The Living Room and Franky’s Pizza – Nov15

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.

The Living Room and Franky's Pizza - birthday

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. 

The Living Room and Franky's Pizza - last orders

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.

The Living Room and Franky's Pizza - signs

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.

The Living Room and Franky's Pizza - Southport bridge

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.

The Living Room and Franky’s Pizza

Tina Powsey tells of two new initiatives which may be at the start of a fresh expressions journey.

I am the Fresh Expressions Worker for the Southport Methodist Circuit, in the second year of a three-year post. I'm a lay employee of the Circuit and a lot has happened since I first took on the role!

When I started in the job, I prayed about what God wanted me to concentrate on because I was starting from scratch. One of the areas of concern that I felt he was talking to me about was people on the fringe – such as the homeless and vulnerable.

I'd been reading a lot about fresh expressions of church and the fresh expressions journey of listening, loving and serving, building community, exploring discipleship, church taking shape, and doing it again. One of the main messages that came home to me was that in order to serve a community you had to 'belong' to that community and be involved in it.

So, thinking about reaching those on the margins, I began serving at the Soup Kitchen on London Street, Southport – and finally the idea came to me to provide something more for the guests there so that they would have the chance to find out about faith in Jesus. I had in mind John 10.10, 'I have come so they can have life. I want them to have it in the fullest possible way'.

The Soup KitchenIt's odd because I had been praying about the right location to do it; I knew it had to be somewhere comfortable and I was initially thinking about all the different cafes and coffee houses we have in town. At first I felt embarrassed to raise the issue with the guy who runs the Soup Kitchen because I knew he already wanted the guests to have a relationship with God and I didn't want him to feel that I'd come along as the newcomer with the 'big idea'.

It was almost a year to the day since I began serving at the Soup Kitchen. We went for a church weekend away and the Soup Kitchen organiser was there. I didn't know him very well but I went to talk to him and said, 'I'd like an opportunity for the guests of the Soup Kitchen to have a time to chat, have somebody to chat to, and ultimately find freedom in Christ. What do you think?'

He was great, quite emotional about it all, and wanted to give his complete support. What had happened was that the Soup Kitchen had been given permission by the Council to open up for another day in the week but they didn't have enough volunteers to staff an extra day or resources to provide a meal for another day. That meant there was an opportunity for something else to happen at the venue, so The Living Room was created to meet at the Soup Kitchen on tuesdays from 11am to 1pm.

The people who come are of all faiths and none, some have been involved in church life in the past but others would find it very difficult to cope with a conventional church setting. Whoever, they are, it's important to meet them 'where they're at' and not try to impose something on them with which they're uncomfortable.

The Living Room - guestsAs the Soup Kitchen serves on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, The Living Room is seen as offering something different. It doesn't provide meals or practical support for instance, just a safe space to 'be' and for our friends to be welcomed with loving, attentive conversations and the same grace Jesus would show to them – and tea, coffee and toast.  At one point I got a little bit frustrated, thinking some were only coming for tea and toast, but then our other volunteers reminded me, 'You need to just serve them and love them and if that's through a slice of toast, then that's fine!'

When I think of it now, I was so naïve when we started. Cathy Walker, the first volunteer, and I literally put some prayer stations together and prayed that people would turn up. We didn't have any particular format to follow. Now it's on more of an organised footing because anyone who wants to volunteer must be DBS checked and go on a basic safeguarding course. They also have to serve behind the counter, simply handing out tea, coffee and toast, for three sessions before they do anything else; it's a great opportunity for them to get to know our guests. We're there every week and we are asking volunteers to commit to serving twice a month.

Our guests call The Living Room all sorts of things, including a lighthouse and a safe place; others come every single week and call it their church. Different volunteers take turns leading the reflections. There are probably about eight to nine guests there on average and usually three of us on the team.

The Living Room - paper chain of gratitudeWe open at 11am and have a reflection and worship time together at 12.15pm. One of our recent themes was 'gratitude'; we made a paper chain together on which we each wrote what something for which we were thankful.  It's encouraging to see everyone participate and learn new ways to have simple conversations with their Creator.

One of the guests who comes regularly now serves weekly at Christ Church, Southport ,and attends every Sunday; some have also decided to begin visiting a couple of the Methodist churches in the town – Leyland Road and Victoria Methodist. That's great too, though The Living Room isn't set up as a stepping stone to traditional church. We just have to respond to what people want to do.

It's a [Methodist] Circuit initiative that is certainly meeting a need and I really pray that it will grow ecumenically. We have got volunteers from the Methodist churches but we're having an open volunteer meeting on 16th March and I'd love to see many people involved from churches across Southport.

We don't know what God's going to do with it but it's just turning into something so special.

Another initiative which we have just started is Franky's Pizza, also known as 'Pizza Church'. Stewart McTaggart and I are the primary volunteers and administrators of the ministry and, after a few successful trials, we have now set the open days and times as the first and third Friday of every month from 11am-1pm at The Church of St Francis of Assisi, on the Kew estate, Southport. St Francis is a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. It has very good facilities with a large hall and a beautifully equipped kitchen.

Franky's Pizza - making pizzaThe idea behind it is that it's a bit like the Somewhere Else 'bread church' in Liverpool. We wanted to attract residents of the estate to something and we thought that making something to enjoy together was a good option. My husband even bought a pizza oven for the ministry so that we can cook the pizza as it should be cooked!

Guests are first taken through the process of making a pizza dough. While it's proving, which takes about 20-30 minutes, we have a time of reflection and fellowship. The reflection is usually centred on the reading of a parable and we encourage people to tell us their thoughts on it and what it means to them.

It's a united project from the Diocese of Liverpool and the Methodist Church and both the diocese and circuit have contributed funds towards it. As a result, we provide all the ingredients, including fresh toppings, and people make one pizza and some garlic bread for a £2 donation. Everyone can then sit down to eat their pizza together and we have proper pizza boxes if people want to have it as a takeaway.

It is very early days for Franky's Pizza and The Living Room but I pray that many people will come to know Christ at these 'safe places'.