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'.
It'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.
As 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.
We 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.
The 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'.