or only understand elements of it. Most get the fact that if we don't function in a number of different ways we are unlikely to be able to engage with the large percentage of people who won't be attracted through the doors traditionally.

There is no hostility but there is a real mixture of uptake on the vision and very different interpretations within the mission shaped congregations themselves. People do have very, very, different understandings of what we're doing and why but I'd expect that at this stage!

Kairos Harrogate - Oasis

Some of our MSCs are developing well. Wanderers are led by an early retired couple with experience and real passion for the Gospel. They also have a deep understanding about what they are doing in that they are going out on the streets and are very purposeful. People coming to that tend to be from mid-30s to early 50s.

They have been developing this community long before Kairos became a BMO but the group is developing with regular attendance up to 18 and another 10 people who consider themselves to be in relationship with them.

We also have Eucharist in a pub by using a family room in Wetherspoons for Curry and Communion. Our MSCs do all sorts of things because they are in the sort of environment where they feel free to fail. Some of our MSC leaders, from a traditional church background, are happy to no longer be drawn into any of the 'performance' that can accompany what it means to be church.

One of my hopes for 2011 is that we will get our first multiplications of MSCs this year. I also pray for fruitfulness from all the sowing of relationships across this area. We are going to start a new MSC at the start of the year which will take us to six and I would like to see another couple of MSCs. Some of them are very small but they have a very real sense of purpose.

Kairos Harrogate - candlesEcumenical relations are very important to us and we welcomed quite a lot of church leaders from the area to our launch in October. Among the denominations there is a great deal of understanding and we get a lot of support as a deanery initiative.

One of the key concepts we have worked with since the earliest days of the transition to a fresh expression of church is that of being a tent community with a tent mentality. We have found ourselves without church buildings, enabling us to develop a mentality that is at heart simple and flexible. Only time will tell how that mentality will translate into the life and work of Kairos.