Steve Kelly, of River Community Church, is Assistant Rural Dean in Telford Deanery and fresh expressions advisor in the Diocese of Lichfield. He would never have described himself as a pioneer.
My wife Maggie and I have always had a sense of adventure and we like to travel light. That means we've always been willing to 'get up and go' wherever God leads us. After hearing a calling from God in 2003, I left my career in the car industry to train to be a vicar. I have always had a heart for evangelism and outreach and after my training as a curate had been completed in 2008, Bishop Alan Smith approached me with an idea for my first post.
He asked me if he would be interested in drawing on fresh expressions' methodology to explore the possibilities of a church plant in Telford. My main brief was to reach those who weren't connecting with the established church.
My exposure to fresh expressions had been churches doing it on the side. Most of these were expressions of outreach from churches seeking to engage in mission and outreach. The opportunity in Telford was to grow a new church in a new community and it wouldn't be part of any existing church.
I was given a blank sheet of paper to engage with a community of 150 houses that would increase to over 3,500 in the next few years.
In 2008, we moved to Telford and became part of the community. Initially there wasn't a place within the community people could gather – no pubs, no cafes – so we worked with others in the development of a community garden. We slowly began to build relationships with others who also had a heart for community. The garden provided a place for people to meet each other and we ran a series of outdoor family events for those in the neighbourhood.
In Christmas 2008 the neighbours asked if we could organise something called 'carols on the green'. It was an informal outdoor carol service which over 100 people came to. After the popularity of the event, we ran a 'taster event' in the local school and asked people for their views about the timing and style of a community worship event. It was decided that a café-style event at the local primary school would be most welcomed.
A hybrid of café church, Messy Church and charismatic church, we were delighted that people came. It started quite small but that monthly event has remained as an enduring feature of what we do.
Just over a year later, River Community Church was officially launched in June 2010. It is a church community which has a real mixture of people at its heart. The church has drawn some who already have a strong faith, some who have come to faith, some who have returned to their childhood faith and some who have seen what's happened and are thinking about the next step.
Right from the start, the leadership team have been excited by a 'kingdom vision', a vision of the growth, transformation and healing that comes when God's love and power begin to touch people's lives. We have tried to keep the church community focused on incarnational mission. Whilst some aspects of church life are 'attractional' by their very nature, we have continually emphasised the need to be outward-looking, bringing blessing to our neighbours and the local community.
Like Paul, we believe that God is able to do much more than we can dare to ask or imagine. As we have prayed about this, we have been inspired by the vision in Ezekiel chapter 47. In this prophetic vision, the River flows out from the place of worship (the temple) and out into the desert. We read that trees spring up on the banks of the River. These trees remind us of the vision we have of our church – rooted, flourishing and fruitful. We believe that this is also vision of what God can do today – in Telford! The River speaks of the life and power of the Holy Spirit. So we have given our church the name River Community Church. It expresses our desire to be a church OF the River, a community BY the River, a people IN the River… and that's what we're praying for!