A ‘quick response’ to the gospel in Hanley? (Simon Sutcliffe)

Simon SutcliffeSimon Sutcliffe explores a 'quick response' to the gospel in Hanley.

As many of you will know from my previous blog, I now work part time with Venture FX (vfxhanley) and spend the other half of my week in Birmingham teaching at The Queen's Foundation. By cutting back on my time, I have been able to free up some financial resources which will help to develop the project further.

This now means (drum roll) that I have a companion on The Way. Ron Willoughby, employed for one day a week with vfxhanley, has always been on the edges of this project and I am thrilled that he is now at the heart of it. Ron has arrived at just the right time. Amongst other things, we are developing a small community – a group of people who for one reason or another either don't attend church, can't attend a church or don't want to attend a (particular) church, BUT, they are curious and sometimes compelled by this enigmatic first century Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth. So we are going to get together and see what happens.

Exciting times!

Some of that excitement is also down to a project I'm working on.

Have you ever heard of the Stations of the Cross?

Or geocaching?

And how about Quick Response (QR) codes?

Well, I got to thinking, what would happen if you combined all three? The result is the (digital) Stations of the Cross hidden in a city centre (Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent to be precise), that can only be accessed digitally.

This is how it works:

  • Around the city centre there are 14 QR codes hidden.
  • Each QR code leads to a password protected post on the vfxhanley blog – the password can be found with each QR code.
  • Each post has a picture (Station of the Cross), a short meditation and the co-ordinates of the next QR code.
  • The first blog page that introduces the idea will not be password protected but will have a QR code that can be made into postcards (left in shops with all the nightclub fliers, etc), put on church notices in the city and, hopefully, printed in the local newspaper.
  • The first blog post will be the beginning of the journey.
  • People will be invited to journey through a physical/digital pilgrimage centred around the Stations of the Cross.
  • Once you have found one and reflected on the Station, you use the co-ordinates to find the next.
  • You can do it in a day, or a take a few months.
  • You can either use a smartphone or a good old-fashioned map and compass.
  • When you’ve found one, you can leave a comment on the relevant Station blog post!
  • The idea is that other artists will want to contribute to the art that is on each blog page (please get in touch if you would; I've already had a couple of interested folk), and that people can either use their smartphones or take pictures and use a QR code reader when they get home (and then go off to find another on another day).

Watch this space to find out how it goes.

Changing patterns of ministry. Roll on September! (Simon Sutcliffe)

Simon SutcliffeSimon Sutcliffe reflects on the changing patterns of ministry as he looks forward to September.

One of the great joys of being a minister is that you get the chance to diversify and grow in your chosen fields of interest. In my ministry I have been able to pastorally care for rural church communities, for middle class suburbs and in an urban city centre context. I have also been able to explore youth ministry, fresh expressions, church growth, training and education and lately emerging church and academia.

I have been lucky enough to have been a lay worker in the Methodist and Anglican Church, a youth worker for local authorities, a circuit minister, a circuit superintendent, a church planter and a pioneer minister.

In each case it has been important to locate what model or style of ministry resonates most closely with my experience. Lately, as a pioneer minister, I have felt the call of the wandering friar. Often I spend my time wandering around looking for moments of what I believe are God's activity (and that is always a personal opinion – others might see nothing of the divine in it!). When I see that activity, I decide to rest a while and eventually move on. It is a wonderful way to live and begins to make sense of the rather pointless endings of Paul's letters along the lines of, 'Say "Hi" to Pete and the gang and tell Gary I'll pop by the next time I'm in town.'

This is a dream come true – I now get to push the boundaries of church and get to explore that academically

Well it seems my style/pattern of ministry has changed again! As many of you know, I am appointed as a pioneer mission leader with venture FX of the Methodist Church. I am now going part time with venture FX and have taken up another part time appointment as the tutor for evangelism and church growth at The Queen's Foundation, Birmingham. So basically I am working part time for venture FX and part time as a theological tutor at Queen's.

Those who have known me for a long time will know that this is a dream come true. I get to have my cake and eat it! I now get to push the boundaries of church and get to explore that academically.

I cannot overstate how excited I am about this appointment. For the romantics, this is everything I have dreamed of. For the working classes (which I am proud to have come from), this is everything I have worked for. For the theists, I feel completely blessed!

That's not to say I'm not daunted about the future. But for now I'm going to bask in the absolute joy that today I am a pioneer minster and theological educator.

As a colleague wrote to me: 'Roll on September!'

Emerging church, inherited problems! (Simon Sutcliffe)

Simon SutcliffeSimon Sutcliffe finds inherited problems in the emerging church.

This is slightly tongue in cheek! But beneath it lurks an uncomfortable truth – if only I could see it properly. What a friend of mine calls the meta-narrative in the mist.

VentureFX Hanley shares a space called The Lounge with other agencies working within the city centre. It used to be a bank and is now kitted out with wood effect flooring, ambient lighting, an open kitchen, leather sofas and tub chairs. A group of us met to discuss how we might develop the space further. We looked at better lighting, better signage, a proper coffee maker, etc, but what was most pressing was to sort out two emerging (but not new) problems.

The first was to do with storage. It is great that the space is getting used more regularly and that is exactly what we want. However, where do the groups keep their stuff? All the usual questions were raised: 'Do they really need that stuff?', 'Can we not share resources and therefore not duplicate the same things in different cupboards?' and 'How can we maximise cupboard space using minimum wall space?' You know the questions.

The second was to do with the general look of the place. It is a lovely space, but without a dedicated cleaner it soon begins to look unloved. Again the same old questions were asked: 'Can we afford a cleaner?', 'Who might volunteer?' and 'Can user groups take more responsibility?' In the end we struck upon a great (yet not entirely new) idea. A Benedictine clean! St Benedict's rule offers a possible spirituality for work whereby work is a means to goodness of life. Benedict's rule is also moderate; a healthy work/life balance is essential and within that balance falls the place of prayer and worship, with monks often seen reciting the Psalter during work. So a group of us decided to pray and clean our way through The Lounge.

What is fascinating for me is how soon we come back to the problems of inherited models of church

What is fascinating (and scary) for me is how soon we come back to the problems of inherited models of church. It felt as if I was on a property committee of old whilst deciding what to do with the space that we now inhabit. I can't help but wonder if there is any escape from those things that used to frustrate me so much and led to me being where I currently am. I know this is about property, and re-read the first line of this post, but most people who are engaging in similar kinds of ministry will often speak of the same frustrations that belong to structure and organisation as well as some theological stuff too. Is this simply what it means to be in organised community with designated space? Or is there another way?

Letters home

Letters Home

Letters Home is a new research bulletin produced by The Sheffield Centre and Fresh Expressions. It is a collection of pieces written by pioneers called to follow Christ beyond the existing Church. The first issue looks at the tensions experienced by pioneers as they go, including some discussion of sodal and modal forms of church.

To read the bulletin in full, please download it below.


In recent years we’ve seen various changes rocking the Church. The release of pioneer ministry and the development of fresh expression of Church have created an atmosphere of change and with that, excitement and struggle. For those called to follow Christ beyond the existing Church, to go and be the Church in new ways and…

Learning from Francis

By Hannah Smith. The monastics were the prime movers in mission for the church for its first 1500 years. From China to Asia to Europe, in the roots of the gospel in each geographical space, you find the marks of the monastics again and again. Their tight-knit, hardcore bands would incarnate themselves into a society…

Pioneer as Guest: the return of the Friar

By Simon Sutcliffe. Pioneer is a term which is being used very widely in the Church at present. In talking to various gifted pioneers I have come to see three kinds of pioneering ministries in the Church. Firstly, parish renewal is led by those who feel called to work within inherited modes of church. Secondly…

The parable of the Roving Rock

By Laurence Keith. This story is about a faithful Christian, Fidelis, and a difficult transition in his journey of faith as he takes the risk of stepping out into the ‘post’; into the unknown. There was once a man called Fidelis who built his house on the Rock, by the edge of the sea. Over…

Experiences of pioneers

By Beth Keith. During the last 4 years I have been listening to and collating the stories of pioneers. Whilst pioneering is often referred to as starting something new I have been struck by how common it is for pioneers to experience an initial period of dismantling before new growth occurs. This was evident in…

Remembering the song

By Karlie Allaway. Whilst I have loved reading and thinking about mission I found I got lost at times… Lost in concepts and descriptions of mission. Lost in thinking and reading about all the ways to pray and open ourselves to the grace that transforms us into a sent people, able to bring healing and…

To read these articles in full and comment on them, please download the bulletin below.