Eagles Wings

Eagles Wings - groupEagles Wings is a church plant and community service ministry on a housing estate in Northamptonshire. It was founded by two neighbouring churches.

Two Northamptonshire Church of England churches were running a community ministry on a nearby council estate. A children's club and a family activity were each held monthly, while a team of 17 met every Tuesday evening to pray, worship and plan. Every member of the team lived outside the estate, but there was a growing desire to develop the monthly activities into church.

In 2005 the Diocese of Peterborough invited Richard Priestley and Mandy Priestley, of Church Army, to live on the estate. The Priestleys inherited a team, which they had to get to know.

Our first task was to live and to listen, to try to understand the team and to share a vision for how the church might look,

says Richard.

The vision was to create a community church, where a shared life might become evident.

Richard and Mandy along with the team spent the first year on the estate learning how to model Christian community. Richard and Mandy operated an open door policy to their home, encouraging the team members to eat with one another and setting the example by inviting members to eat with them regularly.

We opened ourselves up to them,

says Richard.

We tried to make the regular gatherings more social. We encouraged prayer for one another as a group, not just for the events and mission. We were modelling a fresh expression of church.

Eagles Wings: 'A place of refuge, a place providing spiritual food, help for practical problems and a listening ear'

The team began to share a vision for a church that would be

a place of refuge, a place providing spiritual food, help for practical problems and a listening ear.

One of the team's families moved house to live on the estate, while a few estate residents began to join in with the team's Tuesday night meetings.

Two types of members were forming in the now growing team: those living on the estate and those living outside, a development which caused Richard to experiment with dividing the team into two along these lines.

This caused some tension, but it helped us all to understand the needs of the estate,

Richard reflects.

We talked and listened through the problems and produced a different approach.

Two groups were formed but with mixed membership.

The process was helpful for community building and awareness of incarnational ministry, a focus of the mission itself,

Richard adds.

Some members left the team, partly as a result of this time of change, which proved a turning point in members' realisation of their commitment to Eagles Wings. While some wanted to continue, others realised that their time of involvement with the new community was over.

They left with a blessing,

Richard says.

We gave permission for the tired members to stop, and we ended one of the events as it was not working in the way it was intended.

Eagles wings - tableEagles Wings is now heavily involved on the estate. It runs youth work and children's activities and partners with other groups such as a Neighbourhood Learning project, which runs cookery courses for low income families, among other things.

Mandy and members of Eagles Wings run a breakfast club at the primary school, which makes contact with parents on the estate, and there is a partnership with a bicycle recycling project. A weekly Sunday tea reflects its vision for sharing and socialising with the local community. Held in a parish hall with around 55 participants, it has taken on 'an identity and a life'. Members have a chance to lead and contribute to the input.

A time of reflection is followed by tea. For a short period of time they tried once a month to have a reflection extending to half an hour of worship as 'a bridging event' for those who are drawing nearer to full participation in church life. This experiment did not work and was not continued. Other ways to bring people to worship are being sought. Small groups take place on alternate Tuesdays, with a central meeting for teaching and worship on the other Tuesdays.

Our vision is for a growing church, but our method is organic,

Richard says.

We want to be a community of faith that by its nature draws people to God, nurtures disciples and sends to mission.

Come and Go

Robert Harrison, vicar of St John's Hillingdon, and teams of people from the church have spent over a year planning for an innovative way of doing Sunday mornings. Here he answers questions local people might ask about how it works.

Come and Go - logoWhat is 'Come & Go' worship?

It is exactly what it says: come when you can and go when you like. Our worship starts at 8am and continues all the way through to lunch at 12.30pm. You can arrive at any time in between, and leave whenever you wish.

Will I interrupt people if I arrive at the wrong time?

No. If you arrive in a quiet bit, it would help if you come in quietly, of course. But we are quite used to people arriving and leaving all through the morning.

Will people think I'm rude if I go half way through something?

Again, if you leave at a quiet moment, no-one will mind if you leave quietly. There is a planned opportunity to leave every half hour (at the end of each section), but you are welcome to leave at any stage.

Is there a minimum amount of time I will be expected to stay?

It is quite common for people to worship for one half hour section and then leave. But if you can only stay for five minutes, we will be pleased that you joined our worship, and believe God will too.

Occasionally, people stay for the full five hours. Those who have, have enjoyed the experience.

If I stay for a long time, will the worship start repeating itself?

Every half hour has a different style and approach. Each Sunday, a single theme runs through the morning's worship, but each section explores that theme in a different way.

You will get to look at the same aspect of Christian life and faith from many different perspectives.

I am used to worshipping in other Church of England churches. Will I get the kind of 'service' I am used to?

If you come from 8.00am to 9.00am, you will worship in a traditional, 'Book of Common Prayer – 1662' format.

If you come from 10.00am to 11.00am, you will find the worship similar to other services based on 'Common Worship – 2000'.

The worship from 11.30am to 12.30pm is contemporary, relaxed and interactive, while keeping within the guidelines of the Church of England.

Will I get a whole service every half hour?

That depends on what you mean by a 'whole service'. You will get a complete act of worship, but you will not get all of the ingredients that are commonly found in a Church of England service. The Come & Go program is designed so that you will get a fairly well-balanced spiritual diet if you stay for about one and half hours.

What style of worship will I find at St John's?

We do not believe that there is a 'right' way of worshipping God. (Jacob heaped up a pile of stones and poured oil on them; Moses roasted a sheep and ate it with his family and neighbours. King David wrote spiritual songs, and sacrificed bulls on a neighbour's farm; King Solomon did the same in a magnificent Temple. Jesus read the scriptures and discussed their meaning in a purpose-built synagogue; St Peter gathered Christians for regular communal meals in people's homes, and St Paul encouraged them to sing together and tell one another about God).

We purposefully offer a wide variety of worship styles so you can worship God in a way that suits your needs.

As a general rule, our Sundays begin with formal and traditional worship. As the morning progresses the style and content gradually become more informal and contemporary.

Are breakfast, coffee and lunch part of the worship, or gaps in the worship?

They are very much part of the worship. The very first worship gatherings of the Christian church took place over communal meals (not least of these were Jesus' Last Supper and his first meetings with his disciples after the Resurrection).

At St John's we have a strong emphasis on being a community of Christians. There are few things better for a community than eating together.

Do I have to pay?

In every half hour section there is an opportunity to make a financial offering. Making a significant offering from our income has been a vital part of Christian and Jewish worship all the way back to Abraham.

In the meal-centred sections, you will be invited to make a contribution towards your food. Any surplus money, after the costs have been met, will go into the general offering.

As St John's is a charity, we can claim tax back from the government if tax payers fill in a very simple form to register their gift.

Come and go - bannerWhere did the Come & Go idea come from?

We live in an age of extended shop opening, flexible working hours and 24/7 entertainment. There are only a few things in our lives that require us to arrive at a particular time and stay until it is finished, unless we have booked in advance.

We want to make it possible for as many people as possible who want to worship God, to do so.

Does Come & Go worship make a lot of extra work for the church leaders?

No. Because each half hour section is self-contained, it has been possible to include a wider spectrum of church members in leading our worship. As a result, the clergy are now doing slightly less on a Sunday morning than they used to. They are also regularly able to take part in leading the children's worship.

Even the vicar is free to come & go when he is not directly involved in leading the worship.

How much planning goes into each Sunday morning?

All the people who leading the half-hour sections on any given Sunday meet together about ten days beforehand.

They discuss the Bible readings for that Sunday and decide on a relevant theme arising from those readings.

They then talk through how each of them will explore that Bible passage & theme in the section(s) they are leading.

Finally they agree on a 'conversation topic' which is used three or four times during the morning when worshippers have an opportunity to talk among themselves.

They then go home and continue their own prayer and preparation.

What happens in each of the half hour sections?

8.00am Morning Prayer: the traditional 'Prayer Book' service of 'Matins', slightly shortened, with prayers, Bible readings and ancient Psalms & Canticles (there is no singing at this time in the morning).

8.30am Traditional Communion: the Communion part of the Holy Communion service in the 'Book of Common Prayer – 1662', along with a short sermon.

9.00am Breakfast & Conversation: a continental breakfast, preceded by a traditional prayer of thanksgiving. Sometimes we chat about the theme for the day, sometimes we just chat.

9.30am Songs of Praise: a selection of well loved hymns & songs, interspersed with a short Bible reading, a 'thought for the day', and time for prayer.

10.00am Understanding our Faith: a reading from the Bible, followed by a 'sermon' applying the theme of the reading to life and faith in the 21st century. Then a song and some prayers to give you time to respond to God.

10.30am Family Communion: a contemporary Anglican celebration of Holy Communion that links Jesus' Last Supper & his first meetings with his disciples after the Resurrection to the challenges and opportunities of our lives today.

11.00am Refreshments & Activities: after the communal announcements and a prayer of commitment to God, we disperse to a wide variety of activities, from coffee and chat, to presentations about different aspects of church and local community life. There is also an opportunity to talk and pray, in private, about particular concerns.

11.30am Praise & Worship: contemporary worship songs (with the occasional golden oldie) mixed with time to pray and a short reading from the Bible.

12noon Exploring Faith Together: a Bible story retold rather than read, a discussion instead of a sermon, and the bread & wine of communion shared together as an informal meal rather than a formal liturgical act.

12.30pm Food & Friendship: a simple ploughman's-style lunch with plenty of time to chat and relax together, beginning with some revitalised mealtime prayers.

Come and Go - communion

How do children fit in?

It is particularly useful for families to be free to come and go according to their needs. There are a number of different ways that children can take part in our worship.

There is a special area for toddlers and the adults they bring with them, which is equipped with soft and quiet toys. Those with toddlers do not have to sit in this area, but may if they wish.

Between 9.30am and 11.00am there is a parallel program of worship for children in school 'key stages' 1, 2 & 3. This happens in the Church Hall.

The children leave the church building together at about 9.40am and return to join in the Family Communion at about 10.45am. If you are arriving or leaving between these times, you will need to bring your children to, or collect them from, the church hall.

If you would like your children to stay with you in church, we have activity packs suitable for children in different age groups (any of our 'Welcomers' will happily give you one).

On the first Sunday of every month the 10.00 to 11.00 sections are particularly designed for all the family. There is no parallel 'Junior Church' on these Sundays.

Between 11.30am and 12.30pm there are activities and involvement for children within the worship in the Church.

What were the influences for the Come & Go idea?

The activity that most typifies our current British culture is shopping. Shops work on the simple principle of having an opening time and a closing time. Shoppers are free to come and go at any time in between.

Almost everyone in this country has a television. We are all familiar with the idea of looking through a varied programme schedule and choosing what interests us.

The Orthodox Christians of eastern Europe have been coming and going in their worship for hundreds of years.

How have the worshipping patterns of people changed?

Overall, attendance has grown. Occasional worshippers are coming more often. New worshippers can now fit Sunday worship into their busy lives. Regular worshippers with another commitment can fit worship around other obligations.

Beyond that, the 'Come when you can & Go when you like' message has made St John's appear much more welcoming.

Before, people had to come to church on our terms. Now, they can come on their own terms. We hope that, in time, we will all become more familiar with God's terms.

How did the existing congregation cope with the change?

Understandably, people were anxious at first.

This is one step in a long journey of growth and development. Come & Go is part of an ongoing process of mission planning.

We consulted very widely over a period of six months. We gradually unveiled the new pattern, giving people opportunities to ask questions. We deliberately shaped the new pattern so that if people came at much the same time as before, they would get much the same experience.

Now that people have had time to settle into the new pattern, they enjoy the freedom and the focus that it offers.

We were, in effect, already open from 8.00am to 1.00pm, but the only options were to arrive at 8.00, 9.45 or 11.30. In reality, a considerable number of people regularly arrived late for services; those people now feel much more comfortable about their part in the church community.

It took us about a year to take the whole thing through from initial idea to introduction. Looking back, the amount of work that went into developing and refining our plans was well worthwhile.


TANGO - Avril and ChrisThe TANGO community project at St Mark's, Haydock, has been running for 12 years. The project's chair, Avril Chisnall, and co-ordinator Christine Kay explain how a fresh expression of church has become part and parcel of the ministry there.

When we first started TANGO it was quite a difficult thing to know how we were going to bring God into it – especially when volunteers joined us from the community. We didn't want to impose something which involved us standing there quietly to pray so instead we always treated it as an invitation to come and reflect on why we were there as part of the project. And then we always finished with a prayer. Then people began to trust us more and started to join in different ways.

We now do have a cell in TANGO and cell is important to our church but that's OK for those people who genuinely want to go forward with God and enquire and learn more. That's the right environment for them but we've got lots of people in our teams who are sort of 'iffy' about God. We know he's in their lives but they've not acknowledged it themselves so how do we get them to move on?

TANGO - coupleWe've introduced what we call the 'Three Ps' as a way of opening up some of these issues. Chris and her team regularly meet with all the other teams once a fortnight to look at Purpose, Problems and Presence of God. We also have breakfasts when staff and volunteers, which we consider to be our church, get involved with a God slot.

I think people now realise that church isn't doing it to them but church is here as part of the community – and church is not a stuffy old place, a building they have to go to; instead people actually make the church, us and them together.

I've been a member of the Anglican Church for many years and love it but I feel very frustrated that the church is stuck in the way it sees how church should be done and they're still expecting that church can carry on as it is. Many churches are seeing their numbers dwindle but are still not prepared to change their ways of doing things. They might introduce some new songs and various creative ways of doing things but it's still very much traditional church and won't reach the people we live among.

TANGO - sorting clothesI appreciate that it's scary for church people and leaders to support a fresh expression because it's risky but Kingdom values are the important things. All those years ago, God asked me to do something different with a team of people and the result is that it is 'not the same church as I'm used to'. It's forced me out of a way of viewing church into seeing people differently and trying to communicate his way with them.

I get really wound up when people try to measure what church is. We certainly believe that what we have with our volunteers and community members is very much a church. The frustration kicks in when people come along, ask you to fill in a form, tick boxes, and say, 'How many people have you had in your church this week?' Most of the time I simply do not know the answer to that but we know that what we do here is very much a one-to-one with people. Thanks to God, we change people's lives by meeting them, praying for them or talking about God to them. We can't measure those sorts of things and that's really difficult.

TANGO - community gardenIt is often not measurable in an 'official' way but I'm looking at what happens here in Kingdom terms. As such, it doesn't matter that I'm a lay person; I will keep on doing this stuff because God has asked me to do it and pass it on to other people to do as well. We also know that's what we need to do and investment in other people with God's values is vital.

If TANGO goes on for another 12 years that'll be down to God and the investment we've put into the people's lives for them to want to carry on doing Kingdom business in an ordinary way. Lay people are so important to this type of fresh expression it's important to risk letting those who are not ordained take the lead and do what God's asked them to do.

I'd say, 'go out there and have a go and really listen to what God's saying to you.' We've passed the idea of TANGO on to three other parishes but it's not the same TANGO that we've got. They're doing the same sort of things but they are different people in different sorts of community. That's why it's very important to find God's heartbeat for the community in which you live but – for goodness sake – get out of your church and go and do it.

Coordinator Christine Kay adds:

TANGO - labyrinthGod is the heartbeat of everything that we do; without him it would just be impossible. Every morning, before we open at 9.45am, we have what we call Quarter to TANGO when as many of us as are free come together. It is not a formal prayer time by any means but we give out notices and things that are coming up in the week but there’s also a time to share.

In the past we've done lots of things which we've been brave to do but we've been even braver to stop them when they've not been working. Now we're looking to do something called TANGO on a Sunday. Lots of people find Sunday a very long and lonely day so we've decided to give it a go, it will be in our café – a chat over a cuppa about some question brought up in a very informal way. We're not really sure how it's going to pan out but I feel that God is asking us to do this and we're just watching this space at the moment.

TANGO - helpersYou are not going to get people into your churches in this day and age; they just want you to go out to them. They don't even want that, they don't know that they want that, the only way to be with them is to be where they're at; not threatened by anything that's churchy. That's why we try not to use churchy words at all. We are just ordinary people; they respect that and respond to it as well because they see we're not holier-than-thou. Hopefully they just feel comfortable and safe in the kind of environment we encourage here. God is opening this up for each of us to be part of other people's lives and for them to be part of our lives as well.

New Song Café

New Song Café has been running at Bold Street Methodist Church, Warrington, for three years. Jackie Bellfield traces its story as a fresh expression of church.

It's amazing to think back to how it all got started and what our intentions were with it. The whole point was for it to be a stepping stone to some sort of gathering in a local Costa.

We did not anticipate that people would come in the numbers they did and we still welcome new people every month to the Bold Street Mission's church hall but we're not in Costa… yet! We're currently up to 125 and we'd struggle to fit more people in at the moment. About 30% of regular attenders now see New Song Café as their church and that number is increasing all the time. It's because New Song Café is offering them vibrant Christianity while creating community, building relationship and providing opportunity to explore issues of faith in a friendly, non-threatening environment.

New Song Café meets on the 4th Sunday of the month from 7pm to 9pm. In saying that, it never starts on time… we have local preachers who come along and point at their watches because people are still chatting to each other and having coffee at 7pm. They say they're ready to start but we tell them that we have already started because the chatting and the coffee and the being together is all part and parcel of it. That's what community is.

In a way, we are a bit unusual as a fresh expression in that the whole thing for us is about focusing on worship as the heart of what we do. Many fresh expressions discern that introducing worship may be later down the line for them in their development because so many people have so little experience of what it means to worship. For us, in our context, it is different.

When people arrive they'll get a coffee or tea and select from what is normally a mountain of cake on offer! They'll have a chat, I'll welcome them in – particularly anyone new, we may have a short video clip or something but then a worship band will lead us in singing 12 songs during the evening. We'll have a giggle and I'll tell a few stories and have a joke with people as we go on because it's important to celebrate people's presence.

New Song Café - bannerWe recently welcomed a special guest – Wolfie, the mascot for the Warrington Wolves rugby league team. People queued up to get a photo taken with him. Everyone really enjoyed that – except for fans of the club's local rivals, the Widnes Vikings!

Our band comprises drums, trumpet, keyboard and guitar. They really get things going and it's fantastic to see all the ages taking part – our oldest regular is 89 and the youngest participant was six days old. We've now got every age in between. There's also a great denominational mix among those with current and previous church links – mind you, some of those links have been very fragile; some have mums or dads who go to church but they have been fringe members themselves. New Song Café has helped them to get engaged on their own terms because of its very open environment.

We'll sing six songs, including two new songs every month, and then we'll have a break of about 25 minutes before singing a further six. In the past three years we have learned over 300 songs. If people are not accustomed to singing in public with others around them, they can be a little puzzled at the start of it all – but that's OK, we'll just give people time and space to get used to what's happening. After just one song, I can guarantee that the feet will start tapping and there maybe tears or they will be singing. People are really responding to the worship and those not linked to traditional congregations or fellowships now see New Song Café as their church.

We need to consider what we do next with New Song Café because we are at the critical stage of thinking about how we move it forward. One thing that is going to happen is that we will grow the New Song network to include a New Song Breakfast to again offer a very different style of church – though still in the context of worship. There will also be New Song Pub Church.

Some of those who come along have been disenfranchised or hurt by traditional church but they are seeing New Song Café as their future. In feedback from them they say they know they can also bring their non-Christian friends along with them because they know it's going to be consistently good and it helps them to start having godly conversations along the way.

There's no doubt that New Song Café is becoming a very loving and caring church. A key decision as things unfold is whether to create New Song Church as a separate entity or continue to operate under the authority of Bold Street Methodist. At the moment we decided to continue with the latter. This has been great and has really enabled us to see mixed economy in action; the established church has been really fired up because they see New Song Café developing. As a result they see the future of Bold Street – now part of Sankey Valley Methodist Circuit – as being more secure because of what we are doing. It really is mixed economy in action.

New Song Café - hallI love the traditional, I love the inherited but that alone is not going to be sustainable in its present form for the next 50 years. What will carry Bold Street through is the network of church communities developing. New Song has grown beyond what we ever imagined. Thinking back to the original idea for it all, we might well end up going into Costa and we have an invitation to do so but the next thing is Pub Church in a local bar on a Sunday night.

There are still so many questions of course. How do we grow this? How do we nurture it bearing in mind that some of the people feel disenfranchised with institutional church? How can we adapt our denominational system so that we can be more flexible in structure when things are developing? Could worship leaders, for instance, be licensed to a circuit rather than to a church? At the moment there are quite a lot of challenges around these things and it can be quite frustrating at times.

Sankey Valley Circuit has brought together the former Warrington, Widnes, St Helens and Prescot, and Ashton and Makerfield circuits. Its purpose is to release us for mission and it's wonderful that New Song Café certainly does tell others about Jesus. However, we know that New Song Café is not for everybody and that will also be true when we start up the Pub Church but we're happy with that because we are simply looking to create opportunities for godly relationships.

We have also set up discipleship evenings and between 18 and 25 people now come to that. Thirty five people also came on an away day to explore more about faith. People are being transformed by singing worship to God and the tears of freedom and liberation are phenomenal.

New Song Breakfast is just about to start from 9am to 10.15am at Latchford Methodist Church followed by a traditional Communion service. There will be half hour of bacon butties and then there will be a couple of video clips to prompt a discussion time. The same theme will be used for the New Song Breakfast and the Communion that follows.

Looking ahead, we have been discussing our strategy for future development and 20 people have made a commitment to the New Song Network. We are now exploring the future and are developing a variety of roles in leadership. To be honest, I'm just trying to keep up with it all. We've just given out a New Song calendar detailing what we hope to achieve in 2012. It says, 'Keep calm and pray on!'

The Hothouse

The Hothouse - Gary DanielAn old hardware shop in Walsall, had been empty for some time when churches in the parish of Aldridge took it over, changing its name to The Hothouse. Gary Daniel is the Hothouse and Redhouse Community Worker.

The original vision for the Hothouse was to be 'a safe place for children and young people to meet, belong and discover the love of the Lord Jesus.' Whilst that vision is still in place it has increased its range in seeking to care for the families, the vulnerable and the older people in the community.

We are a charity supported prayerfully, physically (with volunteers), and financially by individuals from Aldridge Parish Church, Tynings Lane Church, St Thomas' Church and Aldridge Methodist Church.

Before The Hothouse started, there had been an evening club at Redhouse Primary School for several years run by Aldridge Parish Church's children's and schools' worker Jean Elliott. It was very popular; children and families appreciated the fact that activities were happening on the estate where they lived.

In September 2000, Jean felt the time was right to expand the work of the Wednesday evening and regular summer holiday clubs. Her idea was to transform the hardware shop into a permanent Christian venue. Obviously this couldn't happen instantly and it took time to gain planning permission, money and a group of people to take the vision forward. We also needed to know what the community thought and – above all – that this was God's project. Sometimes things have taken a little longer than we thought they would, and, as on any long journey, there have been frustrations but we have come a long way.

The Hothouse - frontage

Initially the Hothouse met on just two evenings a week to concentrate on our original vision of meeting the needs of the 5 to 11 year-olds of the Redhouse Estate. However, over time and with increased resources, we've grown the Hothouse so that we now run a vast array of activities which include: youth groups for the 11 to 14s, toddler groups, breakfast clubs, tea-time events, children's after-school and evening clubs, larger community events, special holiday club sessions, day trips, training, special lunches and we now even offer a Sunday worship twice a month.

Originally the focus was on activity within the Hothouse building itself but now because of increased staffing levels (both paid and voluntary) and a larger vision we are able to offer support to children and families outside of the Hothouse, building stronger pastoral links into the community. We have, along with our wider support networks, been able to meet certain basic needs of the community, such as providing furniture, food, practical support, a listening ear and care for needy families. If we haven't been able to do these things ourselves we've been able to point people in the right direction.

A major change in the community came with the loss of the school in July 2006. As a result the Hothouse became, and remains, the only regularly used community building in the Redhouse. In some ways it's an unlikely hub of activity; we're in a parade of shops with a chippie on one side, a corner shop on the other and flats above us but it's a space that is certainly being used by God. In fact we're being used so much as a base that we're now physically constrained as to what we can offer because of the relatively small size of the property.

Between 120 and 160 people a week now regularly use the facilities and there is so much potential that we are excited to see how God will continue to develop and grow The Hothouse.

The Hothouse - foodOur sessions for children and young people include:

  • Mondays. Youth Alpha for 11 to 14-year-olds;
  • Tuesdays. A 'youth club' style evening called 7-11s for those in school years 3 to 6 where children come along to play games, create different crafts, make new friends and socialise in a safe environment;
  • Wednesdays. WOW (Worship on Wednesdays) is an after-school session for three to seven-year-olds with an emphasis on Bible teaching in a fun and age-appropriate way;
  • Wednesdays. ALF (About Life and Faith) is an evening session for 7 to 11-year-olds. It is a more structured session than Tuesday night's '7-11' club and looks at many different aspects of life and faith with a Christian perspective;
  • Thursdays. Big Kidz for young people aged 11-14.

As for the community activities, we also have:

  • 'Baby Rhyme' every Wednesday morning in partnership with the local Children's Centre;
  • 'Hot Tots' parent and toddler group on Thursday mornings;
  • Community breakfasts every Friday morning where we invite people in for a bacon or sausage sandwich, free of charge;
  • That Sunday Thing – a monthly session for the whole Hothouse community to come together. This came about after we'd had a community get-together at which people said, 'We appreciate all you're doing but if you say you're a church, why don't you do anything on Sundays?' That was a learning curve for us because we had to fulfil their stereotype of church but then break down the stereotype of what church is all about!
  • All Age Communion – this provides a regular (monthly) service of Holy Communion to anyone who would like to come and join in. There is no other church situated on the Redhouse estate and we are aiming to offer new opportunities for members of the community to come along and take part in what we offer at the Hothouse.

The Hothouse - poolWe monitor and evaluate change in our community through relationship, conversation, evaluation and questionnaire. This is backed up by using statistical information from the Office of National Statistics. As full-time community worker here since September 2006, I am looking to develop the Hothouse as a viable community project as well as overseeing its growth and development as a fresh expression of church.

We are not self-supporting but it is amazing to see how some of the mums in our community, for instance, have said they want to donate to our work because of what they have found here. The next question for us will be how do we build a congregation? The short answer is that I don't know how but I do know that many (church) people now see Wednesday as our 'Sunday' here with lots  going on in the way of children's worship and teaching. Our spiritual community is certainly growing because we recently had our first dedication service here – it was for two-year-old twins. The local ministers are very supportive and we use them as much as we can!

We also have a volunteer community-based family support worker whose role is constantly expanding as the work of the Hothouse grows and a part-time sessional worker who supports a majority of the sessions that we run for a nominal monthly salary. This role enables the sessional work at the Hothouse to continue week-by-week.

In addition we have about 20 volunteers ranging from sixth-formers to the retired, and – increasingly – members of the Redhouse community itself. They provide a necessary 'work-force' for the day-to-day running of sessions and are often involved in planning and leading sessions alongside the paid members of staff.

All sessions and activities at the Hothouse are provided free of charge to all participants. This is so that no-one within the community is excluded from taking part due to lack of sufficient means.

The Hothouse - frontageOur overall vision is to make the Hothouse a positive place for children and their families to meet, belong and develop community. In doing this we hope they will discover the love of the Lord Jesus and we do this because, as it says in 2 Cor 5:14, 'Christ's love compels us.'

For the next five years we have five words which we are using to envision us and help us move forward:

  • Consolidate: We have come a long way in the last nine years and so we want to consolidate where we are now. This means keeping the level of resource and personnel at least at the level it is now so we can continue to meet the needs of the community.
  • Grow: We also want to grow. The facilities we have now are fine but we're reaching their maximum capacity. We would like to consider renting/purchasing another shop unit to enable more creative things such as like running alternative sessions at the same time.
  • Engage: We want to continue to listen to the community, find out more of their needs – and respond to them.
  • Manage: We will continue to make sure our management and administration is following best practice and up to date.
  • Fund: We will look at various ways of building on the existing funding already in place for this project. We look to local trusts, charities and churches to achieve extra funding which will follow two streams. Firstly, funding for personnel, we need one full time project leader and our hope is to move our two part-time paid workers to full time and we would also like a part time administrator. Secondly, we need funding for materials, toys, furniture, technology, maintenance and hopefully bigger premises.

The Hothouse - banner

Breakfast @ 9

Families are flocking to the church centre in Dorset, for a breakfast with a difference but there's more than bacon butties and sizzling sausages on the menu – says Chris Tebbutt, Rector of Canford Magna Church.

I'd been at Canford for about a year when I thought, 'How can we attract young families into our excellent but rather "mature" 1030am service?'

Years ago this was a sleepy little place but in 1971, at a time of charismatic revival, John Collins became our Vicar. He was prepared to take a few risks and before long this church became a huge magnet for people. At that time many hi-tech industries were coming into Poole and two very large housing estates were built close by. As a result the parish grew from 500 to 12,000 and we planted two daughter churches, The Lantern at Merley and St Barnabas, Bearwood.

So when I came here as team rector, I knew that Canford Magna was a special place but I really did wonder how we could rebalance the age profile of the church. What could we do?

Breakfast@9 - arrivalsI went to a Deanery Chapter meeting where someone from the outlying villages talked about their monthly Breakfast Church. What a great idea I thought – I can nick that! So I discussed it with my wife Sandra and Children's Worker, Sharon, and we worked with a design agency on a logo. It was then that Sandra came up with the name Breakfast@9, deliberately not mentioning 'church' because we didn't want to put people off. We also decided that rather than re-instituting the 8am Book of Common Prayer service every week – which had become monthly during the interregnum – we should instead hold a new service at 9am in our Church Centre and call it Breakfast@9.

We started off by inviting mums attending the church's playgroup with their children and it's just grown from there. Unlike Messy Church, which tends to run monthly, we wanted Breakfast@9 to take place every Sunday because if you miss a Messy Church session it means you don't see the Messy Church community for eight weeks. We wanted to avoid that and instead build a community of people who regularly met together.

Breakfast@9 - breakfastSo far, it's going a storm with whole families coming regularly, about 40 to 50 parents and children each week. In the first week of August, traditionally such a quiet time, we peaked at 67 mums, dads and their children.

We set everything up the night before and have three cooking teams. The helpers and worship team get together after setting up to pray. Then the team on duty arrive at about 8am on the Sunday and they then start preparing those all important bacon butties and sausages. We also bought an espresso machine to make sure the coffee was as good as it could be – and we have croissants, fruit, toast and cereals available. By about 8.50am the first people begin to drift in and the great thing is that we are consistently getting Dads along as well – I'm not sure whether the bacon butties have got something to do with that!

We have tables in café style though we now put tables together because we noticed that people weren't talking to each other. By putting two tables side by side, the families began to chat a lot more. We also have members of our congregation who are simply there to sit and chat and lend a helping hand, particularly with those mums who are maybe struggling to cope with kids on their own.

Breakfast@9 - screen

Breakfast is from 9am to 9.20, then I'll welcome everybody. We generally have one or two new people there every week. I'll also mention what the theme of the service is; we're using E100 by Scripture Union, 100 essential readings from the Bible.

We cover the Old Testament in the autumn term beginning with our creator God and on to the coming of Christ when we encourage people to come along to a Christmas Eve crib service. In the New Year we move to the story of Jesus and then after Easter the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church – yes, eventually we do use the 'church' word!

After hearing the theme for the day, we then have three worship songs. All the info is on a big 50" plasma screen with a young person operating the laptop. Music is quite important to us and we tend to do a selection of lively songs that are a mixture of popular contemporary worship songs with one 'kids-friendly' song. The main thing is that all – both young and old – can clap or use our selection of percussion instruments to shake along to the music.

Breakfast@9 - talk

After a reading, the service leader will then do a five minute thought for the day – it may be me or it may be one of the people running Breakfast@9. We try to make it interactive but, whatever we do, we don't pull any punches and we don't try to apologise. So the breakdown of each session is 10 minutes of music, five minute reading, five minute talk, 10 minute craft topic, followed by a short 'show and tell' if applicable, short prayer – about thought for the day and prayer for other people – then a final worship song and a blessing. It's all over by 10am on the dot. We never overrun. That's important. We will encourage people to stay and pray or chat but there's no pressure to do so.

In what was an exciting development, we put on an Exploring Baptism event and showed a DVD about baptism to a number of interested families. We chatted individually to people to ask if that was what they wanted or whether they would prefer to have a thanksgiving service. One mum said she wanted to get baptised (and confirmed) herself so that was arranged – in Salisbury Cathedral no less – and the day afterwards her son was one of two children baptised in the parish church. She and her family were thrilled by that event and a number of Breakfast@9 families came to the service. That mum is now one of those who does readings at Breakfast@9.

Breakfast@9 - band

There is no magic formula as to what's happening. We're just taking it one step at a time and are looking to form a Breakfast@9 housegroup led by a young Christian couple who have become very much part of the team.

I am so blessed because members of the parish church have been so supportive. The people are amazing; they are serving, helping, putting money in and not necessarily seeing a return. This sort of thing is a big investment.

Others looking to start something like this might ask themselves, 'Have you got people with a real heart to reach out to the unchurched?' I'm impressed by the way the Canford folk both serve in teams and are prepared to bankroll the costs of running Breakfast@9 in the Church Centre even though they don't see these new people in the pews in the 1,000 year old Parish Church.

Many would love to see all those families in the pews but I think they now realise that Breakfast@9 really is church to those families. However we do try and encourage our Breakfast@9 families to come together with the main church and the daughter churches for the bigger festivals because it reminds them that they are part of something much bigger.

Our primary objective is to form a completely new community as most of our attendees are unchurched or people who have had a church experience before but drifted away. On the few occasions where we've mixed the services – Breakfast@9 and 10.30 – it hasn't really worked. So we feel the Holy Spirit is saying that we should press on with something completely new.

Thirst Cafe Church

Thirst Café Church 'officially' started in November 2007 in the community lounge of St Philip's CofE Primary School, Romsey Town, Cambridge, but Sue Butler tells how its beginnings go back a lot further than that.

Thirst has grown out of 11 years of relationship and prayer. As parents of primary school children, we used to meet outside the classroom at 'pick up' time. There were about 10 regulars every day morning and afternoon and we began to chat about our faith with each other – including some who did not profess a faith. We joked that we should have a coffee maker there because we were often hanging around outside school for up to an hour, just chatting and sharing prayer requests with each other.

Thirst - chairsOne friend, Rachel, and I met whilst we were at the checkout in the local supermarket one day. She wanted to pray about something and, out of that meeting, came an idea for a monthly breakfast at which people from all denominations would come to pray if they wanted. That group formed the basis 11 years later for Thirst. As we began to pray for the school, other people started coming to faith and getting healed and seeing answers to prayer in their families. We realised this was bigger than us and much bigger than anything we had anticipated up to that point.

At the same time, things began to move in a different direction in my own life. My children were getting ready to leave the primary school for secondary school, so my personal involvement there might naturally have ended. In 2005 my husband started ordination training at Ridley. I began to increasingly feel that God was saying, that my time and connection with the school was not over but that there was more that God wanted me to do there.

Thirst - doorsMy husband's Ridley friends kept asking me why I was not at Ridley training for ministry as well! I'd reply that there was no chance that I had been called to be a vicar. They used to encourage me to think about it, so much so, that I wondered if there was something that I should not be ignoring about ordination! There certainly was. I have just completed training as a mixed mode pioneer at Ridley, and I'm just about to be ordained with 50% of my time as OPM of Café Church from the Diocese of Ely and 50% spent at the local parish of St Philip's. Somehow God has combined my relationships, family life and calling to a place where he has already been at work. Like Moses, I felt that God asked me to take what was in my hand and use it in a wider setting.

During the same time In our ongoing relationships at school, those Christians amongst us at Thirst became known as people who would pray for people if they wanted it. We would often pray with parents in the playground, many of whom had no idea what they were asking for. We would find that people would simply stand where they were, bow their head and expect us to pray on the spot. When I look back on that period now, I suppose it was a case of God gathering people because they began to get healed, come to faith, and wanted to know more about Christ and how he could transform lives. It was about discipling them through relationship because many of them did not have any links with traditional church at all and some had never entered the doors of a church. They then began to attend Thirst and are an integral part of us now.

Thirst - mother and childI went through a phase of being concerned about the views that some people inside the traditional church have of people outside of the church family. The question was asked of us, 'Why don't some of these (unchurched) people come to church?' My response was to wonder why on earth they would! The church is an alien environment for many nowadays. We ask, even expect people to come and sit on a pew and sing songs, followed by a talk or lecture (as they view it). Both of these activities are unusual for many who have never been to church before. I wonder, what on earth possesses us in church to think that others outside of the church might want to do that? It is the Church that is alien in our culture, we are the unusual one, the minority.

I was talking to God about it and told him, 'It's no wonder people don't go to church.' I 'heard' the question, 'What would they come to then?' I thought of what we did as friends together: breakfast, drink coffee, pray together, laugh together, have relationship and support each other. I said to my friends, 'Let's keep on drinking coffee but, if it's going to be church, it has to have more to it than a coffee morning. It's about transforming the community that we live in through our relationships, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thirst - DVDWe didn't begin straight away because I was too apprehensive of starting something that did not last once it became official. So, we prayed about it for about a year before we started meeting in the school lounge in November 2006. We served good coffee, food, fruit and juice. Everybody invited friends and we had about 30 people there at our first gathering.

From the first Thirst Cafe, we started off by showing Rob Bell Nooma DVDs; I didn't want to get people to come to do things they didn't want to do or feel comfortable with and felt that a DVD was something that people could relate to. They did not have to make any kind of outward or verbal response to it if they did not want to. I was also determined that I wasn't going to start a discussion around the DVD subject. God surprised us again because we showed the DVD, and afterwards somebody visiting asked questions and began a discussion centred around faith. The conversation started and has been going ever since! We very, rarely direct these conversations. They just happen naturally and we discuss all manner of spiritual issues which often carry on long after Thirst is over and have helped to develop and nurture people in the faith.

Thirst - groupWe do now also have prayer time for those who are interested to pray. After a few months we started to offer one session a week where we have a meditation or devotion of some kind, during this time there is also a five minute talk and discussion on a biblical theme, followed by a spiritual exercise or activity of some type. Because of our relationship and growth together this is natural to people now.

It's interesting to see how things develop in a way you never expect or plan. From the beginning we called ourselves the Thirst Café Community because we wanted to keep the word church right out of it. Within two to three weeks, people started asking, 'Are you going to café church?' They weren't asked to use that description; it's how they saw it. We are still known as Thirst Café Church to many people!

About two years ago we started to think about what it means to be a worshipping community and how we encourage spiritual growth amongst new believers. We introduced a Bible study one afternoon in the week but the big question, of course, has been what to do about Eucharist. It was really difficult to explore ways through this but, in the end, we just thought, that if this is God's feast and his journey with us, then he will show us what to do. We decided to do a simple Eucharist with a short liturgy.

Thirst - foodWe wanted people to feel comfortable around Eucharist so I told people, not to worry about it, but that if they wanted to participate they should do whatever seemed comfortable for them. I invited a visiting chaplain to lead and she explained the meaning of each part and action of the service and this helped people to understand the Eucharist. It is always a great time and we and we look forward to it and it's part of our regular worshipping life at Thirst.

There are a couple of people now talking about baptism, which will be interesting. The discipleship of new believers is our next and most pressing concern and we are hoping to continue with exploration and reflection on the best ways to do this.

St Philip's School is in the parish of St Philip's Church. Their vicar is supportive of what we do, we are very loosely associated with them but don't see ourselves as 'belonging' to St Philip's. In saying that, we have done things together and the vicar regularly visits us. We supported St Philip's in their after-school Christingle and Easter service, but – as mothers – we are limited with time constraints. We have a very good relationship with St Philip's and they support us in many ways and we are thankful for the relationship with them.

Thirst - foodWe don't know how Thirst will develop; we don't know what's around the corner. We are wondering about our next step but we know that we need to be obedient to God and follow his leading. Two of the leaders lead an art group and some come to this group who do not feel comfortable in our Friday morning get-togethers. My vision from the start has been for a larger number of small groups, rather than one large group, although of course we are all connected through our relationship networks.

We still don't sing or 'preach' but we do proclaim in many other ways the love and grace and mercy of God. We always pray and we have recently begun Bible reading and daily devotion programmes with new believers asking for Bibles and study guides! We always pray for healing, wholeness and expect God to be present with us and to hear us and answer us, in a variety of ways. People pray for each other because they see us as leaders doing so.

I think people just think, 'this is the way it is done.' They assume this is church because they have no other point of reference. We model our faith and they come with us. They say it's about community, these are my friends, this is relationship, this is church! We expect much of God and he does not fail us!

St Luke’s in the High Street

St Lukes in the High Street - pouringSt Luke's-in-the-High-Street focuses around the weekly Walthamstow Farmers Market in north-east London. It is one of 40 Christian churches based in Walthamstow but team vicar, Revd Tony Cant, says it is a unique form of missional experiment in the diocese of Chelmsford.

The Sunday market opened here in September 2007 and we run our Holding out Hope community stall during trading hours from 10am to 2pm every week. I have the grand title of Market Manager.

Our main focus is on serving people outside traditional church life. Our own building is for sale, so we are now a fresh expression of church that has grown out of inherited church. Also on Sundays, if people want to chat with their children, they can join some of our crew for a late breakfast from 10.45am-11.45am at the Pop-in Café, which is located in the High Street.

St Lukes in the High Street - caféSt Luke’s-in-the-High-Street is part of The Parish of Walthamstow Team, which also includes St Gabriel's, St Mary's and St Stephen's. The churches all work differently, complementing each other in working for the common good and helping to shape the future for this area.

Tony continues:

We very much believe in participating in the life of the wider church by being involved in its traditional structures including Bishop's Council, Diocesan Synod, Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee, Deanery Synod and Clergy Chapter. These structures have been very supportive and really blessed us as a result.

St Luke's in the High Street - BiscuitsAs part of their discipleship in building their own faith, St Luke's meets at one of their members' homes on Wednesday evenings for reflection, prayer, Bible study, worship and Holy Communion. And the last Wednesday of the month is given over to enjoying a meal together.

Andy Campbell, an Ordained Pioneer Ministry candidate, based with St Luke's, adds:

At the moment we’re spending some time looking at the Fruits of the Spirit. Love, of course, is at the top of the list. At St Luke's, one of the simple ways that we express love for others is by offering free drinks to the other stall holders. Such a small thing, and by no means revolutionary or radical, but real and appreciated nonetheless – particularly on those cold and miserably wet days.

Why do we give free drinks? They are small gifts of love, given because God first loved us. These tokens, alongside our commitment to be present at the Market each week – whatever the weather, are significant because God is within them.

St Luke's in the High Street - refreshmentsTony says that some weeks St Luke's members find themselves simply huddled in the stall, looking out at the driving rain, and wondering just quite what it is that they are doing. Yet on other occasions have had hugely significant conversations with stall holders or customers about life, the universe and everything. Both extremes are expressions of love; both dependent on a willingness to be present; and (much more importantly), both resourced by the true source of all love that they have been grafted onto.


Peter Gilbert, a member of Church of the Martyrs in Leicester, tells the story of how Tomatoes has proved to be an innovative project in engaging with unchurched local families.

In October 2007, Tomatoes began as an initiative of our Curate to explore a Saturday morning breakfast activity aimed at mission to the many students of higher education who live in the urban area of Leicester. We soon realised that this was a foolish endeavour, as what students do you see around on a Saturday morning? However, we quickly realised that it could be a great project to engage with local unchurched families. We are situated in a multi-ethnic urban context, with a Hindu Temple nearby and very different people living near each other in the local community.

The Parish Church of The Martyrs in inner-city Leicester is right next to a church hall and on Saturday mornings, the hall is taken over by an independent ballet school which is very popular with local families. Given that this was next door, we invited these families to come along to Tomatoes for a free breakfast and an opportunity to build relationships with local people. Surprisingly the connection worked and food is always popular! It began with mums and their children, but soon grew to partners coming along too. Now, people still come even if ballet is not happening, as it has become an important part of people’s local rhythm of life. We now have around seventy to eighty people and their children arriving for Tomatoes, coming every other Saturday. Most of these people do not go to church or have any faith background. Also a number of Martyrs folks come as well.

Tomatoes - kitchenWe were very fortunate that the Diocese of Leicester Mission Fund gave two grants to get us going and sustain us in the first three years. Running costs are around £1 per person.

So what do we do? Well we have a café style set up in the church, with newspapers, drinks and food. We don’t charge but allow people to make a donation.

We used to have a theme to each Tomatoes event and have a number of talented musicians in the church community play in the background with visuals and videos where appropriate. We usually have someone talk about some issue to do with faith, and this can lead into discussions. We have had discussions around news items in the papers. At first people were reluctant to talk about spirituality and its application into modern life, but it is now much easier to talk about these things. The key focus remains on building relationships. There is also the opportunity for people to write down prayer requests and give them to us, and then a short time of prayer is given after the talk part with a quiet reflection.

Tomatoes normally operates between 9.30am and 11.45am every other week. The focus then is on building community and showing the church as part of that community. Most people are not yet ready to explore Christianity in a formal setting, but are definitely now more open to spirituality. So these sessions do not encompass worship or being church, they remain a focus on relational mission.

The website and local advertising and particularly word of mouth have increased the visibility of Tomatoes, so we are working hard with ten of us as volunteers to keep it going. We are looking forward to Church of the Martyrs having a new vicar, as there has been an interregnum now for a while and whilst the project has really worked we would like to see more of the congregation involved in it as a way of enjoying themselves and of outreach to the community – one of our stated aims.

We are really pleased that the project has been able to listen to local needs, and responded with Tomatoes as a form of loving service, which has helped to build a community. The greatest challenge then from this is how to address the need for discipleship and Christian formation and then the need for authentic yet contextual forms of worship. There is no way that people can just go and attend an Alpha Course for example, as it will not relate to the context, so we are really not sure how we make this next step, and we need the Vicar or new curate to start working at Church of the Martyrs to help us explore possible ways of doing Christian formation in this particular context. We were pleased to see that some unchurched families were able to come to a Christmas Service, some were able to make this shift, but this will be a minority. So many we are in contact with are pre-Alpha and interested in spirituality rather than anything religious including Christianity. So discipleship and forms of contextual worship with its own distinct approach remains an important dream for the way forward.

In Tomatoes people tend to drop in and out of it in a fluid way, so there is not really a culture of people starting and finishing at the same time, so doing any form of discipleship ‘course’ with this type of set up just will not work.

Tomatoes - tablesSo we do see Tomatoes as a community but not yet church, full of potential we hope to become church in the future, but not yet anywhere near ready to go that way. You can’t rush or force people to go there, it has to be in the right time.

It has taken us three years to get this far, I think it is going to take quite some time for people to make the next shift to being interested in Christianity.

Another challenge we face is balancing the needs of unchurched families alongside a significant homeless population all in the same space. This can lead to some tensions when there are a lot of small children in the place, so we try to practice hospitality but also keeping the space safe for families.

In the meantime we need to be careful we do not burn out with the pressure of Tomatoes on top of very busy lives and we do need to get the Church of the Martyrs more fully behind what we do. But so far, Tomatoes has been a privilege to be part of, and something we hope will develop.