Steve Tilley has run monthly Quiet Days in his north Somerset home for nearly six years. Demand has been so great that a second group is now set to meet in a neighbouring village.
It has taken some while but I have finally found someone else who shares the vision, has a passion for the Quiet Days and a large enough house to accommodate a second group three miles away.
As a result, after Easter, we will be doubling the available space for local Quiet Days by running two a month, one in Nailsea and the other in Backwell. There will be a fortnight's gap between the two, we'll use the same Bible passages at each one and ban people from going to both of them.
This is all in response to escalating demand for the Quiet Days – we have regularly had to turn people away – but we are separating the Days in this way because we want to make them available to more people, not offer more to the same group of people who already attend.
I am licensed to a group of six Anglican churches in the area and I had been thinking about how the ministry could grow because it takes a whole day of my time and I can't do that more than once a month. The leaders of the new group are a couple I know as members of one of those churches; we will stay in close touch so people can go to either session and keep a sense of journey.
The Quiet Days continue to attract three very distinct communities of people:
- about five or six who come every month;
- another 15-20 who turn up two or three times a year;
- those who come once to sample it.
Most of those who come along are already part of a church and Quiet Days offer another way of exploring faith for them but one of our regulars would say that this is most definitely her church. She doesn't go anywhere else.
Our times together are not guided in the way that a retreat is guided but we decided to look at God's Word together so biblical content is at the heart of what we do. We generally read a Book of the Bible, one or two chapters at a time. I do a little bit of putting it into context, making connections with what we looked at in the previous month and the bigger picture of salvation, but we also make sure that people have space and time to share what they have gleaned from the passage themselves.
I think the main gift I'm offering is hospitality and not Bible teaching. That's why finding the right person to expand these Quiet Days has not been easy because we have been looking for someone who wouldn't be concerned or anxious about having strangers wandering around their home. We are building a community of people who want to journey together but it's a slow process.
Steve Tilley opens up his own home for Quiet Days. He has now held 50 of them and is building a regular community for the monthly gathering.
One of the key skills for the missional practitioner in deciding what you can do is to see what you have got. What are the resources?
I moved to Nailsea in September 2006. As a city kid the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. One night, soon after moving, I woke up and thought I'd missed the Second Coming. Where was the background buzz, frisking me with signs of life?
Some weeks later I unintentionally scared some poor woman by being on the same footpath as her in the day-time. She was accustomed to an undisturbed walk.
By January 2007 I put two and two together. All the busy people, who dashed off to Bristol to work or to school locally, left my estate deserted. I wondered. Would some people like to share my quiet?
I have a big house which I keep clean and tidy, empty by day apart from me, a nice garden and access to open countryside.
I invited some folk to join me and the introductory letter said:
Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a series of quiet days here. As it is the first you are, to some intent, being experimented upon. Please let me have any feedback which will help me improve it.
Help yourself to coffee, tea, juice, biscuits, fruit or cake at any time of the day.
In the quiet times find space in the house wherever you can. There are two bedrooms available upstairs for privacy (sleep if you want). I have left the doors closed on rooms I would prefer you not to use. If you use a bedroom just close the door to indicate it's in use. Leave the door open when you leave. There is a toilet by the front door and another upstairs.
The front door will be on the latch all day. Go straight on down the road opposite to reach open countryside or wander the pavements and pathways. The programme will be as follows:
10.00 Coffee and chat
10.30 Introduction, Prayer, Bible Study
11.15 Quiet to think, pray, walk
13.00 Lunch together
14.00 Bible Study and chance to share
15.00 Tea and finish
I will indicate the end of quiet by putting some music on.
Please do not try to engage in conversation in the house during the quiet, however weird that may feel. You have permission to ignore each other. If two people feel they must talk then go for a walk together. I will be in my study (off the kitchen) in the quiet if you need anything. Talking to me is fine. Books and Bibles to borrow are on the conservatory table. I have no further appointments today. Stay to debrief if you wish.
Hope you enjoy it.
Six people joined me that first time and I have never cancelled. We recently celebrated our 50th Quiet Day and I was fully booked (12 guests is full). One guest sees it as her church and goes to no other organised Christian event. Others will take a day off work to join in. Some come most months; others occasionally.
The programme remains unaltered though I do now ask for donations towards the cost of lunch.
In a busy world people are longing for space to read, think or pray. In a day of quiet you can hear the voice of the One who first spoke into it. That is what my guests say.
When the Bishop told Associate Vicar Steve Tilley he would be comfortable with a few ‘heroic failures’ he gave permission to those wanting to start fresh expressions of church to experiment in a daring way. The leaders at Christ Church, Nailsea in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, took him at his word. Here Steve takes up the story.
Why didn't Christ Church, Nailsea reach families in one of its more distant estates effectively? 10 am Sunday, with a walk involving crossing the main road, may not have been an attractive proposition.
So we decided we would like to have a go at planting an all-age congregation in Kingshill School. It was easy to reach, and attended by the children of many of our target families. We opted for a monthly service and it didn’t clash with Christ Church's own all-age service. But what about Sunday lie-ins, local football teams and Sunday morning shopping trips? Inevitably this conversation happened:
'What time shall we start?'
'How about 3.00 or 3.30?'
'Why do church services always start at times like that?'
'Why don't we start at a strange time; then everyone will remember it?'
'What, like eight minutes past three or something?'
And 3.08 was born. We expected everyone would arrive at 3.15. We planned that the first seven minutes of our event would be good, but never important. Over the next two years only once was anyone late. People tended to arrive for 3.00. We finished by 4.00 pm with tea, cake and chat.
Lesson one: start at a memorable time.
How did we try and attract people? We leafleted every house in the neighbourhood. We put an entry in Kingshill School parents' sheet. We advertised in the local paper. We used word of mouth. We gave everyone who attended a postcard with the details of the next two events.
On our launch 43 people turned up. Many had come to support us from local churches. There were few, genuine newcomers. That was disappointing and it proved to be the highest number we ever got. Most of our guests over the next two years were folks from other churches interested in trying it themselves. That may be where it bears fruit, we thought.
The content? We went for simple teaching and worship with activity. For the first year we worked through the creed, in the second year the Lord's Prayer. We grew in confidence as a team and our mini-dramas were appreciated. A puppet, Russell (the crow) asked awkward questions by holding up laminated sheets with his beak. We used many of Dave and Lyn Hopwood's Telling Tales resources (CPAS). For our prayers we tended to split into three groups so that some could talk and meditate, some pray together and some work on a craft.
We planned carefully every month (we met at 6.08 for about an hour – the 08 was catching). One of us would bring an outline and then we'd put some meat on the bones, allocate tasks and fix the running order. Lots of the details were finalised by email.
Lesson two: a wise use of technology can keep preparation meeting time low.
Sadly, despite working really hard on our publicity, we never penetrated our target constituency. Maybe there wasn't enough personal invitation by word of mouth? Maybe the idea was flawed from the start? Perhaps it simply wasn't God's will for now. There will be many reasons why 3.08 at Kingshill didn’t work as we hoped.
Reluctantly we took the decision to stop after two years and 22 events. The all-age leading skills learned will be used at Christ Church. An afternoon event at that church is being mooted. A couple of us are going to try another angle and maybe target men.
Lesson three: if it isn't working, stop.