Mini Mass

A eucharistic midweek congregation in suburban North Ascot in Berkshire aimed primarily at under 5s and their families. This fresh expression of church, called Mini Mass, meets on a Tuesday morning at 9.30am after the school run. Meeting in the Chapel of St Mary and St John, chairs are arranged in a horseshoe shape with a small altar at the open end.

Adults and children are all welcomed by name by means of a song. A Bible story is told either from a picture book or acted out using Godly Play methods. All are then asked to share something they are thankful for and something they would like prayer for; the intercessions follow, again in the form of a simple song. The group is then led in a eucharistic prayer, including short sung responses by the parish clergy or occasionally by one of two mums who have permission from the Bishop to officiate at a communion by extension service. This leads into communion. After a prayer of dismissal, tea, coffee and biscuits are served in the adjoining hall.

It's not just mums – grandmothers and child-minders attend, and occasionally a few dads. In addition, a few other adults attend, some who find work patterns make attending Sunday congregations difficult, as well as others whose discipline includes a daily eucharist. Older children also attend out of term time. Mini Mass is run by the mums themselves who review its effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

The vicar believes that one real strength of Mini Mass is that it has proved for some to be a gentle way 'into the church' or 'back into the church'. One ongoing concern is that for some it has proved to be merely a cul-de-sac, with a service designed for children being the only act of worship for a few of the adults. While some reflection on how to move beyond this is required, Mini Mass remains one of the important opportunities for outreach, service and pastoral care offered by the parish of All Saints.

These reflections of the parish illustrate one of the dilemmas of church for under 5s. Who is being discipled in this context and what does discipleship mean? What is the long term strategy for helping young children grow up in the Christian faith?

Night Church Hastings

A town centre church in Hastings hosts a monthly Night Church to provide a safe space on Saturday evenings – a place where people have the opportunity to encounter God. Revd Annette Hawkins explains more.

Night Church - aisle

Several people from different places had a vision to open a Night Church in Hastings. Some of them had been inspired by Church for the Night in Bournemouth (featured on expressions: making a difference and this website) as something that would work alongside and complement the ministry of Street Pastors in the area.

As we met together a team emerged and we found that the vision we shared was to create a safe space where people felt welcome and accepted. We would offer hospitality and be sensitive to people's needs; talking and praying for them if that is what they wanted but also giving them space and being careful not to get in the way of what the Holy Spirit was doing.

Night Church - galleryTowards the end of 2011 a team from various churches in Hastings transformed the interior of Holy Trinity Church in the town centre. We covered an 8ft cross with Christmas lights and decorations and set it in the chancel, organised a comfortable area where people could pray, light a candle and pin prayers to a prayer wall. We also set up a large café area with sofas, chairs and tables, good tea, coffee and cakes. The church was decorated with tealights and Christmas lights and different areas were created by using fencing panels covered in material!

There were poetry, art and multi-media displays and music and light projected out into the street to attract passers-by. Sixty people of different ages came in, some for a few minutes, others for a couple of hours. Some lit a candle and prayed silently, some chattered noisily and asked lots of questions, some poured their hearts out and shared deeply painful and moving experiences.

Most were amazed that they were allowed in at all – especially if they had been drinking, many of them expressed their appreciation and their intent to come back and bring their friends.

Night Church - crossEncouraged, we opened the doors again on New Year's Eve and similar numbers of people came, several who had been to the first event but many new people as well. Our next event will be around Valentine's Day and we plan to open monthly from then on. Up to now we have advertised Night Church as running from 10pm to 2am but in reality we have kept it open as long as people needed us. We're thinking that we may now have a cut-off point of 3am though on New Year's Eve people were still walking through the doors at 4.30am. One person who had been contemplating suicide that night said the fact that they could come into Night Church had saved them from doing that.

Holy Trinity is an Anglo-Catholic church and a very beautiful building; the local council pay for the chancel to be lit and the light can be seen through the stained glass windows. It's one of those 'wow' sort of interiors and when people walk in for the first time their first reaction is one of amazement! The church is in an interregnum at the moment but the predominantly older congregation have been so helpful and are really thrilled that their church is being used in this way. They have also been generous in giving us storage space there. One of the most exciting aspects of this ministry is that at the last count there were people from 10 different churches and seven different denominations working together with no agenda other than to serve the community and show God's love.

Night Church is missional in that we seek to help people to encounter the living God, particularly the unchurched and dechurched. We actively discourage Christians from coming unless they are on the team. At the moment we are not in a position to disciple people although the hope is that, as we build relationships through regular contact, we will be able to encourage people in their faith journey. We are at a very early stage and are quite open to the leading of the Spirit as to what the next stage may be.

Night Church - logo

Holy Commotion

The parish church of Truro, St Paul's, closed in November 2007 but the parish of St Paul continues to exist and worship is now based at Archbishop Benson CofE School. Parish priest, Father Christopher, describes how it is also home to… Holy Commotion!

On alternate Wednesdays during term time, we get together in the school hall – a licensed place of worship – for a short, informal act of worship with songs, a prayer, a reading and lots of fun. Everyone is welcome and we always tells people that if they don't fancy formal Sunday church but want to explore the Christian faith in a familiar and 'safe' environment, Holy Commotion! could be just the thing.

Emphasis is on informality and the involvement of children. As a result we have a regular kids club with activities designed specifically for them. For those wanting to explore their own spirituality or beliefs, or specific aspects of the Christian faith, we run an Emmaus course.

Holy Commotion - drummingSometimes we have theme evenings at Holy Commotion when we get involved in other activities as part of our act of worship. Truro Methodist Church's Speaking in Drums group has visited us a couple of times.

As well as our regular Wednesday evening gatherings we also have social events for adults and/or children. It has come a long way since it first got off the ground a few years ago. I arrived here in 2003 and noticed that Christingle services always brought in so many people who would never otherwise come to one of our services. In 2006 the church was absolutely heaving with people; it was so packed we were putting visitors in the choir stalls and there was still standing room only at the back.

Afterwards I thought, 'This is incredible, where do all these people come from and where do they all go? Why are they happy to come to Christmas services but not at any other time?'

The answer, of course, was because they knew nothing 'strange' was going to happen. Even allowing for the fact that St Paul's is fairly strong Anglo Catholic – and people may not be familiar with that tradition – there was obviously a very different 'feel' about those Christingle services. People felt comfortable in coming to them.

In digging a little deeper about the whys and wherefores of it all we came to some serious conclusions about things we tend to take for granted in church circles:

  • The day: Sundays are not good days to get to a service for many people;
  • The place: Church buildings can be quite intimidating;
  • The time: 10am is useless if you're taking your children to play football or some other sport; or arranging to transport them from one place to another if they're going to see a parent who no longer lives in the same home as they do;
  • The formality of it all: Radical reassessment was needed because this thing called 'church' does not attract people in the same way these days. I have found that people of all ages, and whatever family or age bracket they happen to be in, are not averse to religion and spirituality but they don't like the way it is contextualised in institutional church.

Holy Commotion - groupSo we decided to launch Holy Commotion! in the school hall. We now have a very committed bunch of people and the way we break it down generally is that I do the 'bits' that requires someone with a dog collar and they do the 'commotion'. It's very informal and, to my mind, combines the best of both worlds to establish some kind of early church model.

There was quite a milestone recently when we had our first ever baptism which means that people are now seeing that school hall as a holy, sacred place. They may not necessarily see themselves as Christians but they are interested in finding out about that thing called religion.

We worship, we pray, we sing, I talk to the children but the 'shape' of it is never quite the same! We also have a Eucharist from time to time. Holy Commotion! is all delivered on PowerPoint so people don't get mounds of books given to them; there is nothing scary about it. I find that if we take the scariness away, people really do open up.

We have children up to the age of 14 but don't seem to attract the older teenagers. In saying that, it has been successful beyond my wildest dreams in drawing people into the Christian family.

One of its wider effects can be seen in the number of baptisms having increased phenomenally across the benefice – most of whom are people who have come through Holy Commotion! and then fed back into other churches. It has also had an impact on my other congregations, we have introduced a fourth Sunday family service because the 9am Mass attracted one kind of clientele but it wasn't right for people with families. Now, after the Mass, the 9am crowd sit down for breakfast with the congregation arriving for the 10.30am service.

There have been some rumbles of 'It's all very nice but when are they going to come to proper church?' Well, Holy Commotion! is church and the fact is that these people simply will not come to what many think of as a church service. If they didn't go to Holy Commotion! they wouldn't go to church anywhere else – Wednesday has become the new Sunday for us.

I'm a high churchman and I was very much stepping out of my comfort zone when we first started – now I find it all hugely encouraging. The wonderful thing is that the people who come are here because they want to be here, not because they feel they should be here for whatever reason. Perhaps more importantly they tend not to come with any baggage, politics or prejudices associated with church life.

Holy Commotion - prayer treeHoly Commotion! is quite intensive in terms of energy and resources – and of course I have the life of the wider parish to look after as well but thankfully, because this is 21st century, I can communicate with the Holy Commotion! people extensively via email, text or Facebook.

There's no doubt that we really need to be doing this, we need to be doing both fresh expression of church and traditional church. It's the only way forward. When we started I was quite keen that whatever was to be presented had to have some kind of liturgical structure. That wasn't so much based on a deep theological reasoning, more that it was a complete experiment so I just stuck to what I knew and put together a service that was sort of familiar in structure. This included a welcome, gathering prayer, hymn or song and a reading from Scripture – I wanted it to be recognisable as church rather than just a social gathering.

People didn't find it off-putting. Instead they took to it all immediately because we forget how unusual it all is – they have not heard the Bible read so it's great to see their reaction to something like the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Also to have teaching is unusual because they don't know about Jesus. To me, that's what it's all about, a fulfilling life with a spiritual dimension. On the whole they are truly intrigued by it all because they see it as something incredibly relevant to today.

It could have such a different story on the first evening… we got to about 6.25pm and there were only three of us there. I was just about to say, 'Oh well it was worth a try but that's that' and then suddenly everyone came in through the door and there were about 36 people in the room. Our age range is from newborn to a lady in her 80s, the number fluctuates – for our harvest social there were more than 70 but I would say we have a core of 50.

Perhaps a testing time next year will be when I take a six-week sabbatical in March. I've tried to do my very best to get the message across that Holy Commotion! isn't me, it's them. My own personal resources are limited and one of the struggles is to try and think of new things to do, coming up with the ideas is tricky.

We need to resource it with people from either Holy Commotion! itself or other local churches. There are sufficient numbers of them to do that and the shape and form of it can continue in my absence because they now have a template to work from but they can develop it in different ways.