Saturday Gathering

Linda Maslen is one of the lay leaders of a growing community of new disciples of Jesus in Halifax.

The Saturday Gathering story began with a foodbank and a group of Christians acting on Jesus' words to feed the hungry. The Halifax Food and Support Drop-in has been running for five years and it is supported by over 70 local churches – as well as schools, local organisations, businesses and individuals in Calderdale.

The churches and organisations work in partnership to provide a weekly Drop-in point, allowing vulnerable people many with often chaotic lifestyles to collect a free food parcel. These include the homeless, destitute asylum seekers, those suffering from drug or alcohol misuse or individuals experiencing extreme hardship.

The Drop-in takes place on a Saturday morning from 9.30am to midday at the New Ebenezer Centre in Halifax, formerly Ebenezer Methodist Church which closed down as a church a couple of years ago. The Methodists decided to keep the building, make it an ecumenical venue and rent out its rooms to the community.

Saturday GatheringIt's in Halifax town centre and the areas that we draw from are urban priority with the church itself sitting in one of the poorest parishes in the UK.

As time went on with the Drop-in, more and more of more of our guests started to ask for prayer. When they began to see those prayers were being answered, they came into a relationship with God but settling people into existing churches proved difficult for our new family members and the congregations.

I saw this at first hand when someone came along to the church I go to. It is a friendly and family-orientated place but it was still a very alien environment if you have had no previous involvement with church. It made me stop and think about everything we take for granted and how we treat someone who has come in from the 'outside' and who doesn't know what you're 'meant' to know.

We need to be aware that people with varying backgrounds and life challenges may take a step forwards in faith but might then take a couple of steps back. I find it very sad if Christians don't want to walk with these new converts when they're going through a 'downtime'. Sometimes it seems that they're interested in the stories of coming to faith but not the struggles that many people then face.

Saturday Gathering - leafletAll of this made me think about church not working properly for newcomers who didn't 'fit in' and I knew we had to do something different in order to prepare the way for them.

We tried a couple of things that didn't work out but, 15 months ago, Saturday Gathering was born. It takes place in the same venue as the Drop-in from 7pm-9pm on Saturday evenings. That's when we all have a meal, share stories from the Bible or use DVDs to prompt discussion, and pray and sing. God has done so much in our time together; we've seen chaotic lives changed, addictions broken and relationships healed. We started with 12 people and now have about 60. Some people move on into more traditional fellowships and we encourage that, but others very much see Saturday Gathering as their church – though that was something we struggled with for some time.

For probably the first nine months of Saturday Gathering's existence, we said, 'We are not a church, we are a gathering' but the thing was developing at such a pace that we had to seriously consider whether we were a missional community, a fresh expression of church or something else entirely!

Saturday gathering - baptismOur community had already decided because they were referring to Saturday Gathering as church. This was underlined on Saturday (11th January 2014) when the Bishop of Pontefract baptised and confirmed 19 of our new family members, all of whom wanted the service to be in the place that had become their spiritual home. We now describe it as a church that is both dependent – and interdependent – on other churches.

Numbers continue to grow. More families are coming to the Drop-in and to Saturday Gathering as well. We're particularly seeing a lot of single dads who are looking after their children at weekends; all they have to live on is £35 a week in benefits so by the time the children come there is nothing left. We're told that for many of them the highlight of their weekend is coming to Drop-in and Saturday Gathering for food, warmth and for the friendship and love they receive.

In September, we launched a Family Gathering to support the children that come to the Drop-in. That runs at the same time as the Drop-in on a Saturday morning and we get local council money to do that.

There are three of us involved in leadership of Saturday Gathering. We are all lay people, none of us are paid for what we do there but I also work full-time and am in the second year of (part-time) ordination training with the Yorkshire Ministry Course at Mirfield. We are very fortunate to have a lot of volunteers drawn from various congregations and one of the local vicars has provided us with great spiritual support. We work hard at building and maintaining relationships and Saturday Gathering has encouraged many of the local church leaders – with most of them are playing a bit of a part in it.

Saturday Gathering - baptismI will do everything I can to encourage indigenous leadership but that really does take time – unless God provides people out of the blue! Something that has proved to be helpful is the involvement of a few of our guys as 'watchmen' at Saturday Gathering. It's quite a male concentrated community so the 'watchmen' keep an eye out for anyone trying to bring in alcohol or drugs of any kind. They also watch over what's happening and are happy to go and pray with anyone who is on their own. Being a 'watchman' gives them bit of authority that enables them rather than constrains them.

Looking to the future and the council has been talking about giving us a lease on an old Sunday School building next door. It would be brilliant because we'd then have a base for our community 24/7. At the moment everything has to be moved in and then out again but there we would have proper catering facilities and a café.

One of our discussions is whether we should go for a BMO. However, we are in the Diocese of Wakefield and are going through the diocesan merger so I'm not too sure at the moment. We may well end up with Saturday Gathering coming under the wing of another church; that's something to be considered – as long as it retains its independence to grow organically.

I'd also like to see small groups running during the week. If we get what would be called The Gathering Place in the building next door, we could run those small groups in an evening without the additional cost of renting rooms.

Saturday Gathering - baptism candlesFinancial support has come from some interesting places. Not long after we started Saturday Gathering, the police got in touch to say they had got some money they would like us to apply for because we were taking their worst culprits off the streets on a Saturday night! Saturday Gathering running costs are £100 a week for food and renting of the room and, up to now, the community fund the police recommended to us have given us about £2,500 – so they have basically funded all of our food.

Saturday Gathering sits under the Christians Together charity in Halifax and we gather funding separately for the different elements of what we do. If donors want to give money for Christmas dinner, for instance, we can show them that it went specifically to that. Some are happy to support the Drop-in but not the openly faith-based Saturday Gathering.

Saturday Gathering - baptism candlesSuch a lot has happened in a relatively short time, and we thank God for all He has done and is doing. It is a real privilege to be able to join in with what He is doing. But I'd want to say that what has happened here can’t just be replicated. Saturday Gathering, as it is, is unique to this area but I really pray that we may be able to share some of our learning and ways of doing things with others praying about what might be applicable to their own context.

Tulloch NET

Tulloch Net - teamThe vision for Tulloch NET came into being in 2004, three years before its official launch – and charitable status. Its Community Development Officer, Revd Richard Higginbottom, outlines Tulloch NET's development and future plans in north west Perth.

The aim has always been to develop a fresh expression of inclusive and indigenous church in Tulloch and for that church to be based on relational networking – not traditional ingathering.

We reach out to the Tulloch community which is an area of mixed social and private housing with a population of around 4,000. In partnership with several denominations and supported by Church of Scotland seed-funding and grants from various agencies, we have been working hard to build up relationships within the community before setting up any sort of worship centre.

Tulloch Net - row of peopleOur ethos is to have an innovative, creative and fluid relational approach to social and spiritual needs in Tulloch, listening always to God and engaging in a sustainable way with the community, especially the disadvantaged. Tulloch is classed as an Area Based Initiative; this is a local authority designated area for re-generation and help with deprivation. We do this through social action, prayer, liaison, visiting, listening, occasional events/Sunday activities, projects and hospitality. On our promotional material we say that Tulloch NET is a Christian network offering practical help and spiritual support to the people of Tulloch.

After mission audit research in 2004/05, organised at the request of the local Church of Scotland parish minister, I felt called to pioneer a fresh expression in Tulloch in 2006 and received the necessary permissions to start a pilot project on secondment from my then CPAS employers. We recognise this is a 'long-haul' initiative – at the start of it all approximately 10 to 15 years were suggested for the establishment of this new expression of local church. So by 2020 we will be looking to see what's happened!

Tulloch Net - kidsStarting with attempts at addressing perceived local needs through parenting seminars and partnerships with the local primary school and Council, we formed a team of volunteers and a small inter-denominational reference group. Some initial funding came from personal supporters and from the Church of Scotland, Baptist Union of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church (Diocese of St Andrews) are also our ministry partners – along with Crieff Baptist Church, Perth North Church of Scotland, Tulloch Worldwide Church of God and Perth Knox Free Church of Scotland.

Visiting local people, networking, experience and further research showed that local deprivation and social issues required a different approach which had to be long-term. A management group was formed, further funding was sought and eventually, I was appointed Community Development Officer at the end of 2008.

Tulloch net - planting

Ongoing networking and visiting is carried out by myself and an initial voluntary team of six (we now have 11), while traditional pastoral support is provided by the North Church – though bereavement care may sometimes form part of our brief, by arrangement.

We ended up initiating the Tulloch Lade environmental project in 2009 after local consultation, which had revealed the current neglected state of the Town Lade (an ancient man-made canal running through Tulloch) as a key social concern. We've been involved in all sorts of associated activities, including tree-planting, creating a community orchard and meadow, eco-exhibitions, wildlife habitat improvements and litter clearance.

Tulloch Net - shopSince 2007, we've also organised 'spiritual events' such as a Christmas carol service, a Songs of Praise and Christian stalls at school celebrations. These have had limited effect but our big breakthrough in 2011 has been to secure – in partnership with other Christian agencies – former shop premises as an incarnational base in Tulloch which we're developing as a community drop-in for local needy folk, including addicts. We opened in May and have since attracted an average of 20 visitors per week; a part-time Welcomer has now been appointed there. We have maintained regular local prayer-walking throughout our project history and a prayer box for specific prayer requests is kept in our Hub.

Tulloch Net - paintingOur core virtues remain Relationship, PRAYER, Creativity, Humility, Commitment, Bridging the Secular/Sacred Divide, Restoration, and of course… Jesus. Creativity under God is not based on strategies, but depends on moves of God. Our project is all about Jesus and Kingdom: it involves patience and God's timing.

As far as our timescales are concerned, our mid-term goals include the appointment of a second worker – possibly next year, strengthening of the volunteer team and the creation of cell groups as a nucleus for a new local community of believers.


Grafted - Paul LittleRefresh, a fresh expression of church in the Scottish Borders, has grown out of the Church Army's Grafted project. Established in 2003 by Church Army officer Paul Little, Refresh continues to develop new ministries in the region.

I came to the area in 2001 straight out of Church Army college and my first post was as an evangelist in the outdoor centre here which belongs to Barnabas Trust, now known as Rock UK. We are 25 miles north east from Carlisle and 20 miles south of Hawick in the Scottish Borders, the very furthest tip of Edinburgh diocese. There's somewhere around 800 in the traditionally agricultural community though there is a lot of tourism in the summer.

I was placed with another officer and my brief was to be an evangelist on the site to the 9,000 people who visited very year but it soon became clear to me that the future job would be very different. God had called me here but it was to be for another reason and this started to take shape after I ran a 10-week course for six people recognised as most serious offenders in the youth justice system. During that time one did reoffend but otherwise everybody had a clean sheet and the police would ring up asking where they were! Basically it worked because the young people had something to do on a Friday which appealed to their sense of adventure and helped them develop skills at the same time.

Grafted - bikeThey ranged from 12/13 year-olds up to 16 and were basically pre-prison status. It was an experimental last ditch programme and things have developed a lot more since then. Many of the young people I have met along the way are now in their early 20s and those relationships bring lots of opportunities.

Those first few years saw me heavily involved in networking with youth work, social justice projects and drug agencies so that when it came to running the stuff we are now running, there were already strong relationships in place and they were prepared to trust us. It may have appeared to be quite unfruitful at the time but those early links have become vital. Many of the people I first came across are now key decision makers and budget holders in the area but it all takes time and you have to allow that time if things are going to be effective. These days we get a lot of referrals from social workers – even though they know we’re Christian and we're trying to tell the Gospel. The local council also funds us to run the youth work in the village.

Grafted - BordersGrafted (Giving Hope to those Without Hope) is known locally for its work with people struggling with drug and alcohol dependency. Using outdoor activities such as canoeing, mountain biking and mountaineering, Grafted's Window of Time project helps to develop leadership and self esteem in those with poor basic and social skills, or those with learning disabilities or emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The project runs 5 days a week, including a drop-in on Tuesdays at Hawick Youth Centre. This provides a safe and supportive environment with opportunities to talk to others who have been able to overcome their own addictions and hear their stories. There is also a discussion group for those wanting to talk about issues of faith and the bigger questions of life.

Each Wednesday we encourage people from the drop-in to join us for adventurous outdoor activities which help promote an active lifestyle. These include hill walking, canoeing, kayaking, archery and mountain biking. Throughout the rest of the week, we support people in a variety of ways by attending appointments, accompanying them to court and showing kindness and support where needed.

Grafted - drop-inWe have an open access policy and anyone over 18 is welcome to attend.

Referrals and recommendations also come through social workers, health professionals and the Criminal Justice system.

The other strand to all of this is the fact that my wife and I joined the Presbyterian Church when we moved here. In fact I was actually preaching in a Presbyterian Church when I felt a strong calling from God to leave and begin another one. What sprang to mind was, 'Leave the 99 sheep and look for the lost one' from Matthew 18 and Luke 15. It sounds simple but I went through a year without going to church as an 'event' and instead learned about 'being' the church rather than 'doing' it.

Grafted - signpostRefresh Community Church in Newcastleton was the result of that period. About three quarters of the people who have come over all are non-Christians and we have grown to about 20 in number with some 60 people from the community involved in one way or another. There are also groups that meet under the banner of Refresh, all of which are missional because the people who make up the leadership are locals who have been through Alpha.

It's normal for them to do things that are missional but that is something else that has taken time as well. We had to be strong at one particular point because we found there were a lot of people who were already Christians attracted to Refresh and they wanted things to become more settled and comfortable. It meant we had to be quite firm in saying that we were called to be a mission group in the village. We work well alongside the Presbyterian Church but have always had this vision of Refresh as a lifeboat and we do our best never to become a cruise ship. That doesn't suit everybody but some people just want to cruise and enjoy all the benefits that brings.

Grafted - paintsWhen we meet for Refresh, there is usually discussion and some sung worship. We don't have anybody at all who is ordained – we never have had on the leadership team. Children's work didn't really take place in the community when we started Refresh but it is flourishing now.

Stepping Stones is church for two to four-year-olds and their parents and carers. This takes place each Monday and has become an integral part of the week for many.

Other children's activities include Boulder Gang on Thursdays and Rock Solid Crew. The groups are run in six week blocks and there are social events in between, things like games nights, activity sessions, movie nights and adventure walks. Each week we follow a theme based on a Bible story and a memory verse and we include games, worship, and prayer. We have an average of 25 primary school children coming along each week, with 16 of those not attending any other form of church.

In June we took a group of 32 of these young people to a Christian residential weekend called 'Spree'. They all had a great time and are already looking forward to going back next year.

Grafted - NewcastletonMore recently, and as part of Refresh, Deeper was developed for 14 to 19-year-olds in the village. Deeper is a home group for teenagers, which meets each Sunday in a Church Army house we have here. The aim of the group is to disciple the young people who come along and encourage them to grow deeper in their relationship with God. The evening consists of games, a talk and discussion with food. On average 12 young people attend regularly. We see youth work as a priority so we are looking at new ways of developing youth work for 2011.

At the other end of the age range, another group came about when Mary – a member of Refresh – felt called by God to invite the elderly people we visit each week to come to a regular tea party. Mary serves a home-cooked meal with plenty of cakes and scones for afters. Our guests chat to their peers and lifelong friends who they haven’t seen for years and this is sometimes followed by a short time of worship and a speaker talking about some aspect of their Christian faith.

Some of those at Refresh are still involved with their local church and we did come close to meeting on a Sunday because we wanted to reach families but we decided that wasn't the right way forward. We have explored, and continue to explore, a lot of options but the important thing is that we see ourselves as part of the one Church with Jesus at the head of it.


Andy NiblockHelping to create church for those who find most Christian gatherings too slick and professional is not easy. But that was the challenge facing a group of Sheffield Christians when they formed StreetWise, a fresh expression of church for those on the margins of society.

The aim of St Thomas Philadelphia's Restore ministry is to take the power of God's love to the very edges of society and bring people into the heart of God's family. That doesn't mean getting more people to come to conventional church. But it does mean reaching out to the poor and the marginalised of the city including people who are homeless, those with life-controlling addictions, women working on the streets and people who have been in prison. Those involved in this challenging ministry and mission are committed to a holistic approach meeting practical, social, spiritual and emotional needs.

StreetWise - signAndy Niblock leads Restore, and along with Danny Wilson, heads up StreetWise, a fresh expression of church which meets in parallel to St Thomas' main Sunday morning service in a room in the Church's training centre. He explained that StreetWise has a high proportion of members with a variety of personal and social needs and also includes those who 'felt uncomfortable' in many church settings. The aim is to create a weekly worship and fellowship gathering for those who may be intimidated by the way church can sometimes feel  middle class or is delivered in a professional way. Andy says that services which may give the impression that 'people here have got it altogether' can often be offputting for those whose lives are not really under control.

Around 50 people meet each week, sharing food together before a simple time of worship, in which everyone is encouraged to participate, and many do. Stories are shared of how God has helped during the week, or of friends who have got difficulties or of ways in which addictions are slowly being overcome. It really is fully church for those who attend and those who go along to be with them. There is down to earth support available from the team during the week too, and that is vital.

StreetWise - handsOne man in his thirties is a regular. He describes himself as once being a violent football hooligan. He knew he couldn't change himself but his two and a half years at StreetWise has shown that God can change him. He has learned how to love other people too, for the first time in his life.

Another man lived on the streets and sold the Big Issue, was addicted to heroin and had 'lost his way'. But when he went to StreetWise he says he genuinely found God and God found him. He knows many of his problems stem from a difficult childhood, but has valued the one to one sessions on offer through Restore ministries. Now he believes he has given all that was weighing him down to God and knows there are so many better things in life than those things that once attracted him.

StreetWise - congregationAndy Niblock believes that one of the strengths of StreetWise is the way it combines practical care and support with the truth of the gospel. This holistic approach has been developed over a number of years, as StreetWise was originally set up to simply feed and minister to people living on the streets. But soon members of the Streetwise team realised that there was a real openness to faith issues too and wanted to demonstrate a lifestyle which said 'Jesus can make a difference to you'. And in the case of many who go along each week a real difference is being made, despite the significant challenges in their lives.

Cameron House

Cathy StoneRevd Cathy Stone is a deacon in the Diocese of Toronto and executive director of its Rural Outreach Committee (ROC). She describes how helping those on the edge of society has led to blessing for herself and the inherited church.

We have always worked closely with Cameron House, a shelter for women in Peterborough, Ontario. Cameron House staff answer the Rural Outreach Committee's crisis line at evenings, weekends and holidays and it is not uncommon for us to share cases and information.

During one debrief, a member of staff mentioned to me that it would be wonderful if I could "bring church to Cameron House." I asked permission from Bill McNabb, executive director of Brock Mission – which owns and operates the shelter. Trent Durham Bishop, Linda Nicholls also gave me the green light.

I first met a group of six to eight ladies at the facility two years ago and they all expressed a strong desire to learn more about Jesus and God. Although a few had attended church in the past, they really had no idea of why they were Christians. They acknowledged that they were burnt out, sad, and hoped that there was something "out there" in the way of spirituality that might help them.

We began with a basic Christianity course, which I adapted especially for our group, and we took time for prayer, worship, bible study and discussion. It then became clear that most (if not all) of the ladies had suffered from sexual, physical or emotional abuse as children, and also later as adults. Many had addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. They had families that they could not connect with or who didn't wish to connect with them. Others had been "hurt" by the Church and didn't trust the corporate church system or church people.

Cameron House with bibleWe worked our way through further courses and a Christian friend bought us 12 Life Recovery Bibles. By that time our group had grown to 10. The results have been wonderful and we have seen God at work in these lives again and again.

At first we would meet around the dining room table at Cameron House (not always perfect because other residents tended to walk in and out to use the fridge), but now we have our own beautiful room. It is our "God space." The house itself has changed too. Where it was once quite messy and dirty, we now see women helping each other to organise rooms and tidy things up. Instead of blank stares or frowns, I notice smiling faces when I drive up to the home of what has now become my second family.

One woman who was homeless and poverty-ridden when I met her in 2008 has now received funding to complete her Masters of Social Work; three of those who met with us have been baptised; another requested that her new apartment be blessed; still another revealed to me recently that she has stopped drinking and smoking and will be attending a recovery programme as well as continuing on with our group. It is not just the residents we help, but those who find shelter elsewhere continue to come back on Wednesday evenings to learn more about God's word and how it is relevant in our everyday lives. We share very personal concerns around the table and what is said in the room stays in the room. This has built a strong bond and trust with each other. We laugh, cry, pray, discuss theology, study the Bible and sing worship songs.

Cameron House laughingWhen I first told the women that I was an Anglican Deacon they were amazed. One Sunday, a lady asked me to take her to one of our traditional church services. During the drive there she told me that she was a crack addict and had only stopped using the drug two nights ago, but she still wanted to go to church. We had no sooner arrived than she needed to use the bathroom to vomit. I helped her up from her knees, washed her face and took her up to church, but she was just too sick to stay so I drove her home. Afterwards, when I returned to church for coffee, one parishioner told me of her own problem with alcohol and another spoke of an adult son with addictions. This lady's presence at church had helped others open up about their own struggles.

This fresh expression of church can help not only society's outcasts, but also society itself, by offering those who live on the edge a second chance to become healthy members of our communities and to bring to them the Good News of Jesus Christ in a safe environment.

The church family at Cameron House is a beautiful thing to witness and I feel blessed to be a part of their lives.

Zac’s Place

Alicia Baker visit's Zac's Place for a 'gloves-off bible study' in Swansea, South Wales.

Zac’s Place began in the late 1990's when Sean Stillman moved to South Wales and conducted a couple of funerals for members of motorcycle clubs, who in turn began to ask very deep questions and wanted to know more about God, but couldn’t see how mainstream church was relevant to them.

Zac's Place - Christmas gatheringSo Sean booked a function room in a local bar every Sunday night to answer some of these questions and many came including bikers, musicians and those on the fringes of society – the vast majority of which, had very little church connection what so ever. The gatherings aimed to provide opportunity for expression of and enquiry into the Christian faith in a relaxed pub environment. The format consisted of quality live music and other performance art and straight talking in languages and images that relate at street level.

Zac's Place - persecuted churchOver the next 7 years, somewhere in the region of 300 events took place, using dozens of musicians, storytellers and artists, and a significant number of people benefited from the community that surrounded them. Some folk were encouraged in their recovery from addictions, working alongside local and national agencies. Others, whose faith had been battered by negative church experience, had their wounds tended. Still more found a level of communication they could relate and respond to, to see their Christian faith develop. Some people have stuck around, for many it was an important staging post, others were travellers passing through.

Zac's Place - God Squad meetingZac’s Place now continues to meet in their own venue in The Gospel Hall in George Street, Swansea. As people have grown and matured in their walk following Jesus, this community of faith has emerged into being a church – a church for ragamuffins. The venue is used by different groups throughout the week including offering a daily breakfast for the street homeless, a weekly bible study and an evening soup kitchen.

Zac's Place - window"It’s just a real mixture of people. Quite a few people are on methodone, but they still get involved, they still get chatting. Being on drugs doesn't stop you having a faith, doesn't stop you believing – it just means that you are caught in a trap", says Martin from the Rhonda.

So how does Sean imagine that Zac’s Place may develop over the next decade?

"I would hope to think that Zac's place would still be here as a community of faith and still on the side of the poor and oppressed. I hope we will have trained people to share some of the burdens and responsibilities. I'm a 'first one over the trenches' kind of person, so I don't think I'm a very good maintainer in the long term. But I'm certainly in it for the long haul with all it's pitfalls and rewards."

Zac's Place - logo

"The work going forward at Zac's Place is in every way innovative, courageous and important for the community in general as well as the Christian community. I have been privileged to watch the development of this initiative over several years and would want to pay the most sincere tribute to the dedication and vision of those who have been running it."

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, October 2005