Under the Canopy

Youth and community development worker Dan Evans tells how a fresh expression of church aimed at 18 to 30-year-olds is providing 'shelter and a place of diversity' in Mumbles, Swansea.

We have got a good mix of people; some of them have grown up in church or been 'burned' by church in some way and others have had no experience of it at all. It is primarily for the 18 to 30s though we do get people coming along who are a little older than that!

Under the Canopy - smileI'd say that the wider church tends to be very good with children's work and young teens but seems to be haemorrhaging people in the young adults age range. We now have a regular core group of about 20 but we can have up to 60 coming along for music nights, mostly 'post'-students in their late 20s and early 30s from the Mumbles area.

I oversee all the youth activities offered by Linden Church so Under the Canopy is only part of what I do. I lead it but I'm always looking for other people to get on board; it can be a struggle and a drain at times.

I'm trying to develop a team and there are two or three of us who are fully committed to this at the moment. Thankfully there is a real understanding from the church, and people are very supportive of it, but it's difficult to get individuals to take it a stage further and help in running it.

Under the Canopy - Red CaféThe name, 'Canopy', first came about because we thought of it in connection with the Rainforest as a place of refuge. We meet on Sunday evenings at the community Red Café – run by Linden Church – but we developed four very different approaches to our Sunday gatherings, saying that all these styles of Sunday come 'Under the Canopy'. They are:

  • branch 1 – Transmission (alternative/creative prayer and meditation)
  • branch 2 – Headspace (discussion and debate over current affairs)
  • branch 3 – Sustenance (a good hearty feast)
  • branch 4 – Unplugged (the best live acoustic music)

Under the Canopy is building and developing because it's fairly organic. It all started when we launched music nights on the last Sunday of the month. We then wanted to develop the faith side of things so we came up with so-called Headspace nights when we have panel discussions on major topics. At our most recent Headspace we looked at the Benefits System and Government reforms. We have people with different views on the panel to look at things from a Christian perspective. In the past we've looked at 'Is the Bible really true?' and 'Does Love Win?'

Under the Canopy - eatingI have done a theology course and it was when I was looking at the Early Church that I realised the importance of eating together as a community. So we introduced Sustenance, a meal on the third Sunday of the month. Around 15 people come along to that; we do some slow food and spend a lot of time being in relationship with each other.

We have tried all sorts of things when looking at prayer and meditation for 'Transmission' Sundays. At one point we tried something called Nine – this centred on nine different Bible verses with a theme. We then asked nine different people to present those verses as creatively as they could in five minutes.

Looking ahead, I don't want to be too forceful in what I want people to get out of it. I'm happy if they just want to come and be together but if this is church for some people, I'm more than happy with that as well. My hope in the next year is for it to continue to develop and that people will support us, grow and come to faith.

Under the Canopy - mugsOur seafront base at the Red Café is great because the building has been run as a community project by Linden Church Trust since 2001 so lots of people – young people in particular – use it for all sorts of activities. Partnership is very important in that Linden Church is strongly linked in with churches around Swansea. I also meet up with others involved in youth work and we support each other, which is vital. The work is demanding and we all need to be reminded we're not in it on our own'

Quiet Days

Steve Tilley opens up his own home for Quiet Days. He has now held 50 of them and is building a regular community for the monthly gathering.

One of the key skills for the missional practitioner in deciding what you can do is to see what you have got. What are the resources?

Quiet Days - viewI moved to Nailsea in September 2006. As a city kid the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. One night, soon after moving, I woke up and thought I'd missed the Second Coming. Where was the background buzz, frisking me with signs of life?

Some weeks later I unintentionally scared some poor woman by being on the same footpath as her in the day-time. She was accustomed to an undisturbed walk.

By January 2007 I put two and two together. All the busy people, who dashed off to Bristol to work or to school locally, left my estate deserted. I wondered. Would some people like to share my quiet?

I have a big house which I keep clean and tidy, empty by day apart from me, a nice garden and access to open countryside.

I invited some folk to join me and the introductory letter said:

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a series of quiet days here. As it is the first you are, to some intent, being experimented upon. Please let me have any feedback which will help me improve it.

Quiet Days - breadHelp yourself to coffee, tea, juice, biscuits, fruit or cake at any time of the day.

In the quiet times find space in the house wherever you can. There are two bedrooms available upstairs for privacy (sleep if you want). I have left the doors closed on rooms I would prefer you not to use. If you use a bedroom just close the door to indicate it's in use. Leave the door open when you leave. There is a toilet by the front door and another upstairs.

The front door will be on the latch all day. Go straight on down the road opposite to reach open countryside or wander the pavements and pathways. The programme will be as follows:

10.00 Coffee and chat

10.30 Introduction, Prayer, Bible Study

11.15 Quiet to think, pray, walk

13.00 Lunch together

14.00 Bible Study and chance to share

14.30 Quiet

15.00 Tea and finish

Quiet Days - conservatoryI will indicate the end of quiet by putting some music on.

Please do not try to engage in conversation in the house during the quiet, however weird that may feel. You have permission to ignore each other. If two people feel they must talk then go for a walk together. I will be in my study (off the kitchen) in the quiet if you need anything. Talking to me is fine. Books and Bibles to borrow are on the conservatory table. I have no further appointments today. Stay to debrief if you wish.

Hope you enjoy it.

Quiet Days - conservatorySix people joined me that first time and I have never cancelled. We recently celebrated our 50th Quiet Day and I was fully booked (12 guests is full). One guest sees it as her church and goes to no other organised Christian event. Others will take a day off work to join in. Some come most months; others occasionally.

The programme remains unaltered though I do now ask for donations towards the cost of lunch.

In a busy world people are longing for space to read, think or pray. In a day of quiet you can hear the voice of the One who first spoke into it. That is what my guests say.

The Upper Room

Upper Room - Kim HartshorneHope Cirencester opened The Upper Room in 2008 with the aim of reaching out to people who had never been to church to show them that Jesus loved them in a way they could understand and relate to. Leader Kim Hartshorne tells how a cup of tea and chat can lead to a world of opportunities.

We provide a welcome and a place of acceptance. We felt that society has become quite fast moving and many people are isolated, not heard or noticed by anyone, especially those who are vulnerable. We felt Jesus would want to welcome them and so we became his hands and feet for that. We try to demonstrate Jesus' love for people – that they are each unique, valuable, precious and made in God's image.

Listen to Karen Hartshorne discuss The Upper Room with Karen Carter.Read the transcript

We run a drop in space called The Upper Room above a shop in the Market Place, Cirencester. This is open on Monday and Friday mornings and that's when we listen and welcome everyone with a cuppa. We run meditation classes, eat out together and support local people and charities. Many people who find their way to us have never had any background in church and so we gently offer to pray if they have a problem, explaining that Jesus does care about the small things of daily life. We try and chat in a relaxed way about what the Bible says, but always offering space for disagreement or conversation. We are helping people start their faith journey and travel alongside them as it develops.

Upper Room - paintingWe have seen some amazing answers to prayers small and large. It is noticeable in the past year however that we have seen our visitors suffering greater pressures than anything we've seen before in the areas of finance, family issues and mental health problems.

As a registered charity, Hope Cirencester's aims are to show the love of Jesus and alleviate need and distress in Cirencester and elsewhere. It all started when a group of us we were praying for our town and we were really hoping to take church out onto the streets and just get involved in a missional 'day to day' sort of way with our community. We were praying for a building on one of Cirencester's estates but we didn't find one so we kept on prayer walking and calling out to God, 'Where do you want us to do this?'

Eventually an estate agent contacted us to say they had a set of three rooms right in the market place so we asked him for the keys and brought a team of about 12 people here, including some church leaders from other churches in the town. We prayed in the building for the morning and very much sensed the presence of God here so we felt that this was the place to be.

The Upper Room is accessible to those who wouldn't necessarily do traditional church because they feel it wouldn't be for people like them, saying it's only for people who are clean and neat and have nice clothes and drive big cars or whatever. A lot of our visitors are homeless or people with addictions, severe depression or mental illnesses, those who have perhaps suffered abuse in the past, people who just find it very difficult to access things that they just consider to be for the well-educated. Perhaps church is too 'intellectual' for them and they need to 'see' the Gospel demonstrated practically in order to grasp it.

Upper Room - bibleSo they come in for a tea or coffee and to talk to us about what's going on in their lives. We offer to pray with them, signpost them to other agencies, and go with them where they need to go or advocate for them if they need us to. Social justice is really connected to the gospel and so when Jesus comes to someone, you would expect to see changes in every area of their life – and that's why we just try and look at where Jesus really would begin to work in their life and we follow on from that. For example we have supported mums learning to read for the first time, sent someone away on holiday for a break, we supply starter boxes to people moving into a refuge and fill up flasks of coffee for homeless people in the town.

The Message translation that says, 'The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood', is talking about Jesus transforming whole neighbourhoods when he comes. So we work really collaboratively with all the other churches, charities, Citizens Advice, local council – everybody that will have a connection with us in order to go and try to build bridges for the sake of the Kingdom.

I'm inclined to say The Upper Room is like a mini branch of social services combined with a prayer room and a coffee shop; just like the church in the Victorian era built schools and eradicated slavery, and Anglo-Catholic revival 'slum priests' ministered to the poorest people. Instead of a binary way of thinking that is 'either/or', for us, it's 'all/and'. That to me is a sacramental view of life – everything belongs to God and so we are 'being' church in everything we do.

Upper Room - hotelWe don't have a Sunday expression at the moment but it seems that the Spirit is leading us to consider that and we're really praying and brainstorming and just waiting on God to see what will bubble up. I'm sure something is coming, we don't know what it's going to look like yet, our team is still waiting – but God has gone ahead of us and has a plan.

Our people seem to want things that lead to belonging, they want to be together with each other and be together with us so people will say things like, 'Why don't we go out for a curry?', 'Why don't we invite some people in?' or perhaps we'll have a birthday party for someone. On Easter Sunday we gather at my home for a BBQ to celebrate our belonging – to Jesus and to one another. We're open to all of that because belonging is a big deal in today's society; belonging is such a huge part of faith to me and if we can help people to belong and to feel safe, to join in community and in family together we'll have already done so much of the journey towards the gospel, towards Christ.


The Moot monastic community (featured on expressions: the dvd – 2) offers hospitality and welcome in the heart of the City of London to 'questers' or 'spiritual seekers'. Vanessa Elston, one of the community's core team responsible for developing mission and evangelism, describes its work.

Moot - banner

As a monastic community we are seeking to deepen the ways we encounter God, ourselves and others in community, spiritual formation and mission.

Our worship draws deeply on the sacramental and contemplative traditions, bringing together the ancient-future dimensions of the faith. We aspire to a common rhythm of life that expresses our commitment to living sustainably, holistically and justly. We also explore spiritual practices, postures and virtues as means to the transformation and inner liberation required to live out our Christian vocation.

Hospitality and welcome are part of our rhythm of life; they represent a significant strand in the monastic tradition and have a long biblical and Christian tradition of practice that best describes how we are called to engage with the 'other', our 'neighbour', the 'stranger' – particularly those who may lack resources to support themselves.

Through our presence in the City, we regularly meet those who are increasingly dissatisfied with the assumptions and lifestyle offered by secular modernity. Many are looking for resources to support their quest for meaning, spiritual experience and practice but are not turning to the traditional church to do this. Our society is increasingly post secular and open to exploring the spiritual dimension of life but the Church has been slow to effectively engage with this shift in the culture. As a result we have been experimenting with two forms of welcome and hospitality on offer to those who are looking for more to their lives, but are resistant to traditional forms of church and evangelism.

Moot - circleOn Wednesday evenings at St Mary Woolnoth's Church, opposite Bank Tube station and the Bank of England, you will see banners on the railing offering 'Free Meditation' to those who are 'stressed in the city'. Inside the church a group of 15-20 people meets every week to be led through a series of relaxation exercises into a 20 minute silent meditation, following the sacred word approach of the Benedictine Monk John Main. We are encouraged not to worry if our minds seem to leap about like monkeys at first, but to keep drawing ourselves back to our 'anchor word' or 'image'.

This method is to help us still our minds, so that we can begin to get beyond the surface clutter and distraction that prevents us from encountering ourselves at a deeper level and going beyond ourselves to encounter the divine. After the meditation we reflect on how our stress levels have, or have not, been lowered and there is an opportunity to share thoughts, reflections and questions on the process. In this way, those who are spiritual questers experience stillness and transformation. As a result some become regular visitors who are now in a process of opening up to Christian spirituality.

Twice a month on a Wednesday evening, in a large pub near St Mary’s, city workers share a drink or meal while a group of people meet in a back room for what we call a ‘Serum discussion’ based on one of the bigger questions around life, God and spirituality. The group starts with an icebreaker in which everyone introduces themselves and then there is a short 3 to 5 minute thought-provoking discussion starter which ends with a question.

Moot - tableWe then split up into smaller groups where the conversation is facilitated so that everyone participates on the same level, feels listened to and respected. The ground rules of Serum are explained so that the goal is not 'to win the argument', or 'get the right answer to the question' but is about mutual learning. If you listened in to one of these groups you would become aware how this approach can take the discussion beyond an intellectual debate about ideas into something far more personal involving heartfelt searching and consideration. It is amazing how honest and open people can be with others they have never met before.

You would also notice how this approach works best when the Christian presence and voice is in the minority and how people find it much easier to listen when they no longer feel threatened by an atmosphere of dominance or control. A trainee ordinand described Serum as ‘unique in his experience’ in that the church was hosting an event where it was not asking people to move towards it but providing a genuine space of mutual encounter and dialogue.

In these ways Moot is seeking to engage with those who may be a long way from traditional forms of church but are searching for ultimate reality through spiritual experience and finding safe spaces where beliefs and perceptions can be explored and discussed in a non-threatening and non-argumentative environment. The meditation group has been meeting for over a year while the Serum discussion groups are a newer venture – both are attended by a majority of non-Mooters.

One of the challenges of living in a big city is sustaining and growing community and Moot is no different in this respect. We have big ambitions for a small community and are looking for new participants to help us develop our programme of spiritual and missional events in the heart of the City of London.

Norwich Christian Meditation Centre

Norwich Christian Meditation Centre has given rise to an ecclesial community with Eucharist, worship, discipleship nurturing and community building at its heart. Developing Consciousness, an 8-week introductory course on spirituality, has played an important part in the Centre's development. Rev Nicholas Vesey, vicar of St Augustine's, Norwich, explains more.

Norwich Christian Meditation - Developing ChristianitySt Augustine's Church pioneered the Developing Consciousness course as a means of connecting ancient Christian truths and practices with contemporary spirituality. The result is the Norwich Christian Meditation Centre.

Developing Consciousness, and the follow-up 'Into Christ Consciousness', attracts people who are seeking to deepen their personal spirituality and explore Christian faith.

St Augustine's meets as a church on a Sunday but it now offers a lot more than that. The church itself dates from 1163. In 1993 the congregation, some 40 to 50 people, moved out of the church because the roof was dangerous. About £80,000 was raised to renovate the church hall for worship. In 1999, during a long period without a vicar, the old church was declared redundant. By then our numbers had dropped to about 25.

We wanted to grow from there and identified quite a strong 'alternative' community living in our area, and made a decision to be less churchy. New signage encouraged people to 'come and develop your spiritual life'. Then, after surveying newer members to find out what attracted them to St Augustine's, we created the Developing Consciousness course which now runs twice a year.

We re-ordered the building to make it more attractive and rebranded ourselves as the Norwich Christian Meditation Centre – with the blessing of our bishop. Using modern marketing and advertising techniques to publicise our events, we encouraged the development of a community group to include those on the local estate, and organised a regular garden party for all local residents to create a village feel, although we are near a city centre.

Norwich Christian Meditation - MeditationOnce in contact with the Centre, individuals can connect with the Christian community through our many expressions of worship, spiritual practice and community life: Ambient Wonder (alternative worship community), weekly Christian Meditation group, learning events, Sunday morning services, small groups meeting in people's homes and local community projects.

We are rarely, if ever, all gathered together but our values are to provide space for people to express themselves, connecting with their own creativity in pursuit of our Creator. We are committed to learning from each other and using the skills and talents God has given us to explore new understandings and cement our spiritual experiences into our everyday lives. We know we are called to be in our contemporary culture but not 'of it', and so we aim that what we do together enables us to authentically reflect God's presence in us.

As our community evolves we are working to increase the cross-over between the different groups under the umbrella of the Meditation Centre. We have a database of those who have attended the courses and invite them to guest events with interesting visiting speakers. We finance the entire venture through the speaker programme. So far we have held conferences featuring Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. John Bell has just run a two day intensive course for us entitled Moving the Contemplative Heart to Action. This means people can belong without having to pay for the privilege of belonging. We feel that this template could work for any church in any town or city in the UK, so long as there is an interest in meditation among the church members.

The Centre has also launched a programme for men in and around the Norwich area. Soul Brothers is a group formed out of the experience of those learning from the American Franciscan Richard Rohr's teaching on the role of men within a spiritual context. At the moment we hope there will be a large group meeting once every couple of months, with an opportunity to be a part of a smaller group of men (about 10) to get together more regularly. Our next meeting will be in October.

We aim to be a liquid network, with each event or group acting as an access point to belonging in our spiritual community. People can find their home in one or more activities and we journey together towards God, not assuming that we all start from the same place but knowing that we're heading towards a deeper knowledge of divine love and freedom in Christ.

Norwich Christian Meditation - LogoThe problem is that churches today are finding it difficult to find a niche within contemporary society. What we see as part of the solution is that many such churches fit naturally into some part of the contemplative tradition and there is a hunger in contemporary society for 'spirituality' or the cultivation of a sensitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love. These churches could institute local Christian Meditation Centres to teach the contemplative tradition, and so appeal to those in search of spirituality. In support of that vision, a book is about to be published which includes all the contents of the Developing Consciousness course.

The Meditation Centre now has 1000 'members' with a small group programme and church at the centre. This provides access points through a culturally relevant structure, enabling people to participate in a Christ-centred community, promoting the purpose of God and the practice of the presence of God.