Andy Poultney is minister-in-charge of Deeper Network Church, based in what was a restaurant on Romford High Street.
Deeper Network Church originated as 'Deeper' six years ago at St James', Collier Row, with St John's, Havering-Atte-Bower. Deeper, a fresh expression of church, came together as I began serving as curate with a bunch of young adults; my plan was simply to see what God was doing and join in with it.
Following much discussion and prayer, we decided that we wanted to focus on other young adults in the pub and club culture of central Romford. Night-time economy is important here; about 10,000 to 12,000 people descend on the local pubs and clubs every weekend.
We had great support from the community of St James' and St John's and the result was that we launched The Deeper Lounge as a safe space, in Romford's market place, on Friday nights. It started in December 2009 and it has continued to run most weeks; we have served many hundreds of cups of tea and coffee since then and – more importantly – met some great people and had some great chats.
Working alongside Street Pastors, we set up under one of the market stalls and operated from there. After a while, the local authority recognised that we were providing a valuable service and wanted to help us a little more so they bought us a large, pop-up gazebo. It was about a year ago that we moved to a prime spot and now we regularly see about 100 people a night.
I'm part of The Order of Mission and, using missional community 'language', I was – by this stage – beginning to think about what was to happen next because the end of my curacy was on the horizon. The Friday nights were going well and there was also a youth project called DIY (Deeply Impacting Youth) which was engaging with about 60-70 young people.
There was a very strong sense that if we moved away, the work was not yet strong enough to be led by anybody else, and in 2012 we felt God was calling us to become a permanent presence in central Romford rather than just dipping in and out.
In April 2013, ten of us were released from St James' and St John's in order to establish a new worshipping community known as Deeper Network Church. Our office base, and home to lots of what we do now, is called The Deeper Lounge and it's on the high street in Romford.
It's owned by the London Borough of Havering and we rent it from them. It used to be an Afro-Caribbean restaurant but the building has been gutted at a cost of £50,000. It's always incredible to see what God can do, time and time again I've been in the building while work has been going on and as people walk past, one in five will stop and ask what is going on. It offers a natural opportunity to get into conversations with all sorts of people. We applied to the Mission Opportunities Fund to cover our salary costs but money is tight and we are living by faith beyond 2014.
The Diocese of Chelmsford granted us a Bishop's Mission Order and this has been important in how we, and others, view the work. When talking about The Deeper Lounge I like to say, 'this is not a youth centre, it's not a community centre, I want to start calling it home – to us that home is a church'. It's a venue and the idea is that we will continue to do a lot of outward focused work and to engage with mission with different community groups.
We have got a reception area, a coffee shop-sized space, a small kitchen, an office and a prayer room. The plan after Easter is to do a bit of everything in this space, including activities for young people, homeless people and parents. Deeper Network Church will develop for all these different people groups.
Part of my previous role was to act as youth adviser to the bishop but I am now stopping that work as my wife and I will be moving into a community house because I'm becoming Young Vocations Champion for the diocese. This will involve mentoring interns and four guys will live with us and take on placements.
Basically, everything that we do begins with service. When we're out under the gazebo speaking to young people late at night at Friday, we'll say, 'would you like a free tea or coffee?' Generally the third or fourth question people ask is, 'why are you doing this?' You tell them and we get varying responses: from complete disbelief to 'oh, that's cute' or similar.
Everything we do is to move on conversations and relationships from 'Oh cute' to our vision of deepening life together as disciples of Jesus Christ. That can be a real challenge but there's nothing else I'd rather do.