The Well

An ex-mining village in Dunfermline lies at the heart of a developing fresh expression of church. Aileen Christie reports.

It takes a long time to build trust and relationship and we have certainly found that at Wellwood. It's a village of about 750 people and it's a place that's quite isolated in the northern part of Dunfermline.

Wellwood used to be a mining village but the industry's decline brought difficult times for what is a close-knit community.

In 2004, Wellwood was brought into the parish of Gillespie Memorial Church, part of the Church of Scotland. We were doing Purpose Driven Church and, at one point, we all held hands before being told to turn around and look outwards. Some of us felt it was no coincidence that Wellwood came into our parish at that very stage in the life of Gillespie.

The congregation embraced the idea of reaching out to the village but it didn't go too smoothly at first; we tried to deliver Easter eggs but this was met with suspicion by villagers who had been let down by churches in the past. Thankfully, that seems almost unbelievable now – and it's all down to the community relationships we have built up since then.

Jesus in the Park,or J in the Park, was our next step. That's when we took a large tent to the local park in the summer of 2006 and offered a week-long programme of activities, including drama, games, crafts and worship. We did that for five years and we did see some people coming to faith, that was all well and good but it was then a major step for them to walk into a traditional church setting.

We started off with the whole congregation involved and now there is a relatively small number of people concerned with it, I guess it's slightly unusual because it has taken the opposite track to many fresh expressions in that we began with a very large group that has now become smaller in number – but the good thing is that the smaller group is one that's more focused on its intention to be church in the community.

In those early days, ten years ago, we weren't looking to create a fresh expression of church; all we wanted to do was to engage the people of Wellwood to come to our church. In the first year, some of the kids came along and we built up some good relationships. After that, we did have people coming down to church and it was a complete disaster; that's when we realised that church as we knew it was just not going to meet the needs of people with no experience of church.

From then on our aim was not to get them to come to our church but to find out what would be 'church' at Wellwood – and that's still the journey we're on today. We are still not there in exploring discipleship but we can see that that will come in God's time.

We started to put our energies into getting to know the residents and developing friendships with them. We had a Scripture Union group at Wellwood Primary School and that meant we were seeing the people every week; it just built relationships but it really does take such a long time, we couldn't believe how many years it takes to get to that stage.

Again, we still had no idea of setting up a fresh expression of church but then I did the mission shaped ministry course in Edinburgh and things developed from there. We'd come to the natural end of Jesus in the Park at the point when I was doing msm and I felt it right that we should have a permanent presence in the village, a place for the community which might also become home to a fresh expression.

There wasn't a community facility at all at Wellwood. There was a small food store and what was an empty unit next to it which people remembered as a post office and later a beauty salon. It's a fairly small space and had lain empty all the time we had been in the village. If we were going to set up a permanent presence in the village, that was the only place to do it.

The Well - building and bannerInitially we were completely funded by the church but after Jesus in the Park finished, the funding wasn't as available so we were looking for external funding. Thankfully, we have a great relationship with the Fife Council in the Dunfermline area and they were very amenable to partnering with us in Wellwood. We also applied to various trusts and the Go For It fund of the Church of Scotland. Although not significant sums of money, this helped us to tell our story in various circles of assistance. Go For It has been such a huge source of support and encouragement along the way and we are very grateful for that.

We knew that we had to make a move for the empty unit so, in the end, we just went into the neighbouring shop and asked the woman who owned both sets of premises, 'How do you feel about us taking on the next door unit, even though we can't afford to pay anything like what you are asking?' She said, 'That sounds like a great idea!' It should have been £650 a month but she gave it to us for the first year for £200 a month with an increase to £300 after that time.

The wonderful thing is that Gillespie Memorial Church did support us in that. They agreed that if we didn't manage to get funding, they would underwrite us when we took on the lease. That sort of support meant such a lot to us.

We can have small meetings in the unit, which has become a real hub for the local community and is known as The Well, but we are now hoping to move into the local primary school. That's when I think we can start developing working with adults coming in and having meetings and chats. At the moment the environment doesn't allow for that. It's really reaching the end of its lifespan for us but it was the ideal location at the time.

We're into our fourth year and the unit is used regularly by the community. We have a lively youth group on a Monday night and hope to revive a drop-in on Thursday lunchtimes for secondary school pupils.

People in the village give us far more credit than we feel is due to us for making things happen but the truth is that they have found the confidence to develop as a community; we have been happy to support them in that. A major turning point was the planning of a Gala in the village. In mining communities, the Gala was a big event on the calendar but there hadn't been a Gala at Wellwood for about 20 years.

Then it was decided that it would be great to have a Gala again and The Well became the meeting place for the Gala committee. We were able to facilitate that and we helped with applications to the council, and so on, but we weren't even officially on the committee; we simply went along to the meetings.

It was fantastic to see people gain in confidence and actually take control but even until the very last minute we didn't know how the wider community would react to the Gala. We went to the top of the village where the parade was going to start, there weren't many people around… and then, with 10 minutes to go, all the doors opened and the people came out as the band came marching down the road. It was so significant for everyone in the village. That then was the turning point because the attitude changed from complaining about the council to thinking about what they could achieve themselves.

By the second year, it strengthened our relationship with the community and the rest of the people. Now we're looking forward to the fourth Gala on the last Saturday in July.

It has been a real highlight to see how that has developed but there have also been some terrible low points. Wellwood's primary school closed in October 2014 as part of a package of school closures across the area; we walked alongside the parents to build a case for the school to remain open but, in the end, the decision went against them. It was a devastating blow.

The children now have to go out of the village to school. They have settled all right but I think it's more about the impact on the community not to have a school at the heart of it any more.

But there's now a possibility of using the redundant school premises, getting it at a token rent for use by the community. We really hope the residents get the chance to do that, particularly as they are saying to us, 'The church needs to be there, we couldn't do it without you'.

We have to get the paperwork done by April. We never know where we are going next on this journey but we would hope and pray to be established in the old school buildings in the summer.

The school closure was awful, though working closely with the parents has been such a blessing. If the school was made available, it would give us the space to do a lot more, particularly with the kids, and it would also give us so much more scope in the range of things on offer.

There are three of us on the team at the moment. I work with Shirley and Linda (our respective husbands also lend a hand!) We are all lay people. We also have those who support us in the church – mainly in prayer but they are also there if we need help at all. As I've mentioned, there was a massive buy-in from Gillespie Memorial Church at the start and there is still a lot of goodwill but, in practical terms, it's just us.

All three of us are 50 and we are in this journey for the long haul. We all do what we can do and then we wait and see what happens. We do work very closely with the people on the Gala committee, about four or five of them, and I think we are at a tipping point in terms of members of the local community stepping up to take responsibility. I think we are on the verge of seeing people say, is there a role for me?

We are all partners working in Wellwood together. The adults now know there is no 'side' to us; it would never have worked if we did. We say, 'we are here to help you', because it's all about working alongside people so that they are finding out for themselves.

How many people are coming to our church? That's not what we are about. We have seen change in the community and have built up trusting, open relationships which leave the way open for deeper conversations to arise naturally. All the children in the village had contact with J in the park and the SU group and now have a grounding in the Bible stories and, we hope, an understanding of who Jesus is.

We've encountered some ministers in the wider church who do not have much understanding about what we are trying to do and don't seem to be 'buying' it. But that's OK, we just try and remain faithful to what God wants us to do with the people in this area; we leave everything else up to him.

The Stowe

Wichelstowe is a new housing area on the outskirts of Swindon, Wiltshire. Baptist pioneer minister Ali Boulton describes how The Stowe Church has developed there.

On 17 January 2008, in a Baptist ministers' prayer meeting, I was asked to pray for a yet to be built housing estate. As I bent my head to pray, I had one of those overwhelming encounters with God which left me with a sure sense that God was calling me to move to the estate to holistically serve and bless the community and plant a church.

That was the start of the journey which has resulted in the emergence of a new church and positive engagement in a new community.

It is hard to share everything about the last six-and-a-half years in one article so I have picked out some key events and principles. The first one the importance of 'calling' I have already shared.

The next key principles are prayer, partnership and discernment/preparation. The first step in my journey was to join the ecumenical prayer group which was made up of church leaders of the churches surrounding the planned new estateand the town's chaplain. Prayer for the estate started before I joined the group and I feel that prayer has made a huge difference – prayer and listening to God has unpinned the whole process.

The Stowe - housesPartnership has also been key. My first partnership was with the ecumenical group. We worked together on some foundational elements of the project, if I can call it that, we did not however move forward with a local ecumenical partnership in mind, but rather within a framework of a lead denomination. Personally, I think this has been key in allowing a new missional churches to emerge. Not everyone agrees with me but I hope that other denominations will take the lead in other new housing areas within these light touch partnerships based on relational support and prayer.

As well as specifically Baptist organisations, I also partnered the local housing association and the council. The housing association were keen to work with me as soon as they realisedI was going to move into the area because this demonstrated a level of commitment which interested them. They approached me before I moved in and offered me a grant to be able to deliver some of things I felt God was calling us to do – which was amazing! The relationship with both the housing association and the council has deepened over the years and become a really fruitful partnership. We have partnered many other organisations too – including churches, and charities such as those working with victims of abuse, metal health, and children and families.

This all formed part of the 14-month discernment and preparation leading up to moving into the estate. We also built up a team during this time of three other Christian couples who, alongside my family, were committed to unconditionally loving, blessing and serving the new estate. This included a retired Anglican priest, his wife, and two young couples from different church traditions. We covenanted to one another agreeing to be missional together and not seek to be spiritually fed and also to move onto the estate within two years. Unfortunately this last covenant promise has not been met fully as it has been financially impossible for two couples – however we are all still serving the community alongside each other. During this time of discernment and preparation, I constituted and formed a community group – with the other church leaders as trustees as there were no residents at that point. Also, as Churches Together, we applied for a council grant and planning permission for a portacabin on site, and I worked alongside the West of England Baptist Associationfor some help to buy a house and to apply for a special ministries grant from Baptist Home Mission.

The Stowe - welcome basketAnd so in April 2009, my family and I were the first to move on to the estate with a vision to unconditionally holistically bless the community and to seek to join in with the work of God's Spirit. The importance of living on the estate and being there right from the beginning was really significant, as was the call to bless in all areas of life.

It was the time of the credit crunch and so we lived alone on the estate for a month before the next residents moved in. Also because of the credit crunch, all the social houses filled up first. This was high priority social housing, so there were some quite vulnerable people in the first residents.

For the first year, I visited everyone as they moved in and gave them a welcome basket. It got crazy after a while but I would have liked to do it longer. As I met with each new resident I introduced myself as 'I'm Ali, I'm your neighbour. I'm a Baptist minister but I'm here to serve all faiths and none. Let me know if you have ideas about what we can do together.' My visits and the welcome baskets were unconditional – I told them about me but didn't ask for anything in for in return.

I felt that God had said some specific things to us:

  • first, I felt that God had said not to talk about him. It seemed like a strange missional strategy but more people came and talked to me about faith than ever before in my Christian life, which was amazing! Later, when we had some opposition to the Christian presence in the area, people commented that I had never imposed my faith on anyone. This was important as, by then, people had become Christians and a church for the unchurched had emerged.
  • secondly, I felt that God had said that he would tell us what to do through the community. This became very significant as time went on. I guess we just set about making friends with people. Some people wanted to exchange numbers, meet for coffee and set up a Facebook group. We organised a community fun day alongside the housing association and in response to our neighbours, organised community games.

The Stowe - venueAfter the community day, more people got in touch. Within a few days I was contacted for the first time by someone on the brink of suicide – this has become a key part of my ministry on the estate.

I also had some women come to my door saying, 'We loved the community day; will you organise a Halloween party next?' We struggled with that as none of us believed in celebrating Halloween but God had told us to unconditionally bless the community – all faiths and none – he had also told us that he would tell us what to do through the community. After much prayer, and the verse from Acts 10 telling Peter not to call things unclean which God has made clean, we did the party. One of my teenagers commented, 'Mum thinks she has claimed backed pumpkins for God; he thought he had them already.'

It was at the Halloween party that someone said, 'Do you know what I'd like? Wouldn't it be lovely if you did us a nativity play with all the children?' This ended up as a big outdoor community event. If we had said no to Halloween, I think that would have shut the door. The Halloween party is now an annual event.

We continued to serve the community in response to, and alongside, the people around us. Mostly starting in our house, we set up a toddler group, coffee morning, a toddler lunch club, a youth club, an after school club and amazingly we were asked to start a God club for the kids on a Sunday afternoon. There isn't space to share that whole story!

The Stowe - prayer walkingOur first Easter there, in 2010, was amazing. Some people were chatting about Easter and in response to some comment I made, I was asked if Easter was a 'God thing?' To cut a long story short, we put on some activities on Good Friday morning to explore the Christian story of Easter in the portacabin. We expected a few kids or families but about 50 people with no church background came along. It was a very special time. As a result I invited people to join us on Easter Sunday morning and 35 people joined us.

We thought we would do it again at Pentecost – but God reminded us that he was in control and would tell us what to do through the community. So ten days after Easter, someone said she had enjoyed church on Easter day at our house so much, could she come every week? Of course we didn't have a church but as I tried to think what to say she filled in the blanks! '10.30, your house on Sunday?' 'Sure!' And so the next Sunday, church began. The lady who asked me has never been, but that first Sunday, two families came and we saw our first person become a Christian a couple of weeks later on 24th April. We saw her life transform and she was the first to be baptised. Praise God we have seen others come to faith and be baptized too.

As we continued to work in the community the number of people exploring faith grew and we moved out of my house, first to the new school hall then into the community centre. We became a recognised church called The Stowe and part of the Baptist Union of Great Britain at the start of 2013.

We have continued to seek to unconditionally love and bless the community and we have worked alongside people of all faiths and none to establish a charitable community association and build healthy partnerships between the community and wider bodies such as the council and developers. The line between church and community is very blurred but we believe God is in it all and we have seen him bless this estate. This is very encouraging as the current houses are just the first 875 of 4,500 so we have a long way to go yet.

The Stowe - baptismI'd love to share more with you about how God has worked in the local community – through giving us a word to wash the feet of the community, resulting in regular pamper nights, and another word about an empowerment course. I'd like to tell you more about the people who have come to faith, about healings, and lives that have been changed. I'd love to tell you about our community activities, community trips, church camping weekends, our schools' work and my years as chair of governors in the new school and our new work with children, youth and families. But there isn't space for it all!

One of the greatest blessings is seeing new Christians grasping the vision to love and bless this community, some even taking on leadership.

This is particularly significant now as I've now been appointed the Pioneer Mission Enabler for the Southern Counties Baptist Association (SCBA). I'm supporting communities and projects already taking place in the region,helping people to build on mature church traditions and explore what pioneer mission looks like in their context. I'm working alongside people engaging with existing communities and helping to identifying new housing areas, make connections with other community stakeholders and create partnerships. It's exciting to see opportunities already developing.

It's a half-time role so I'll still be at The Stowe and I see the new job as being very much connected to the practical work on the ground. The words 'teaching hospital' come to mind because when people come to visit to see what we're doing here and join in, God seems to inspire them to go and love and bless their own communities. Also some of the community here are keen to support other churches locally; it's part of them being connected to the wider church.

Of course there are and will continue to be many challenges within the Stowe and SCBA as we seek to pioneer. New churches are fragile – people who explore faith come and go as the parable of the sower tells us. But God has done more than we could have asked or imagined and I look forward to joining in with what he is continuing to do both locally and regionally.

Cortonwood

Lieutenant Catherine Dodd is leader of The Salvation Army in Cortonwood, South Yorkshire. She tells how their mission to 'go, gather and grow' has developed in the past six months.

I've been in church leadership for the past 10 years and had been serving part-time at Cortonwood since 2010 – alongside being the Officer (Minister) at an established Salvation Army church locally. In October 2013 I was appointed as the full-time leader here and Cortonwood was recognised by The Salvation Army as a new Church plant. We are situated right at the heart of our community, in a neutral venue above the Cortonwood Miners' Welfare Club.

Cortonwood was deeply affected by the miners' strike 30 years ago and the subsequent demise of the UK coal industry. Cortonwood Colliery closed and, as the biggest employer locally, this meant that life was changed forever for most of the families here.  As a miner's daughter, I understand the culture and have a heart for the people of ex-mining communities.

Cortonwood - rainbowIt had been felt for some time that God wanted to do a new thing in the Dearne Valley, and so began the process of discerning the 'what' and 'where'. Since 2010, The Salvation Army had been experimenting with different ministries through the formation of a Dearne Valley Planting Team, which I was blessed to part of. Confirmation soon came that Cortonwood was the place where God wanted us to be.

There was no physical Church presence in Cortonwood – the Methodist Chapel closed a few years back, and the parish church is situated in a neighbouring village, but I always believed that God wanted to build a church here in Cortonwood. Furthermore, I discerned that it was never his intention to plant a Church by parachuting in a group of Christians. He made it clear to me that this new plant was to be formed from people within the community who, for whatever reason, were not engaging with a traditional, attractional model of church. He wanted it to emerge from us 'journeying out' and coming alongside the community, working with them and seeing what would develop – without being prescriptive as to what it would look like or what shape it would be. To have the freedom to be part of that from the very early days, and then go on to lead that, is a great blessing.

Cortonwood - venueInitially, we did not have a base of our own and so we used various community venues as gathering places, which is something that we still do and are keen to maintain– we didn't want to go down the route of having one place that would be regarded as 'Church'. We have been blessed with the provision of our base at the Miners' Welfare Club, which provides us with office space, a community prayer room and multipurpose room – it's an accessible place where people can come along without it being a traditional Church building, which can sometimes be a barrier to people. We use it for some of our events, but by no means all.

One of the venues that we use is Costa Coffee. We have always had a good relationship with the manager there, and so when we were looking for a venue for worship we made an approach and we were delighted to be allowed to use this space. Since June 2012, we have used Costa as the venue for our now monthly worship event 'The Gathering', where we meet after hours on a Sunday evening. It's an event which is aimed at unchurched people, where there is good coffee, conversation, live music and opportunity to pause for thought.

Cortonwood - choirWe were very keen to have multiple connection points with our church. Some of the activities that we are currently delivering include weekly school's ministry, Toddlersong, food drop-in (with budgeting advice on offer too) and a Community Choir. Since January 2014, a weekly informal and conversational cell group has commenced which we call 'Time & Space', giving people an opportunity to ask the difficult questions as they explore faith. It's beautiful to see how God brings that together. The people are shaping that time of worship themselves through partnering with the Spirit; that's the way it's got to be. We have some powerful prayer times and it's very raw; it's allowing people to 'be' where they are. We have got a lot of needs in this area and some people feel downtrodden; when they start to see their value in the eyes of God, it's quite a special moment.

The key to relevance, is, for me, all about being willing to be experimental and acknowledging that this is a valid form of church. It has to be fluid. Whatever we start, we are not going to put it on tablets of stone and continue with something ad infinitum; we view things in seasons, and we just go with it. I believe this missional community, this fresh expression, is not a 'stepping stone' to traditional church – it is certainly church in its own right; yes it's firmly rooted in Salvationist doctrine but we are not frightened to be quite pioneering in the ways we go and reach out to the community.

Cortonwood - pictureWe want this to a place where people feel safe, welcomed and loved, where we can work out together what it means to be disciples of Jesus today as we serve the community of Cortonwood.

It's wonderful to see individual's lives being changed as God’s work develops. One of the guys, who is coming to food bank, wants to start to get involved in volunteering; we are also establishing a community allotment as a means of creating community, tackling food poverty by growing fresh fruit and veg for our food drop-in and caring for creation, and we are also seeing people from our local community get involved with this.

It's still very early days but it's a wonderfully energising thing to be involved in – you know that when you get up in the morning you are going to see evidence of what God's doing in people's lives. I have always had a heart for the unchurched and a real concern that people need to hear the gospel but can't – or won't – come to established church. At Cortonwood, we are seeing people engaging with our way of being Church who would not otherwise do so. It's so important to come alongside people in relevant ways as part of their community and leave it to God to engineer the conversation. We've seen that happening in all sorts of ways, including through the local school, where I have been involved for the past four years, and have recently taken on the role as School Chaplain. We did a whole school, in-school Messy Nativity and most recently a Messy Easter for all children and their parents.

Cortonwood - canesOur next priorities will be serving people in practical ways by offering 'eating on a budget' (cook 'n' eat) sessions, and setting up as an Employment Plus Centre, where people can come along and receive help in their job searching. It's all part of discerning the current needs within our community and responding accordingly.

In January, Vicky Hughes joined our team as a part-time Community Development Coordinator. Her role is to develop the food bank and get our community allotment up and running. She will also ascertain community needs and put plans in place to ensure that we can, in the name of Jesus, do something to help towards meeting those needs.

Life can seem very busy at times as I seek to balance ministry and family life. As well as leading this church plant, I'm also doing a MA in Aspects of Biblical Interpretation through London School of Theology. Distance learning can be difficult and the 10 hours of study per week can be tricky to fit in but I carry on with what God has set before me; I always find that he gives me the time I need to do what he wants me to do. I never feel overwhelmed in any way, and firmly believe that Cortonwood is where God has called me to be.

Cortonwood - hand creamChurch has got to be accessible for people. We need to be available to our communities, to love them and be prepared to journey with them in an authentic way. When we move away from our perceptions of how church should look and abandon ourselves to the Spirit, then we see God do amazing things. It is a joy to behold. Lord, may your Kingdom come, your will be done in Cortonwood, as it is in heaven.

Buckshaw Village Church

Pioneer curate James Gwyn-Thomas is based at St Andrew's, Leyland, and also leads Buckshaw Village Church.

Buckshaw Village, known to many as Buckshaw, only started to be built 10 years ago. It's a huge area between the towns of Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire and is one of the largest sites for urban development in the North West. There's a population of about 10,000 at the moment but that's set to rise by a few thousand more as new housing becomes available.

Buckshaw - scaffoldingIt is being developed on the site of what was the Royal Ordnance Factory, Chorley, and Buckshaw is sandwiched between the M6 and M61 which means that a lot of the residents work in Preston or Manchester because the road links are so good.

Interestingly, there's a huge craving for community because everyone who moves here is new; no-one's grown up together in this place and that means they want to find a community spirit. Many people choose to come to Buckshaw because it was built with that expectation of creating community.

Buckshaw - houseInstead, it can seem a bit strange to newcomers at first because Buckshaw Village is all very manicured and neat, like living permanently in Center Parcs! That's why, when I first came, I spent the first four months just talking to people, finding out more about them and their lives, and listening to what they wanted to see happen here.

Buckshaw Village Church is a church plant from St Andrew's in Leyland and was established in the summer of 2010, with the support of the local Methodist and Anglican congregations in Leyland, Chorley and Euxton. Led by my predecessor, Ken Campbell, a small group of people started meeting together on Sunday mornings. The idea was to make gatherings accessible to everyone, regardless of age, background and any previous experience of 'church'.

Buckshaw - dog walkingWhen I came to Buckshaw, I found that the key thing was to hold everything lightly. We just wanted – and still want – to find ways of church getting involved with what the community is already doing, such as what happens through Buckshaw Village Community Association. It's very important to me that the word 'we' – rather than 'I' – is used when talking about the church here and, as part of that, we now have a church leadership team in place. I'm not on my own in this. Buckshaw Village Church exists for the community and in the community.

Buckshaw - chattingI work quite closely with local Anglican and Methodist ministers because we see Buckshaw as a kingdom priority; and we find it's so important to meet, pray for and support one another. The Methodists are also starting to come into the local primary school where they're running a Messy Church with our support.

Our main meeting of the week is on Sunday mornings in the Buckshaw Community Centre. We don't have a church building but we do hire the community centre room and that's our biggest financial outlay. Shops are being developed and some have already opened, including a café called Cowshed which is where we now run the Alpha Course on Thursday evenings.

Buckshaw - Community CentreBut some of our greatest growth is not through outreach courses like Alpha, but rather, through the relationships that form through times such as our toddler group: Semi-Quavers. Meeting on a Tuesday morning for many parents on the village has proven to be a life line and they greatly appreciate the time we spend together. Relationships, relationships, relationships! It has been great to provide events where we, as a church, can get to know the community. We've had a whiskey night, curry nights, afternoon-teas and hope to have cheese, wine, sausage, coffee and film nights too, all open to the community. As relationships are being built, we are starting to see crossover into our Sunday service as people realise they quite like us and can certainly trust us and that they too are actually quite interested in their own relationship with God!

Buckshaw - audience

It is of course also so important to have our midweek youth groups (sorted) and the recently started growth groups for fellowship and discipleship.

Buckshaw became a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) because this is quite a big village but not a big enough community to have lots of different types of church. There was a danger that the area would attract all sorts of church plants which could weaken the overall mission. By working with the other local denominations, we said, 'Let's protect this and work together and be strategic for the kingdom'.

Buckshaw - coffeeIt's my first curacy but I already feel that, in future, I'm not going to long for a parish that has a church building because there is something very special about not having one! At the community centre, if people feel comfortable coming through the door for karate or acting class then you already have a head start. But a question is, 'How can we make that space that was sweaty on a Friday night for karate become one where we go to have a really special place of worship? Is it possible?' The answer seems to be, 'yes we can' because we are not limited, we can explore and discover, we can make mistakes as we continue to think about, 'What is the best way to do church in Buckshaw?'

Buckshaw - team

BELLS

Phil Smith is a lay pastor in a Queensland school and he is also helping to grow a faith community around a barbecue.

We are based on Australia's Sunshine Coast in a new real estate development where there is no church building. I work half time for the Uniting Church as one of two campus ministers at the Unity College ecumenical school in Caloundra.

In Bells Reach and Bell Vista, people are moving from the colder southern states to live the dream in Queensland but many find it's just another suburb – like the ones they left behind.

The estate surrounds the school, which is supported by Roman Catholic and Uniting Church parishes, and those involved in BELLS are people who live, work or go to school in that area. Using the College, BELLS has connected with 65 people in its first six months, meeting fortnightly on Sunday afternoons to hear one another's stories and ask where we see and hear God at work in our lives. We don't have a building or rows of pews; instead we get together either at Unity College or in the nearby park.

Our first big breakthrough came just before Christmas 2013 when the developer asked us, as the local church(!), to welcome people and provide a short chat and some worship songs at the open-air carols and movie evening. We introduced ourselves to 1,000 people, with the help of the Uniting Church, Churches of Christ, The Salvation Army and a local Christian radio station which provided cards and CDs to give away.

BELLS - music

BELLS (Belonging, Eating, Listening, Learning and Serving) is an acronym which describes what we stand for:

  • belonging together and within the community, a blessing we share;
  • eating, always part of our gathering, whether that's barbecue or breaking bread;
  • listening to one another's stories;
  • learning where Jesus' story intersects with ours;
  • serving and sending us out into the community.

BELLS originally grew from an occasional discussion group for senior high school students from Unity College in 2012. It became known as The God Stuff amongst eight or 10 regulars who said they couldn't cope with a traditional church service. Why? Their comments included, 'We don't know when to sit down and stand up' and 'We only usually sing when we're a bit drunk at karaoke nights'.

It was all very different with us because of it being story based. We would have coffee by the beach in late afternoon and explore how our experiences that week had been touched and shaped by what Jesus said. Christians in their mid-20s would come and tell their stories.

Then, at about the same time as Caloundra Uniting Church started praying about mission in the development around the school, a handful of 'non-church' staff, parents and students at Unity College also began asking about developing The God Stuff.

A group began to explore these issues on the understanding that there would be no plans for a church building (with a big cross at the front of it) or expectation that people would drive in from all over the place to sit in pews there.

BELLS - kitchen

Our questions and discussions centred on the nature of church, an understanding of Luke 10, and Jesus sending 'beginner disciples' into the villages where he had not yet been – to build relationship with people of peace, engage with them and accept their hospitality.

Rather than create something and ask people to come to a specific event, we put the word around that we were simply going to buy pizza one Sunday evening in June last year and see who turned up. We hoped for 15 but instead 37 people came to tell us what a gathering might be like and what it would achieve. Their main message was, 'don't call it church'.

Caloundra Uniting Church endorsed this organic development and sponsored us. Members donated some $5,000 to support what we were doing, and a handful of them come each fortnight to make the coffee, turn the sausages and pray for the group.

That same church is now seeking three years of funding to create a half-time pastor's position for me to grow BELLS as a faith community, a fresh expression of church.  This neighbourhood is set to grow dramatically over time with Caloundra South housing 50,000 people in the next 15 years.

Eating is a major part of what we do! People relax and talk when there's food and for Australians a BBQ is standard. Bringing food to a BBQ is an act of sharing; this may well be a ritual/liturgical aspect of BELLS, although one might not recognise it!

At the moment, we are focused on Luke's gospel for the messages to think about in our fortnightly meetings; considering how the Jesus story can be lived out in a culture that does not take it as 'given'. We prepare for that by putting out a trailer out on our YouTube channel a week before the meeting. The BELLS crew then begin to think of their own life experiences in relation to the message. We put up posters around the place and on the school noticeboard; it's also in the school newsletter and Community Association website.

BELLS - choppingOur meetings start with a 'sixty Seconds with…' slot when a volunteer is asked three questions in a minute. This not only acts as an ice-breaker but it provides an opportunity for an initial personal reflection on the message theme. The table groups then chat around those questions as we eat.

Two of our team sing for us and we now have some neighbourhood kids who are beginning to bring their guitars and jam along.

Someone will tell their story related to the message, perhaps on how they have experienced forgiveness – or something similar, then I talk about the scripture for five minutes. We pray simple thanks and requests in different ways, talk about our next opportunity for belonging or serving… and finish our dinner.

When we think about how we might grow the faith community, the school connection is certainly a 'foot in the door' and we have also had much encouragement from many other people of peace locally. The school principal offered the covered BBQ and canteen area for us; the real estate developer now views us as the local church; the publican and the Community Association advertise our gatherings and we actively engage with them in community events, such as park concerts and Christmas carols.

In seven months, four core households have emerged. Younger couples with kids have taken on the leadership in exploring opportunities for belonging, eating (looking at hospitality), listening – as in leading our worship times – and finding ways for us to serve.

As the pastor, my responsibility is the learning content. We also have three older, mature Christians – including two retired, ordained ministers – who pray for us and seek the big vision. They help give a framework of theological understanding to what we are exploring.

BELLSIn the light of Caloundra Uniting Church being our supportive 'mothership', I attend their church council meetings. Their insurance and finance people also look after our necessary bureaucracy.

At this stage I add all preparation for BELLS to my workload at school – hence our meetings being fortnightly. We very much want to become a weekly gathering and develop some discipleship/home groups. If funding becomes available in June 2014, I will be paid a stipend to spend half the week in the neighbourhood.

Our costs as this stage only involve the provision of food because our venue is free. Donations from individuals with a vision as to what we are doing here have amounted to about $7,000.

Long-term commitment is very important. A significant part of building relationships of trust with community groups, the local council, and so on, is the assurance that we will be here in 15 years' time. God knows what the neighbourhood, or our faith community, will look like then but we are here to grow with the neighbourhood from stage one.

I first heard of fresh expressions of church when researching new forms of church online and then followed up on that with a call to a couple of Uniting Church ministers in South Australia. It's exciting to see what God is doing in Caloundra as part of that fresh expressions movement worldwide. Our accountability is formally through the local Uniting Church but we are also blessed by encouragement and regular contact with other denominations with a heart for the new neighbourhood.

How might things develop from here? Well, after six months, and – it seems – the ongoing possibility of personnel and time resources, we have a few challenges and questions to consider.

  • More than 100 people have connected with us but the fortnightly gathering is always around 30. Half of that is core and constant. How will we go beyond that initial contact to build good daily friendships?
  • How will we offer discipleship/faith exploration programs and what will they be? (Our neighbourhood isn't asking the questions Alpha is answering, yet).
  • We are being deliberately engaged in the Community Association, events in the park and so on but there are new opportunities too. There are hoops to jump through but the developer's former sales office may be handed to Caloundra City Council to become a small community hub. Could we become the managing agents? If so, we could engage with many other community groups, have a highly visible venue for gatherings of different kinds.

Down Community Church

County Down, in Northern Ireland, is the setting for a missional community reaching out to people who feel they 'don't fit' into a traditional church context.

A group of friends, including pastors Karen Sethuraman and Gordon McDade, had a vision that was launched in a hotel in the market town of Ballynahinch in October 2010 as Down Community Church or dcc. Karen and Gordon tell of the story so far.

The vision was conceived after many years of effective community outreach by active churches. The challenge came when it consistently proved difficult to integrate our new community contacts into the life of a more traditional model of church. We used to hear the same phrase again and again, 'I don't fit in there', and so we started to ask the searching question, 'What would it be like to plant a church for people who feel they don't fit?' We've been trying to answer that question for the last three years! In the process, we have discovered that there is a vast chasm between church and community when it comes to spiritual transformation and discipleship. We have not taken in any way from the other churches in the community but are seeking to be a different kind of spiritual community with the specific focus of reaching people across the whole community who have no connection with church.

Down Community Church - group on sofaIt has been a very steep learning curve for us, not least because we initially failed to appreciate how inaccessible even a contemporary expression of church with songs, prayers and a talk, could be to people with no church background. So began a season of what came to be known as 'unlearning' which proved to be both unsettling and yet creative as we explored relevance and innovation together in the pursuit of meaningful belonging and believing.

Over time, and with many mistakes, a template has evolved within our journey that enables our fledgling community to engage with God and what it means to know and follow Jesus. For us, belonging is paramount and – because we see ourselves as a family and intentionally relational – a domestic motif has emerged to help us define and develop our model of community. Our vision has been galvanised by our values of grace, acceptance, equality, creativity, generosity and risk.

The Sunday morning gathering is known as the Living Room. Set up in café-style, there is endless coffee and extensive use of visual media in seeking to be culturally relevant with a recognition of the power of story and a conversational teaching component which is dialogical and interactive. There are about 50 people connected to dcc currently and attendance can be anywhere from 5 to 30, understandable in a world where commitment in general can be erratic and changeable. We have been constantly challenged by the need to reflect on our use of language and on our understanding and explanation of the gospel.

Down Community Church - groupAt the heart of the community are strong friendships based on accepting one another as we are – no matter what. Down Community Church is an open community where you can be yourself and – whether on a journey with God or not – be loved and supported. That support has meant trips to hospitals, courts, pubs, drying-out wards, prisons and homes of all kinds. The good news of Jesus has transcended divisions of class, politics, gender, sexuality, age, culture and ethnicity. Failure is never final in our community.

On alternate Wednesday evenings, we hold the Kitchen; a smaller group in a home with a culture of fun and family and faith. The model is conversational as we discuss and apply bite-size chunks of Bible to increasingly hungry appetites. This is where we are seeing significant spiritual growth in the community.

We are intentionally programme-light in dcc to enable us to engage in community events and so make new connections where we are. We enjoyed learning Irish recently and made some new friends there; it was wonderful to have an Irish carol at our Christmas gathering last year. And we have held our own events, which we call 'gates' – ways – into dcc. These can be curry nights, pub quizzes, sports events; all are organised simply to meet people. We have partnered with other community groups to run a food bank, do a litter lift and reach out to families bereaved by suicide. There is no them and us in dcc, in our community everyone is us.

We have set ourselves up as a limited company with charitable status and have a small board of directors who lead the community. We anticipate that future leadership in dcc will be nurtured from within the community itself. All of us within the current leadership team have other jobs, working in A&E, in coaching and consultancy, even selling beds, to sustain ourselves.

Down Community Church - kitchenWe have experienced some hostility from local churches but enjoy considerable favour from the community, who have strongly encouraged us to stay and value our friendship. We are a different kind of church. We have hundreds of followers on social media and a number of sponsors who give generously to our mission. We have had opportunity to share our story of unlearning and innovation with many organisations and conferences and received such interest and support.

We are excited to link up with the fresh expressions movement and are keen to learn from the journeys of others.

RevCoffee

Methodist VentureFX Pioneer Minister Simon Oliver, whose ministry comes under the banner of 'RevCoffee', explains how new things are happening in Cottenham through community, creativity, Christianity and cappuccinos.

I am employed by the Cambridge Methodist Circuit to work alongside the Cottenham Community Centre (CCC) and Coffee Shop.

The Centre and Coffee Shop came into existence when, after many years of faithful worship and service, Cottenham Methodist Church closed down in November 2007. The day after its final service a public meeting was held to explore the possibilities of how the building might be used as a community resource.

The CCC was formed, much hard work and fund raising was carried out, and in February 2011 the beautiful Coffee Shop was opened. It is no longer a church, but I am privileged to be a part of the Community Centre team. I was appointed as part of the VentureFX scheme to work alongside the CCC with young adults and families in Cottenham, a vibrant village of about 7,000 people just outside Cambridge.

RevCoffee - counterAt the heart of my role lies a conviction that being a welcome, accepting, incarnational Christian presence in the community is key to contemporary ministry. So I spend a great deal of time simply hanging out in the coffee shop, sometimes working behind the counter, sometimes tapping away on my laptop, and often just meeting friends old and new.

Out of these relationships, and my connections with other community groups and churches in the village, I try to find fresh ways of exploring issues of life, meaning and faith. People are interested in looking at such issues but often feel alienated, disconnected or simply uninterested in traditional Church, or are just too busy with the chaos and demands of life to find the time and space in their schedules.

We now have quite a few initiatives and projects going on in and around the Community Centre and Coffee Shop; my wife and toddler are very involved in many of these groups. My approach is to be as collaborative as possible, so everything has been set up as a result of prayerfully listening to what people might be interested in, and in partnership with others (sometimes Christians, sometimes those who don't usually have anything to do with traditional church). These initiatives include:

  • Arts Night: A small group of young-ish poets, musicians, storytellers, comedians, singers, photographers and artists get together on the second Sunday of the month. It is a mostly musical group and we have also had some great poetry from Larkin, Yeats and our own members, short stories and photography. Each month has a theme (eg war and peace, parenthood, love, death, resurrection) and we share original and borrowed material and attempt collaborate in creating new works, as well as putting on quality performances. And we always have some really interesting conversations exploring issues of life and faith from a variety of perspectives.
  • Film Club: A fun, new group where people of all beliefs and none come together to watch a movie, eat popcorn and then explore the existential and spiritual issues that come out of it.
  • Dad's Play: We have a large (70-plus on the books) group of dads and male carers/guardians of under-5s who meet informally in the back hall of the Cottenham Community Centre Coffee Shop. The kids get the chance to play together while the men get a chance to eat bacon sandwiches and drink good coffee. We also have regular curry nights – although the children aren't invited to this!
  • RevCoffee - logoMarriage and Parenting Courses. We have run a number of these courses in the Coffee Shop.
  • Daily Prayer: This takes place from 8:30 – 8:45 am, Sunday to Friday at the Coffee Shop. It is often just a couple of adults and my two-year-old, but others often pop in, have a natter and occasionally join us or ask for prayer.
  • Football Plus+: A group young and not-so-young men play football on the first and third Sundays of the month, and a small group of us are exploring the possibility of using of the fourth Sunday to talk football, life and faith over a couple of beers (or lemonades).
  • the Roost: this is new all-age event which we have been experimenting with over the last few months on Sunday afternoons and which officially 'launches' in September. It is a relaxed group which includes arts, craft, conversation, messy play, videos, the Sunday papers, music, poetry, coffee, flapjack and more to give people the opportunity to have fun together, create community and to explore different issues from a Christian perspective.

All of our activities aim to be open and accessible to all, and to give people the opportunity to develop meaningful community and consider the possibility of faith. All beliefs and viewpoints are valued, and seen as equal conversation partners as we try to make sense of life together. Everything is done in very low key and simple ways and – as I have already said – relationships take precedence over activities.

My ultimate hope is that through one or more of our initiatives people are given the opportunity to have a meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ and to explore what that might mean for them.

I take the Methodist and Fresh Expressions commitment to ecumenism very seriously, and have found it very encouraging to work alongside the Baptist Church, The Salvation Army, All Saints Parish Church and Christians Together in Cottenham as we seek to develop our ministries in collaboration.

It is not always easy, but it is a wonderful role and a rewarding project, and I feel very grateful to God and to the Methodist Church for allowing me to be a part of it!

Quest-ion? Youth Project

Elaine Watkinson is on the Mission Team at Gainsborough Methodist Circuit and, with her caravan, is pioneering the Quest-ion? youth project.

I was Circuit youth coordinator in Grimsby and Cleethorpes and was involved in the ministry of the Side Door fresh expression of church in Grimsby for 12 years. However, I left the Grimsby Circuit because I was sure God wanted me to extend the mission, which wasn't possible within Grimsby at that time in the way he was calling me to do it.

What I wanted to do was to go out and meet the young people wherever they happened to be. That meant going to places like car parks, playing fields, bus stops – all the areas where they just 'hang around' and wait to see what happens.

Quest-ion? youth project - gatheringI and a colleague then moved to the Gainsborough Circuit. We got a caravan – we called it Gabriel – and we'd hitch it up and move it on all over the place for what became The Quest-ion? youth project. Since then we've replaced 'Gabriel' with 'Abraham' – a more modern caravan – but the work to reach those beyond the reach of inherited church remains the same. We've started to build up quite a regular community but I have no idea how that will develop, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Quest-ion? youth project - skateboardingThe project is not officially recognised as 'church' by all the Circuit, although recognised by individuals who are mission orientated, so we are looking to make it clear that what we are doing is not 'new' or radical or strange; it's exactly what John Wesley did!

I still volunteer at Side Door and the work has been – and continues to be – a joy. When things get tough we need to remember that people's lives have been changed forever and it's important to celebrate that.

No Holds Barred

Stuart Radcliffe is minister to two Methodist/URC churches in Cheshire. He tells how Heaton Moor United Church, Stockport, is linking with the local pub to develop community links.

It all started when we were thinking about how we could make a difference in our community to remind people that we love them – and God loves them.

In some communities, the way the church can work to meet people's needs is pretty obvious. It is very different where we are in Manchester. Yes there are high levels of deprivation in areas on either side of us but we are actually in lovely, green suburbia where – on the face of things – people are not too badly off at all. Whilst there are those who have the daily struggle to make ends meet, many set off to highly paid jobs in the morning and come home much later that day to their very desirable, four-bed detached homes.

But the thought kept coming to me that appearances were deceptive and that people had lots of problems behind their front doors. On the face of it, they are going out to work and getting a nice salary but they can pay a very high price for those demanding jobs with enormous stress levels. Our question was, 'How can we as a church recognise those stresses and make it clear that we care for the people living with those anxieties?'

No Holds Barred - coffeeAt that point we were two churches, Heaton Moor Methodist Church and The Heatons United Reformed Church. We wanted to do something for people during Holy Week so we went out to where they were and gave out coffee and hot cross buns, to those on their way to the railway station. We also gave them a little booklet about Easter and a leaflet explaining why we were doing it. The URC building was about 50 yards away from the station and it was an easy way to break into the busyness of people's lives.

It also made quite an impact on the church members who took part because they understood that they too could start to 'do' evangelism simply by saying, 'Would you like a free coffee?' From that initial idea, working with the community where they are, much has happened and grown. It has been marvellous to share stories and build relationships.

Two years on and we had become one church, Heaton Moor United Church, but the same question remained as to how we might best reach out into our community. The answer came when a few of us including my colleague Rev Richard Parkes were in a local pub, The Plough, and we came up with the idea of having Beer and Carols. Pub landlord Ian was really supportive and so members of the church gathered in the pub and – in between rounds of Ian's festive quiz and fancy dress – we sang praise to God in carols. The result was that I had more conversations about faith than I'd had for months and we also raised £200 for Christian Aid.

No Holds Barred - singingWhat could we do next? Our thoughts turned again to Easter but we no longer had the building by the station for distributing coffees. However The Plough was in a perfect position. All we had to do was persuade Ian to open up at 6am, allow us to give away coffee and receive nothing in return!

Amazingly, Ian agreed and so from Monday to Thursday of Holy Week we met at the pub from very early morning and gave away coffee and hot cross buns and booklets about the Easter story. Social media also had a role to play and we let people know what we were doing via Twitter. I'd just started the church Twitter account and people picked up on three keywords that I used: Heaton Moor, Community, Caring.

That meant what we were doing was picked up by a lot of people doing things in our area about community or caring. At that time the messages were being tweeted to 3,500 people; they are now retweeted to about 7,000 people because we have hit the right networks – these included local radio which picked up on the momentum of church doing something good in the community.

I chatted to Ian about how we might continue to develop these growing links with community. The Plough already hosted a knitting group, Spanish lessons and the history society. I said, 'How about a monthly discussion meeting' and he said, 'what night do you want to do it on?! I want people to come in here and feel that they are sitting in their own lounge, the more we can offer them the better'.

No Holds Barred - carolsThat group is called No Holds Barred and it involves talking over a variety of issues with a Christian input but in a very informal way. We also put the discussion starter details on all the tables in the pub, not just the area we're sitting in, so that people can still consider some of the issues even if they don't join us.

It stands on its own as a specific community. In December the evening was called, 'I wish it could be Christmas every day? How do I cope with Christmas at a time of financial austerity?' Past meetings have seen us look at prayer through the story of footballer Fabrice Muamba who survived a heart attack and we have also discussed trust as a result of the Jimmy Savile investigations.

Some months there have been 10 to 12 people taking part and other times there have been four of us, we've just got to keep at it. We have also had other events, such as a curry and comedy night at the pub. I think we need to give it two years before we assess what happens next. If it's to continue to grow it will look very different than church as we know it today.

We have to think how we can be relevant in our service to people. Maybe they will then see a purpose and later a meaning as to why we do what we do. I have learned a lot from the pub landlord because we Christians need to recognise that the church doesn't have exclusivity in wanting to serve people. I know it's a matter of good business practice for Ian but he also wants to provide a place where the community can come together in different ways. I think sometimes people respect us more as churches in the area when we join in with what others are already doing, such as the local traders' association. We offered to do some carol singing for them and they were really pleased.

For the first two years of my time here, all I seemed to do was have cups of coffee with people. Now I know why. It's because you become friends with them and now, after almost six years, those relationships have started to pay off. The thing is you have to make yourself available. It does mean you can't go for a quiet drink in the local pub any more because people want to chat to you about different things but that's great! It just means you have to go outside the area if you want a quiet might out.

No Holds Barred - antlersI'm always reluctant to put 'labels' on something like No Holds Barred because it's organic and I don't know where it's going to lead. If it leads us to a fresh expression meeting in the pub I'd be delighted and I'd love that to be the direction that it takes. What I'm starting to learn is that I get more out of it by letting it go where it wants to go but I have no intention of it being an 'outreach' to get people in to our standard church services. That's not its purpose; we have been quite clear with our church about that and they're very supportive of that.

If somebody said they wanted to get more involved in my traditional church community as a result of coming to No Holds Barred then that's fine but the group doesn't exist to be a gateway to 'proper' church. I would say, 'You are more than welcome to come but it's nothing like this.' We have to get away from any idea that we are creating things that will appeal to people in a postmodern way but what we are really asking them to do is to sign on the dotted line and be part of traditional church.

There are lots of questions around fresh expressions but I think financial support is going to become increasingly important. At the moment fresh expressions are predominantly being funded by the established church but there has to be a point where fresh expressions fund themselves in order to continue.

I'm on the FEAST (Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Team) for Greater Manchester and I went on the mission shaped ministry course locally. One of the key things I learned from that was that we have got permission to fail. That means we don't say, 'it didn't work' but instead ask, 'What's the next thing? Just keep at it.' It's also very important to keep open to stopping some things as well as starting them. I'm enjoying doing stuff our way but it's important to discover what will work for you.

Edinburgh Dreams

Lou DavisVentureFX pioneer Lou Davis tells about the formation and development of a community in Scotland's capital city.

I had been working with the C3 community in Stockport but then applied for VentureFX and was sent to Edinburgh a year ago. At first I spent a lot of time getting to know what was happening in the city, speaking to people and going to different groups. I started by doing Twitter searches for Edinburgh and following people online to see what they were doing in the city.

I have always liked making things; it was a kind of family activity. As a result I always tend to gravitate towards creative people who also make things because it seems a very natural 'fit' for me. At Stockport I went on a pattern cutting course which eventually led to me taking a two year City and Guilds in Fashion and Textiles. At C3 we majored on craft groups but, in Edinburgh, I initially steered clear of doing the same thing so that I could discern what God was calling me to do in a very different situation.

After a while, I felt that making things and being creative was so much a part of me that I couldn't let it go. Things have since moved on and I have got myself a studio at Portobello, the city's seaside! It is great for making friends and building community as a creative hub, a place where people are creating artwork in all sorts of different forms.

Edinburgh Dreams - pint glassAt the moment the ministry is developing in three main areas:

  • I'm developing a new Christian worship community called The Gathering. I'm doing this with other people from the Edinburgh and Forth Circuit and this is designed to help in exploring Christianity and creating a place for developing community. It is a twice monthly act of creative, community-inspired worship in the heart of the city. We start off with tea or coffee, cake and chat at 6.30pm followed by worship half an hour later and a trip to the pub afterwards. We also have a few smaller groups; we meet up twice a month to share a meal, get to know each other as friends and serve others. As a group we have already found ourselves serving the homeless of Edinburgh.
  • I'm also involved with the YMCA in Edinburgh by helping with the drop-in events there. I attempt to play darts but keep hitting the wall!
  • I work with different artists and creative types, going to meetings and already established networks. I work with other creatives under the name of Edinburgh Dreams and we have staged events and worked closely with YMCA Edinburgh and the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church. We've got some great plans for the near future, including photography, video, art, fashion and a public art project for Advent.

Edinburgh Dreams - lettersThe concept of Edinburgh Dreams is to build community across the city, inspire creative activity and to build friendships across divides – social, economic and geographic.

I go through phases when I consider how things are developing. Some days it is very exciting and positive – usually when something has gone well – and at other times it seems like I'm just doing endless admin and not getting anywhere at all. But then I may meet someone new, have an amazing conversation about God and it's all worthwhile.

For me it has been really important to keep in contact with the friends I have made in other places. I make sure I don't lose those friendships because I have needed the backing and love of people outside the area I'm working in. Thankfully the Circuit is really interested in what sorts of things I am doing and I'm also grateful for their level of support for me. In the community itself I don't think everyone's totally aware of what I do, at the YMCA for instance I just say, 'I work for the church.' That's usually enough to spark a conversation where deep thoughts about the meaning of life are shared.

Edinburgh Dreams - easelMy post is initially for five years but it's very encouraging to see how things are already taking hold; whether it be through the friends that I'm making in the artistic community or The Gathering which has been meeting for just a few months now but is finding its feet. We currently get together in a café in the city centre and we do slightly different things each time we meet – music, video, conversation and creative prayer and we always spend time together just chilling out.

Previously I've been part of groups where we wore ourselves out trying to do good things when there were people, or groups in the town, already doing those same things. I didn't want Edinburgh Dreams to fall into the same trap so it has been really good to start slowly, to find out what is already working in the city. It has been really useful to see the work of the YMCA, for instance. That has been a real eye-opener and shows a completely different side to Edinburgh from the tourist city with its tartan shops and castle. There can be a lot of kudos attached to having a project with your name on it in some way but it's vital to look around and see what else is being done and how 'your' own project can best serve the people around you by linking up with others or sharing the load.