The Order of the Black Sheep (The Gates)

Mark Broomhead, an Ordained Pioneer Minister in Chesterfield, is starting a new fresh expression of church for those who feel like the 'black sheep' of society. He outlines his hopes for the new community and its church, The Gates.

I am in the last year of my training at St John's on the mixed mode course. The first part of my curacy was spent at Clay Cross and Danesmoor where I was involved in planting Sanctum, a community based rock-oriented congregation.

I have been involved in the heavy metal music scene since my teens and have played in several bands so it has been very much part of who I am for many years. That interest has developed in all sorts of ways, one of which has seen me helping to lead the welfare provision at the annual Bloodstock festival.

It's one of the main heavy metal music festivals, probably the more specialist end of the market with Viking metal, satanic metal, pirate metal and all kinds of things. We offer a Christian presence in that sort of arena.

Chesterfield SpireSanctum offered an alternative way of being church and it continues to develop in its own way. The Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, was very supportive as I moved on to Chesterfield in order to set up a new community called The Order of the Black Sheep. I chose the name, or the name chose me, because a black sheep was for many years seen as the worthless sheep of the flock, the one that couldn't produce any wool that was worth anything.

In medieval times it was even seen by some as a sign of the satanic. I really pray that The Order of the Black Sheep will be a home for the marginalised, for members of the alternative community who feel a little bit like the black sheep in society – and the church. Our motto will be along the lines of 'better a black sheep than a goat'.

The church will be known as The Gates. Gates are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible, including '…I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it' (Matthew 16.18) and 'Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in' (Psalm 24.9). We want to build church in what is traditionally seen as the devil's territory and to allow the King of Glory to come in to that community and do what he wants to do.

The 'alternative' subculture is a difficult one to describe but it has grown from the 1950s and 60s Teddy Boys through Mods, Rockers, Hippies and people who generally feel themselves to be on the edge of society and don't fit in with the 'in' crowd. These days there are all kinds of different expressions of it, whether it's Goths, bikers, skaters – all sorts of things.

Our challenge is taking the Gospel to these groups; sharing Jesus with those who have a sometimes well founded mistrust of the Church and Christian culture. We're not planning to 'dress up' the Gospel for this culture because it is perfect and relevant to all as it is. I want it to be a place where the community can meet, a centre where it can be safe and talk through things, where the Church can be reached, where we can be accessible, where we can allow a space for worship and a space to meet with God in various other ways and for us to be of service to that community.

As a fresh expression we maintain that this project will be Church rather than a gateway to 'real' Church but we are keen for members to explore and take their place at the table of the wider church family as part of their discipleship.

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