In 2003, Church of England minister Penny Joyce moved to a growing new housing estate in Witney, Oxfordshire, to start a community project funded by the Diocese of Oxford. She spent the first three months of her new role, which followed a curacy, 'getting to know people', in particular local churches and the school.
At the end of those three months, she sent a newsletter to every house identifying herself as a community worker and inviting residents to a meeting with the local planner. Around 50 people from the 250 houses then established on the estate turned up. This residents' meeting continues to take place once every three months, attracting 50 to 80 people at a time to its community discussions around wine and cheese. It is particularly valued by newcomers to the estate, which has now grown to 960 houses.
The estate is home, Penny says, to 'a huge cross section of people'. Social housing, young families, home-based workers and early retirees all live together on what, in its early years, has been a building site as well as a place in which to build community. Through the community project, Discovery Days, headed by Penny, these different types of people are able to come together in their own groups at different social and Christian-themed events. Events are advertised on a monthly community newsletter written by Penny and delivered by volunteers.
The need for various activities is exemplified by an encounter Penny had early on in her ministry to the estate. While out and about she bumped into a young mother walking, looking for someone to talk to. Following this, a mother and toddler group was set up which attracts around 40 women each week.
Other regular events run by Discovery Days are a mixture of social activities and those with a Christian flavour. Families meet for Sunday tea and Christian-based activities. Men meet for football. Readers meet in a book group. Home-based workers meet for lunch. Christians on the estate meet in one of two weekly small groups, Discovery 1 and 2, while a second kind of Discovery group happens for seekers. More generally interested residents of the estate may attend Breathe, a social evening with wine, chat, and the possibility of moving through a series of stations provoking reflection on a life issue.
Christians are present at all the different events and activities whether social or Christian-focused. Penny sees evangelism in terms of a line of 10 to 1 (the Engel scale), on which individuals may be at the Christian end or the disinterested end.
I place events along that line so that people can choose,
If you're journeying at 8 or 9 you won't want to come to straight into a church situation, but you might want to come to something which looks at the basics of Christianity. We journey spiritually with someone and don't expect them to travel from a nine to a one in one leap.
By listening to the needs of the different groups of people within the community, Discovery Days offers a chance for everyone to discover faith and friendship.