Lyn EdwardsLyn Edwards, project leader of the Shackles Off youth project in Cumbria, explains the development of its fresh expression of church, X-treme.

Shackles Off provides support, training, a safe space, advocacy and mentoring for 11 to 25-year-olds, as well as youth clubs and activities. We have always had a prayer box on our counter in the former shop we use as a base but we wanted to provide something much more intentional. Some of us decided to sit and pray in the premises on a Sunday morning – whether anyone else came or not. X-treme, as our fresh expression, came out of that.

The project as a whole had started as a result of three vivid dreams that God had given me during a holiday in the Lake District. I returned to my home in Pembroke and announced the move to Seascale. We did that in 2006 and then I became involved in the HOPE 08 initiative. Some friends and I drove a 'HOPE Mobile' – a Citroen Picasso with a HOPE sticker in the window – around the area but it enabled us to get to know the young people. With support from the village's three churches, we gave out snacks and built relationships.

X-treme - Shackles Off shopI had walked past the shop I had seen in one of my dreams every day and noticed that the landlord was doing it up. One morning, I plucked up the courage to share my story. He didn't believe in God, but said if someone had moved house because of his premises, he would take my interest seriously. When I said we would fund rent through 100 people giving £1 a week, he laughed, but he trusted me.

After getting permission from the local council to secure the building, Shackles Off was launched. In 2007, we started X-treme as a place where we would talk explicitly about God. It runs from 9.45am to 11am on Sundays though when it first got off the ground, it was more like a discussion time for our young people. They would come with their mobile phones in hand and then we'd sit around. We had much of our music on a CD and they would laugh at us trying our best to sing. Not one of us who started the group could hold a note and the young people would be in hysterics listening to us. I also always did a very short bible study but our young people had no idea who the biblical characters were.

Right from the start we were up front about what we believed in, asking the young people if they wanted us to pray for anything. One of our first requests came from a boy who said his family always had mashed potato on a Sunday, could we pray that it wouldn't be made lumpy again?! But gradually those prayers got a lot more serious with requests like, 'Lord I want to stop drinking, please can you help me?' or 'Nan has cancer and I don't know what to do. Please help me.'

X-treme - group with cross

This pattern of meeting went on for at least two years, we'd have 10 or 12 regulars but nobody made a commitment. People used the prayer box; we talked about issues in their lives and made sure that anything we studied in the bible related back to their situations. We learnt bible verses off by heart – in fact they first learnt them by rapping them. Having been a teacher for over 30 years, I thought we had to find a way that they could remember so I ended up going on Google to find out how to rap! We started with John 3:16 and then we started to rap our own rap songs, we formed a group called The X-treme Rappers and the Strangled Duck and we would learn verses or hymns and stories like the Prodigal Son.

So we just kept on going, doing the traditional in a very untraditional way. They would ask me all about the things we can take for granted in church, things like, 'Why do you put your hand in the air when you pray?' 'Can I lie on the floor?' In the end they just did their own thing and nobody had any inhibitions in God's presence.

When we started, the youngest was 12 and the oldest would have been about 18. Most of them were about 14 or 15. On a Sunday there could be two or three coming along or we could have 12 to 15. They were the core who would say to their friends, 'Come and see what we do.' On a Friday night at Shackles Off youth club we would have 45-50. That was all great but I knew that the thing to make it complete would be to know just one person come to know Jesus.

In summer last year, the prayers were answered when we took 11 of them to Soul Survivor and nine became Christians. That totally changed everything. I can see that commitment in their lives and in their worship; it's now personal. It has changed them but, of course, it's a mixed picture. Some are intermittent and are struggling while others would go to a big event without any problem at all. This year we are taking 20 (13 young people and the volunteers).

X-treme - Soul Survivor

God saves, not us, and he knows when people are ready. For too long I think the church has tried to force people into the Kingdom or seduce them into the Kingdom but it's got to be fruit that will last. All I'm doing is telling them about God and teaching them all the things they need to know. We go to a church with them if we are invited to take a service – there are usually three or four of those invitations a year.

For ongoing discipleship I tell them there are three things they need to do every day; namely talk to God, worship God and read his Word. To me it's that simple. If they do that, they will grow as Christians.

We have things that are causing big hurdles for us because we are a Christian-based project – not just a social project. We come under the Methodist umbrella but we also work with other denominations. At the Christian end of things we can be seen as being 'too social' while, in the light of our social commitments, we can be viewed as being 'too Christian'. It's an interesting balancing act!

Our next challenge is looking at the question of, 'How do we have communion in our drop-in centre?' We are talking that over with Methodist Circuit Superintendent Philip Peacock but the fact is that we are pushing boundaries and making the traditional churches think about how things have been done in the past and how they may need to change now.

Full immersion baptism is another issue. Some of the young people said, even though they had been baptised as babies, they wanted to publicly declare their faith and be baptised in the sea. We are hoping for baptisms and declarations of faith to take place in the sea at Seascale.

We have broken a lot of rules here but I don't mind because Jesus broke the rules, not the laws. The last thing we would want to do is to upset the churches around us so we get involved and help in any way we can. We come under pressure sometimes because people will ask us to come and plant a Shackles Off youth project in their area. I tell them to get together and seek God's face to find out what he wants in the place where they are – not to take on what someone else has done because it may not necessarily be right for them.


Sanctum - Mark BroomheadPioneer Minister and heavy metal aficionado Mark Broomhead used to lead a fresh expression of church called Sanctum at the St Barnabas Centre in Danesmoor. He was recently licensed by the Bishop of Derby, Rt Rev Dr Alastair Redfern, to develop an accessible form of church for Alternative sub cultures in the Chesterfield area. What will he be doing?

Sanctum started in 2006 and, as it is now, is the result of the coming together of two congregations. The idea first came about when I was a member of Christian metal band FireFly and we decided to launch Embryo – a multi-denominational alternative worship event hosted by different churches every two months.

It became clear that this event was the only contact with church that some people were having but it lacked the necessary continuity, teaching, community and pastoral care to nurture that contact. In response to this Sanctum was born, a weekly alternative service based at St Bartholomew's Church, Clay Cross. Meanwhile a small congregation at St Barnabas had faithfully been working towards the vision of replacing the old church and hall with a new multi-purpose building for the whole community. The decision to pool the resources of both congregations led to what became Sanctum.

It is a district church of the North Wingfield Team Parish in Derby Diocese and they continue to meet on Sunday evenings at 5pm in the St Barnabas Centre.

The idea for the new community – called 'the order of the black sheep' – is to go back to the original vision of Sanctum in being something more appropriate for the unchurched. We now plan to take out a very small team and from that plant something new; literally taking a seed for Jesus into the community and see what happens. I'm sure that something of Sanctum's worship style will be replicated in the new community; it is heavily influenced by rock culture and previous activities included putting on gigs, starting a small record label and recording a rocked up Christmas carol album.

Sanctum - stageOne of the connections we have got is the Bloodstock Open Air Metal Festival in Derby where I have led the chaplaincy team for several years. Billed as the UK’s No1 heavy metal event, the festival this year hosted about 80 bands across three stages.

Basically we look after anyone who is not in need of hospitalisation or under threat of arrest. Some people lose their tents for one reason or another, for instance. We’re just there 24 hours a day for whenever people a helping hand or a chat or a safe space to recover from a little over indulgence. Lots of people come back to visit us year on year. There are definitely people from the Chesterfield area who go to the festival so being part of Bloodstock gives us respect; they know who we are. That’s a great start.

Sanctum - big topI often wear my dog collar while wandering around the site. The collar offers instant identification and people seem to be fine with it. I have not been burned at the stake yet so it must be OK. Bloodstock does tend to focus on the darker side of metal, and there are some openly satanic bands though there is a huge range of music. It is fantastic to be involved.

I have played bass for the past 21 years in Christian Metal/Rock bands like Exoria, FireFly, Detritus and Seventh Angel so it’s a very familiar world to me. Bloodstock organisers want to run a battle of the bands-type event with a prize called Metal for the Masses. We have talked about setting up a venue as a central meeting place and finding a pub, bar or nightclub for that event. As a result we can try to build a community rather than a service.

My link with Bloodstock has been very good; they are even offering to fund some of our Christian work through the year as a thank you for the work we do on the welfare provision.

In some respects heavy metal music was a kind of retaliation against Christianity, more culturally than anything else, because the Church was seen as a nice middle-class society. The more uncomfortable people feel about Church, the more it is seen as a target and the more extreme the opposing views become – strangely this makes it very easy for me to talk about Christianity.

Sanctum -  tentsI see myself as very much part of that heavy metal community because it's a community I have grown up with since I was 14. It's like the village I grew up in if you like – something you just jump into and get involved in as much as possible.

A friend invited me to see Saxon, my first gig, at the age of 12. I had a really strong sense of gathered community, of not feeling like the odd one out. I recognised the acceptance, the brotherhood of it all and knew I wanted to be part of it.

I really pray that in this next developmental year for the new community that many others will feel that sense of acceptance and brotherhood through being part of a very different form of church.

I've been working with a community that is centred on music, skateboarding etc. People dress in black and hang around on street corners looking frightening. These people I call my friends. I am promoting a form of church that is natural and welcoming to people who wouldn't be able to walk into a normal church building or service and 'get it' straight away.


Beer and a singalong helped to launch Leicester-based Presence as a Bishop's Mission Order. City Centre Pioneer Minister and Presence leader, Revd David Cundill, looks back at a whirlwind year and outlines his hopes and plans for the future.

Presence - Beer and CarolsIt all happened very quickly. I started in post at the end of May 2009, discussions took place over the summer to sort out the BMO, and it was signed in December at a Beer&Carols event. We certainly reaped the benefits of the hard work that other BMOs had done before us in Exeter and Thanet.

Bishop Tim Stevens started the ball rolling when he gave me a brief to 'just go and plant a new church in the city centre. I give you permission to fail; you have got to take risks.'

That church was to be in an area of new apartments, waterside redevelopment, and the DeMontfort University campus. The result is Presence… a fresh approach to church. We describe it as a church for people who don't do church or go there, never did, don't anymore, don't think they fit in, doubters, sceptics, seekers and the spiritually curious.

Presence - Men's weekendIn the middle of the BMO area is The Quay, a canal side pub which was itself part of a regeneration project a few years ago. It is now the base for Presence's midweek meetings, and some of those at Presence have become regulars at the pub’s open mic session on Thursday nights.

My first task is to develop a 24-strong planting team to reach out to the area's diverse communities; including those based around a series of tower blocks in gated developments at Freemens Meadow, Westbridge Wharf and Leicester Square.

These new blocks are in stark contrast to the area's traditional terraced streets. Each tower block looks in on a quadrangle, and you have to get through two gates to get into the heart of it all. There are no community facilities. When you look at the ads for these apartments you'd think that we had so many stockbrokers just about to nip on their bikes to Canary Wharf – and yet the development stands at the edge of the country's biggest Hindu population, but you’d never know that from the marketing image portrayed.

Presence - mealThe regeneration of great swathes of the city means that new communities have become cut off from parish churches because the landscape has shifted, but by starting a fresh expression alongside those churches, we can redefine a pastoral boundary. It has just worked brilliantly in that it's possible to run a straight mixed economy which lets the existing parishes do what they do while we look at how we use these places in new and creative ways.

In other areas people may say, 'we are all in this together', but underneath the surface they are worried. In Leicester I believe it has worked – and, with God’s help will continue to work because of the unique circumstances surrounding redevelopment of this city.

Presence - candlesThis is a minimum 10 year project, and part of the challenge is that the landscape will continue to change dramatically during that time. Large brownfield sites in our area are set aside for new developments but are yet to be built on, so we need to be flexible in our approach and planning.

But some of our plans are very firmly in the pipeline, including the launch of a film club in the Highcross area; the setting up of a Christians Against Poverty (CAP) centre and money management course; and a term time Street Pastors scheme around DeMontfort University.

Presence - logoWe also very much hope to be involved at The Quay on St Patrick's Day. There are lots of possibilities but we might look at having a religious 'bit' followed by Open Communion using Naan bread – reflecting the type of area we're in. We want to reclaim these celebrations for God, and show that we're a church of festival and fun.