Tina Powsey reflects on how The Living Room and Franky's Pizza are developing in Southport.
Summer 2015 was great for the work of fresh expressions in this area and God has really opened some doors for us to have even more impact in 2016. A strong, prayerful foundation has been laid in Southport and we are beginning to watch seeds grow.
We also had a special visitor who travelled a long way to take part in our ministry here. James Ravenscroft, a minister with the United Church of Canada, started a sabbatical at the end of August and spent a month in the UK exploring different fresh expressions. He contacted us to say he loved what we were doing and asked if he could come to pitch in where he could and learn about what has worked (and not).
I wondered how he had heard about us in the first place and he said he had read our story on the Fresh Expressions website!
James helped us with our relaunch of Franky's Pizza at St Francis, on the Kew estate. It now opens on the first and third Friday of the month from 4 to 6pm. Previously, even with the promotion we received on BBC Radio Merseyside's Sunday morning Daybreak programme, we weren't getting people through the doors. Changing the opening times will now help us to reach out to young families on the estate and invite them to join us for an early Friday night meal together.
We hand delivered Franky's Pizza leaflets to 340 homes; James knocked on doors and a number of conversations took place which demonstrated great interest in Franky's. As a result of one of those conversations, a woman joined us with her young granddaughter from the local school and they had a wonderful time. They promised to come again and bring some friends along too.
The vision for Franky's is to create sustainable relationships on the Kew Estate that will develop into living relationships with Jesus Christ. I recognise the 'belonging before belief' mentality and that's exactly what we hope to achieve at Franky's Pizza – fun, food, conversation and God at the centre of it all.
The Living Room, the community which has developed from the ministry of a soup kitchen, has seen great developments too. We had been praying for an expansion of our volunteer team and Elizabeth, our most recent recruit, will now be serving with us twice a month. Hoping to grow this ministry ecumenically, Elizabeth joins us from St Patrick's Catholic Church on Marshside Road and heard about The Living Room when I spoke at a joint churches' prayer meeting. We are still seeing a steady attendance and I've been having progressive conversations with one of our guests who is now seeking baptism. We've got such a strong sense of community there; it's an absolute honour to bring God's Word to them in a way that's accessible so that they can know what Jesus meant when he talked about having life in abundance – and that knowledge makes such a difference to people. I see that displayed in various ways; sometimes their countenance changes, they walk a little taller, display more confidence, welcome in the stranger and have concern for each other.
You really can 'come as you are' at The Living Room and that means we have some very practical solutions to issues in their context! A lot of The Living Room regulars like to smoke so, at 12.20, I call 'last orders for cigarettes' to give them warning that it's ten minutes before our reflection time together. They can then nip outside and have a cigarette before we get underway.
The reflection time has now been extended to half an hour, from 12.30-1pm; we all choose the worship songs together and one of our regulars always insists that we say the grace together. We often start with a question and then see what the Bible has to say about it. For instance, we asked them how they feel God sees them; the answers ranged from 'someone who had messed up an awful lot' to 'a child of God' and 'someone not worth looking at'. I look forward to seeing them every week because you never quite know what's going to happen there.
In another development, we have partnered with the Street Pastors and had a 'business card' made that they can distribute to people – if they feel it's appropriate – when they're out on their rounds. The Street Pastors work on a monthly rota so there was a concern that you might see someone and have a chat with them but it would then be another four weeks before you had the chance to engage with them again. The cards just give very brief details of The Living Room, including the opening times, so there is always an opportunity for people to connect with others.
We also celebrated our second annual SonFest Christian music festival at Southport's Town Hall Gardens. Alongside the five live bands performing a blend of Christian music throughout the day, Messy Ministries was on hand with edible crafts and teaching for the younger visitors. More than 100 children took part in the activities, each hearing the good news of the gospel through a sheep cupcake and a string cheese shepherd!
A number of 'community tables' were set up in the gardens to provide information on a wide range of Christian organisations, including Christians Against Poverty and the Southport Bible Society Action Group. Southport Christian Book Centre donated 200 New Testaments and more than 50 of them were distributed at SonFest.
I'm already in the planning stages for next year's festival as I'm very excited about future-proofing the event. I'm delighted to have secured partnerships and relationships during the last two years with businesses and individuals who are deeply committed to the event's ministry and growth. Our main sponsor, Fill The Gap, shares the vision for reaching hearts through music and is committed to stand behind me each year and grow this work. I'm so very thankful for the missional network that's already been created; it is beginning to pay dividends and I'm keen to explore collaborative, inter-denominational ways forward for 2016 and beyond. I am now in the third year of a three year post and it's so exciting to know that God can work through what we do to bring people into a life of freedom with him that they wouldn't find normally. I am fortunate that we always have a fresh expressions update at every Circuit meeting and it's good to have the space to report back and get support and encouragement.
That sort of encouragement is also leading to something new later this year. A new Costa Coffee recently opened in the centre of town and, in December, we'll be launching Reflection Lounge @ Costa there. This will give an opportunity for Christians and non-Christians to meet and socialise as part of a social action project to help revive our community.