Revd Sam Foster is fresh expressions pioneer missioner for the Scarborough Deanery. Numerous projects are now underway, among them a fresh expression of church in Hub Groups. Sam tells us more:
I am a fresh expressions missioner for the whole Deanery instead of a single parish and that has made a huge difference. Although I work for the Church of England, I work ecumenically – mainly through Churches Together – helping churches to step out in faith in building community and supporting Parochial Church Councils and ministers along the way.
I now have an Anglican team of about ten people, including Church Army officer Shena Woolridge. Church Army gave us full funding for five years and Shena works full time on spirituality and the arts. The entire Deanery is represented in the make up of the team, we have got 27 Anglican churches here for instance but five of those churches may be in one benefice so one person will represent that group.
The team overlap a lot; and the beauty of it is that everyone has responsibility for a project or particular area of work. The groups of people helping us to run these projects are ecumenical, everything from Anglo-Catholics to Pentecostal Baptists. If we want things to be sustainable we must equip and encourage lay people to do all sorts of things; I am against the model of a vicar as a Jack of all Trades. I have been ordained for seven years and I don't want to have a breakdown because I’m running around trying to do everything.
We also have a mix of lay and ordained as well as some people who have recently come to faith. Whatever their Christian story so far I look for people who don't speak church 'language' all the time – it's very easy to slip in to that but it ends up meaning nothing to the people you're trying to reach. It's interesting that people who don't know anything about church tend to respond to friendship and support but the de-churched people we meet along the way look for some form of accountability so they know if we are 'safe' or not.
To work across the Deanery means that I can go anywhere and open things up, not only to our own CofE churches but also ecumenically. Part of that work is getting as many churches as possible to support and fund the initiative. Twelve churches of different denominations have done just that though this comes with its own challenges; namely that we have to make sure that everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet by using the same national material from Fresh Expressions. It sounds a bit heavy but in order for this to work it has to be that way.
Our team also meet regularly to share in the vision. That really helps when facing criticism from the various denominations – whether it is not preaching the Gospel enough or preaching it too much!
Healing on the beach for example is a bit controversial among the churches but most people on the streets – faced with things like regular Mind Body Spirit Fairs – are saying, 'It's about time Christians were doing something like this'. The media around here call me 'the vicar without a church' and I'm fine with that. I don't face too much opposition as such – mainly because I'm ordained and the vicars see me as being in the same boat and also that I came into this job because I truly felt that God was telling me to do it; to be a church without walls.
The Hub Groups are part of our fresh expressions faith community, discovering together what it means to be disciples of Christ in the 21st Century. There are three groups now with the first one coming out of an Alpha course we did in a Travelodge. It was New Year and they let us advertise on the railings outside because they were promoting New Year's breaks and we were looking at Resolutions in one way or another. We had a real mix of people there and by the time we got to the end of the course they wanted something more.
Another of the Hub Groups is made up of people not really involved in their own churches but who still want to be disciples and deepen their faith journey. They are our potential leaders.
There's also a 20s/30s group and that's more flexible. That started with a young married couple who said they had no friends. I asked them to stay on for six months, start something, and see if they could build it up. It is now a very social group meeting twice a month in all sorts of places. The others meet weekly in people's homes. We also bring the three Hub Groups together for different occasions.
Our next step is to think about something on a monthly basis; we currently do creative prayer days around the town and it would be good to expand on that possibly. One thing is for sure, we are not at all interested in just starting another church. We share people and share resources but that would possibly change if we were in one distinct building.
This is a real mix of an area; it's a seaside town with a middle class suburbia that attracts visitors all year round but two locations in Scarborough are also nationally recognised areas of deprivation. We also cover many rural villages too and this rural focus makes up quite a lot of the Deanery.
Part of our role is to try to encourage churches to shape a team and take over building community when they feel equipped to do so. At Christmas last year, St Mary's, Cloughton, staged a live nativity on Town Farm in the village. It was the first time the church had ever been involved in anything like that. It has since moved the local post office inside the church to ensure that the community doesn't lose that vital service. They also have a fresh expression café church called Café Refresh which meets in the village hall.
St Thomas', Gristhorpe – part of the Filey group of parishes – is an iron clad shack that came in a flat pack from Harrods 150 yrs ago. In April 2009 the fresh expressions team set up a Community Cinema in the church.
St. Mark's Newby, Wreyfield Drive Methodist, St. Luke's and St. Joseph's RC Churches and some members of the Barrowcliff Residents Association are in the process of looking at how we can best serve and be part of the community of Barrowcliff. We are also following the stages of the fresh expressions mission audit 'Listening to the Community' which involves asking local residents, youth workers, councillors, to tell us what they are already doing. What they share is forming our prayers.
Sacred Space on the beach is very popular with people lighting a candle to give thanks or commemorate something or remember someone. In the pilot project last year 150 candles were lit on South Bay, Scarborough. We are not there to Bible bash or collect money. As a result people stopped and said, 'We don't go to church but can we join in?'
The Deanery actually pay for my post, the Diocese provide the house and pay my expenses. Initially it was for 5 years – now they have said they want to continue with it. At the moment we don't give anything to the parish share.
As a team we meet together monthly and pray together and we dream dreams but I'm also very much a member of the Clergy Chapter and Churches Together. I like to see us as one church.
Needing a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) to go places and do things clearly works in other places but in this area it would be such a poor witness, this attitude of blessing from God is to work all together for the needs of the people.
The only way we can get through to people is by God's good grace and through relationships. Two years ago I had a blank canvas, now God is filling in that bigger picture.