Goth Church, Coventry

The development and understanding of what we mean by mixed economy of church is seen perfectly in Coventry cathedral and how it has been dealing with its duty of care and mission in the 21st century.

Goth Church Coventry

It does, of course have a pastoral duty to a wide variety of audiences. We could call them those who tend toward inherited expressions. But there will still be many semi-regular visitors to whom a fresh expression is their best route into the Christian paradigm. Two groups, two labels, have found a place in the flock at Coventry through fresh expressions: Goths and Hoodies. The results have defied the preconceptions attached to the demographic labels.

When it became apparent that groups of Goths (young people who listen to heavy metal music and wear dark clothing) were congregating in the city centre for want of anywhere safe to go, the Cathedral moved and found a fertile soil for evangelism.

The context might seem unlikely, but a survey of the Cambridge Gothic community suggested anywhere up to a third of 'Goths' considered themselves in some sense Christian, and as one journalist put it:

…church services are all about a misunderstood man who got nailed to a cross. They are held in a looming, bell-towered, candle-lit edifice in the middle of a graveyard. Indeed if you go catholic, you get to burn incense and drink blood, as well. By contrast, playing a bit of Rasmus looks a bit, well, townie.

At first, the cathedral was providing a place for Goths to hang out in safety; but it was soon observed that many of those taking refuge were also beginning to take an interest in church services and the church building, without really connecting. And so now, Wednesday nights, 7.45pm, they come and gather for the ancient Office of Compline, introduced in this form for their use – candles, prayer, silence, the Peace.

Utterly orthodox in its liturgy and theology, but utterly tailored in its specificity and missional context, the Goth Compline is a nuanced mixed internal economy within an expression of church.

Of more recent advent is work with 'Urban' youth, aka 'Hoodies'. Both are horridly misleading labels in themselves: to identify the young people of inner cities as characteristically angry, violent and antisocial is to misrepresent and disenfranchise them; and to associate those qualities with an item of clothing is even more bizarre and tragicomic. (As the owner of several hooded sweatshirts, perhaps I have an interest here!)

But all labels have a root: in this case, one can specially identify those from deprived inner-city areas, affected by family breakup, poorly financed education, and a fractured, crime-plagued community.

So, it seems to me, there can be nothing more in the spirit of the 2,000-year-old, adaptable Body of Christ than for it to find a place for 'Hoodies', armed with permanent markers, sketching scenes from the Gospel and writing 'Jesus Wept!' on the wall of their place at the Cathedral, before returning to a game of pool or sitting down and talking with their companions in this new community – as, perhaps, the great cathedral bells ring out as they have done in one form or another in this place for nearly a thousand years.

This story, written by Owen Edwards, was originally published in mixed economy, Autumn/Winter 2008/09.

The Order of the Black Sheep (The Gates)

Mark Broomhead, an Ordained Pioneer Minister in Chesterfield, is starting a new fresh expression of church for those who feel like the 'black sheep' of society. He outlines his hopes for the new community and its church, The Gates.

I am in the last year of my training at St John's on the mixed mode course. The first part of my curacy was spent at Clay Cross and Danesmoor where I was involved in planting Sanctum, a community based rock-oriented congregation.

I have been involved in the heavy metal music scene since my teens and have played in several bands so it has been very much part of who I am for many years. That interest has developed in all sorts of ways, one of which has seen me helping to lead the welfare provision at the annual Bloodstock festival.

It's one of the main heavy metal music festivals, probably the more specialist end of the market with Viking metal, satanic metal, pirate metal and all kinds of things. We offer a Christian presence in that sort of arena.

Chesterfield SpireSanctum offered an alternative way of being church and it continues to develop in its own way. The Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, was very supportive as I moved on to Chesterfield in order to set up a new community called The Order of the Black Sheep. I chose the name, or the name chose me, because a black sheep was for many years seen as the worthless sheep of the flock, the one that couldn't produce any wool that was worth anything.

In medieval times it was even seen by some as a sign of the satanic. I really pray that The Order of the Black Sheep will be a home for the marginalised, for members of the alternative community who feel a little bit like the black sheep in society – and the church. Our motto will be along the lines of 'better a black sheep than a goat'.

The church will be known as The Gates. Gates are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible, including '…I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it' (Matthew 16.18) and 'Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in' (Psalm 24.9). We want to build church in what is traditionally seen as the devil's territory and to allow the King of Glory to come in to that community and do what he wants to do.

The 'alternative' subculture is a difficult one to describe but it has grown from the 1950s and 60s Teddy Boys through Mods, Rockers, Hippies and people who generally feel themselves to be on the edge of society and don't fit in with the 'in' crowd. These days there are all kinds of different expressions of it, whether it's Goths, bikers, skaters – all sorts of things.

Our challenge is taking the Gospel to these groups; sharing Jesus with those who have a sometimes well founded mistrust of the Church and Christian culture. We're not planning to 'dress up' the Gospel for this culture because it is perfect and relevant to all as it is. I want it to be a place where the community can meet, a centre where it can be safe and talk through things, where the Church can be reached, where we can be accessible, where we can allow a space for worship and a space to meet with God in various other ways and for us to be of service to that community.

As a fresh expression we maintain that this project will be Church rather than a gateway to 'real' Church but we are keen for members to explore and take their place at the table of the wider church family as part of their discipleship.