Refresh, a fresh expression of church in the Scottish Borders, has grown out of the Church Army's Grafted project. Established in 2003 by Church Army officer Paul Little, Refresh continues to develop new ministries in the region.
I came to the area in 2001 straight out of Church Army college and my first post was as an evangelist in the outdoor centre here which belongs to Barnabas Trust, now known as Rock UK. We are 25 miles north east from Carlisle and 20 miles south of Hawick in the Scottish Borders, the very furthest tip of Edinburgh diocese. There's somewhere around 800 in the traditionally agricultural community though there is a lot of tourism in the summer.
I was placed with another officer and my brief was to be an evangelist on the site to the 9,000 people who visited very year but it soon became clear to me that the future job would be very different. God had called me here but it was to be for another reason and this started to take shape after I ran a 10-week course for six people recognised as most serious offenders in the youth justice system. During that time one did reoffend but otherwise everybody had a clean sheet and the police would ring up asking where they were! Basically it worked because the young people had something to do on a Friday which appealed to their sense of adventure and helped them develop skills at the same time.
They ranged from 12/13 year-olds up to 16 and were basically pre-prison status. It was an experimental last ditch programme and things have developed a lot more since then. Many of the young people I have met along the way are now in their early 20s and those relationships bring lots of opportunities.
Those first few years saw me heavily involved in networking with youth work, social justice projects and drug agencies so that when it came to running the stuff we are now running, there were already strong relationships in place and they were prepared to trust us. It may have appeared to be quite unfruitful at the time but those early links have become vital. Many of the people I first came across are now key decision makers and budget holders in the area but it all takes time and you have to allow that time if things are going to be effective. These days we get a lot of referrals from social workers – even though they know we’re Christian and we're trying to tell the Gospel. The local council also funds us to run the youth work in the village.
Grafted (Giving Hope to those Without Hope) is known locally for its work with people struggling with drug and alcohol dependency. Using outdoor activities such as canoeing, mountain biking and mountaineering, Grafted's Window of Time project helps to develop leadership and self esteem in those with poor basic and social skills, or those with learning disabilities or emotional and behavioural difficulties.
The project runs 5 days a week, including a drop-in on Tuesdays at Hawick Youth Centre. This provides a safe and supportive environment with opportunities to talk to others who have been able to overcome their own addictions and hear their stories. There is also a discussion group for those wanting to talk about issues of faith and the bigger questions of life.
Each Wednesday we encourage people from the drop-in to join us for adventurous outdoor activities which help promote an active lifestyle. These include hill walking, canoeing, kayaking, archery and mountain biking. Throughout the rest of the week, we support people in a variety of ways by attending appointments, accompanying them to court and showing kindness and support where needed.
We have an open access policy and anyone over 18 is welcome to attend.
Referrals and recommendations also come through social workers, health professionals and the Criminal Justice system.
The other strand to all of this is the fact that my wife and I joined the Presbyterian Church when we moved here. In fact I was actually preaching in a Presbyterian Church when I felt a strong calling from God to leave and begin another one. What sprang to mind was, 'Leave the 99 sheep and look for the lost one' from Matthew 18 and Luke 15. It sounds simple but I went through a year without going to church as an 'event' and instead learned about 'being' the church rather than 'doing' it.
Refresh Community Church in Newcastleton was the result of that period. About three quarters of the people who have come over all are non-Christians and we have grown to about 20 in number with some 60 people from the community involved in one way or another. There are also groups that meet under the banner of Refresh, all of which are missional because the people who make up the leadership are locals who have been through Alpha.
It's normal for them to do things that are missional but that is something else that has taken time as well. We had to be strong at one particular point because we found there were a lot of people who were already Christians attracted to Refresh and they wanted things to become more settled and comfortable. It meant we had to be quite firm in saying that we were called to be a mission group in the village. We work well alongside the Presbyterian Church but have always had this vision of Refresh as a lifeboat and we do our best never to become a cruise ship. That doesn't suit everybody but some people just want to cruise and enjoy all the benefits that brings.
When we meet for Refresh, there is usually discussion and some sung worship. We don't have anybody at all who is ordained – we never have had on the leadership team. Children's work didn't really take place in the community when we started Refresh but it is flourishing now.
Stepping Stones is church for two to four-year-olds and their parents and carers. This takes place each Monday and has become an integral part of the week for many.
Other children's activities include Boulder Gang on Thursdays and Rock Solid Crew. The groups are run in six week blocks and there are social events in between, things like games nights, activity sessions, movie nights and adventure walks. Each week we follow a theme based on a Bible story and a memory verse and we include games, worship, and prayer. We have an average of 25 primary school children coming along each week, with 16 of those not attending any other form of church.
In June we took a group of 32 of these young people to a Christian residential weekend called 'Spree'. They all had a great time and are already looking forward to going back next year.
More recently, and as part of Refresh, Deeper was developed for 14 to 19-year-olds in the village. Deeper is a home group for teenagers, which meets each Sunday in a Church Army house we have here. The aim of the group is to disciple the young people who come along and encourage them to grow deeper in their relationship with God. The evening consists of games, a talk and discussion with food. On average 12 young people attend regularly. We see youth work as a priority so we are looking at new ways of developing youth work for 2011.
At the other end of the age range, another group came about when Mary – a member of Refresh – felt called by God to invite the elderly people we visit each week to come to a regular tea party. Mary serves a home-cooked meal with plenty of cakes and scones for afters. Our guests chat to their peers and lifelong friends who they haven’t seen for years and this is sometimes followed by a short time of worship and a speaker talking about some aspect of their Christian faith.
Some of those at Refresh are still involved with their local church and we did come close to meeting on a Sunday because we wanted to reach families but we decided that wasn't the right way forward. We have explored, and continue to explore, a lot of options but the important thing is that we see ourselves as part of the one Church with Jesus at the head of it.