TANGO - Avril and ChrisThe TANGO community project at St Mark's, Haydock, has been running for 12 years. The project's chair, Avril Chisnall, and co-ordinator Christine Kay explain how a fresh expression of church has become part and parcel of the ministry there.

When we first started TANGO it was quite a difficult thing to know how we were going to bring God into it – especially when volunteers joined us from the community. We didn't want to impose something which involved us standing there quietly to pray so instead we always treated it as an invitation to come and reflect on why we were there as part of the project. And then we always finished with a prayer. Then people began to trust us more and started to join in different ways.

We now do have a cell in TANGO and cell is important to our church but that's OK for those people who genuinely want to go forward with God and enquire and learn more. That's the right environment for them but we've got lots of people in our teams who are sort of 'iffy' about God. We know he's in their lives but they've not acknowledged it themselves so how do we get them to move on?

TANGO - coupleWe've introduced what we call the 'Three Ps' as a way of opening up some of these issues. Chris and her team regularly meet with all the other teams once a fortnight to look at Purpose, Problems and Presence of God. We also have breakfasts when staff and volunteers, which we consider to be our church, get involved with a God slot.

I think people now realise that church isn't doing it to them but church is here as part of the community – and church is not a stuffy old place, a building they have to go to; instead people actually make the church, us and them together.

I've been a member of the Anglican Church for many years and love it but I feel very frustrated that the church is stuck in the way it sees how church should be done and they're still expecting that church can carry on as it is. Many churches are seeing their numbers dwindle but are still not prepared to change their ways of doing things. They might introduce some new songs and various creative ways of doing things but it's still very much traditional church and won't reach the people we live among.

TANGO - sorting clothesI appreciate that it's scary for church people and leaders to support a fresh expression because it's risky but Kingdom values are the important things. All those years ago, God asked me to do something different with a team of people and the result is that it is 'not the same church as I'm used to'. It's forced me out of a way of viewing church into seeing people differently and trying to communicate his way with them.

I get really wound up when people try to measure what church is. We certainly believe that what we have with our volunteers and community members is very much a church. The frustration kicks in when people come along, ask you to fill in a form, tick boxes, and say, 'How many people have you had in your church this week?' Most of the time I simply do not know the answer to that but we know that what we do here is very much a one-to-one with people. Thanks to God, we change people's lives by meeting them, praying for them or talking about God to them. We can't measure those sorts of things and that's really difficult.

TANGO - community gardenIt is often not measurable in an 'official' way but I'm looking at what happens here in Kingdom terms. As such, it doesn't matter that I'm a lay person; I will keep on doing this stuff because God has asked me to do it and pass it on to other people to do as well. We also know that's what we need to do and investment in other people with God's values is vital.

If TANGO goes on for another 12 years that'll be down to God and the investment we've put into the people's lives for them to want to carry on doing Kingdom business in an ordinary way. Lay people are so important to this type of fresh expression it's important to risk letting those who are not ordained take the lead and do what God's asked them to do.

I'd say, 'go out there and have a go and really listen to what God's saying to you.' We've passed the idea of TANGO on to three other parishes but it's not the same TANGO that we've got. They're doing the same sort of things but they are different people in different sorts of community. That's why it's very important to find God's heartbeat for the community in which you live but – for goodness sake – get out of your church and go and do it.

Coordinator Christine Kay adds:

TANGO - labyrinthGod is the heartbeat of everything that we do; without him it would just be impossible. Every morning, before we open at 9.45am, we have what we call Quarter to TANGO when as many of us as are free come together. It is not a formal prayer time by any means but we give out notices and things that are coming up in the week but there’s also a time to share.

In the past we've done lots of things which we've been brave to do but we've been even braver to stop them when they've not been working. Now we're looking to do something called TANGO on a Sunday. Lots of people find Sunday a very long and lonely day so we've decided to give it a go, it will be in our cafĂ© – a chat over a cuppa about some question brought up in a very informal way. We're not really sure how it's going to pan out but I feel that God is asking us to do this and we're just watching this space at the moment.

TANGO - helpersYou are not going to get people into your churches in this day and age; they just want you to go out to them. They don't even want that, they don't know that they want that, the only way to be with them is to be where they're at; not threatened by anything that's churchy. That's why we try not to use churchy words at all. We are just ordinary people; they respect that and respond to it as well because they see we're not holier-than-thou. Hopefully they just feel comfortable and safe in the kind of environment we encourage here. God is opening this up for each of us to be part of other people's lives and for them to be part of our lives as well.


A Fresh Expressions vision day inspired teacher Katharine Crowsley to ask a lot of questions about what God wanted her to do in her area. She tells the story of what happened next.

Cook@Chapel - mixing

I was interested in fresh expressions of church when I booked for the vision day in Milton Keynes but I had no idea what that would mean in practical terms. That was two years ago; I'm amazed at what has happened since and how things continue to develop.

My church is Hanslope Methodist Chapel in Buckinghamshire; it's very family friendly but I wondered if we were reaching young people – not only our own young people but all those other young people in the wider community? As a secondary school teacher, I feel quite comfortable with that age range and so was happy to consider something specifically for them.

Cook@Chapel - sugar

One thing that really stood out for me from that vision day was the story of the 'bread-making church' in Liverpool. For me, it prompted the big questions of, 'What does God want me to do?', 'How is God looking for me to serve my area?'

Somewhere Else was established in a very different geographical and social context to ours with theirs being an inner city church and ours in a very rural area. However, I really liked the idea of praying and worshipping, talking about Jesus when cooking, and then eating a meal together. A lot of teenagers don't want to necessarily sit around and talk to you but many of them will have a conversation while they are doing something else.

Cook@Chapel - bowl

As a building, the Hanslope Chapel really lends itself to this initiative. About three years ago, a new kitchen extension was added and the schoolroom totally refurbished. This means we can prepare the food there and eat there too. Perfect!

When I went to the Church Council for their support, they asked me to test it out first. I linked up with a community food worker and we did a six-week trial before I applied for a grant. We drew up different menus and asked if we could do it for those aged 12 (Year 7) to 16. We got the go ahead to run it for the academic year from September to July, and we've just started our second year.

The Methodist Church gave us a fresh expressions grant with our Chapel and local community having to match fund it. The money was found and we got underway. We run Cook@Chapel on Friday evenings for two hours and about 7-9 young people come along, we couldn't accommodate any more than that. Jamie Oliver has fired a lot of interest in cookery among young people but it is our volunteers who have been the experts. I have had to learn a lot myself; it was quite a challenge because I'm not a particularly confident cook! We generally have one main volunteer and a team of two more who will stand in if necessary. The cookery worker has now moved on but is still involved on a consultancy basis.

Cook@Chapel - table

Young people don't do so much cookery at school now so they tell us what they would like to learn and we do it – things like cheese sauce, chilli con carne, tortillas and lemon drizzle cake. They like all the chopping up and making things, doing things from scratch.

After we've made the food we sit down and eat it together; it's very informal – they really, really like that. They also like to take it in turns to say grace using our grace dice. Conversations around the table and while cooking can be about all sorts of things, a lot depends on who we have got there and also who the volunteers are. Originally I thought I would need young volunteers to link to these young people but I was wrong. The older people have been ideal, they relate to our 'cooks' in a different way and sometimes they can talk to them very much more comfortably about faith issues.

Cook@Chapel - quiche

It's fairly equal in terms of male female ratio but there are more boys wanting to join. However they are not allowed to join until Year 7 as we decided that Cook@Chapel should just be for secondary age young people. We don't advertise at all; most of it is word of mouth recommendation.

We did some outreach into the village hall to reach other young people but that didn't work. The only ones who came were those already part of Cook@Chapel so we had to think again about what is right for a particular group of people. Cook@Chapel was building community as a fresh expression of church but we wanted to nurture these young people as they began to explore more of the Christian faith.

Cook@Chapel - pasty

The young people who come to Cook@Chapel don't necessarily come to our church, in fact only two to three of them do but questions about faith and spirituality come up quite naturally again and again.

Following up on that I became involved in a youth service called Cross Purposes that takes place every month in nearby town Newport Pagnell, about five miles away. It's a joint Anglican, Methodist, URC and Baptist project at Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church but a lot of its planning and delivery is done by the young people themselves. My vision is to link Cook@Chapel to Cross Purposes – It's not too difficult a leap when it's young people inviting young people to go along and find out more. As we look ahead to 2011 and beyond, we pray that will happen.