Shed Church

Phil Smith describes the growth of the Men's Shed movement in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics general social survey showed that only 20% of Aussie men are likely to affiliate with a religion. The Lifeways organisation estimates that more than 70% of the boys that are raised in church will abandon it in their teens and twenties.

In the last 10 years, the Men's Shed phenomenon has taken off in Australia in response to sky-rocketing rates of depression and suicide amongst young Australian men. Suicide is now the tenth highest cause amongst young Australian blokes; the rates are three times higher than for women.

In 'sheds' around the country, blokes have come looking for friendship, commitment, purpose and help. They can look like:

  • a barbecue behind a suburban truck shed where between 90 and 120 doctors, labourers, accountants, prison parolees and IT geeks get together to hear one another's stories;
  • a backyard workshop where older fellows share skills, mentoring younger men;
  • a tent at a music festival where blokes can let their guard down and talk about anything from being a dad to struggling with porn. It all looks a bit like Luke's Gospel view of missional church (Luke 10.1-9).

The evening barbecue version is called Shed Night and the liturgy is simple, blokes break bread rolls and share steak; friendships are formed as stories are shared. There is no alcohol for the sake of alcoholics who are present. A couple of volunteers are interviewed with no judgement. Most men know the topics; fatherhood, sex, failure, work stress, dreams, hopes; stuff men don't usually feel safe to discuss, a place of grace is established here and disability, mental or physical health, wealth or prestige, being cool – all count for nothing.

Shed Church

Australian men need friends; not colleagues, not competitors, not heroes or life coaches. The Christians behind Shed Night are trusted friends who need healing just as much as everyone else. In theological terms, it's incarnational, relational, evangelism.

Like the disciples sent by Jesus, the Shed men are prepared to do the journey together, co-dependent, mission-shaped. These men are experiencing the biblical injunction to walk alongside one another and with God.

It's not clear when or where the Men's Shed movement began. In Australia there have been formalised associations and networks, such as Men's Sheds Australia and The Australian Men's Shed Association; it may not be possible to unearth the points at which Christians around the country began exploring this connective culture. The organic movement was already building around ideals of welcome, trust and respect. The physical and mental health benefits were already evident when Anglicans, Baptists, the Uniting Church and Lutherans began engaging at the local church level to introduce spiritual health.

Some denominational churches have tried to reshape the idea but the spectacular organic growth has been outside organised, denominational church.

To go where Christ is not yet known, to find people of peace and accept their hospitality has required a 180 degree shift in language and understanding. In the past three years, a new iteration of Shed has begun at music festivals; for most who take leadership in this movement, there's been a reversal of the 'build it and they will come' philosophy in the style of church in the suburbs each Sunday morning. They are prepared to go to the 'Samaritan' borderlands where they have had to learn languages other than Christianese and, in this experience, the disciples' own lives are transformed as much as anyone with whom they might share Jesus's good news about the kingdom of God.

The 'McDonaldisation' of church and society, that 'cookie-cutter' effect of forming a church, doesn't seem to be the case in Shed where the context always forms a unique ministry.

Shed ChurchChristian Shed blokes sometimes find themselves challenged to accept the hospitality of others and learn from their experience or skill. The risk of discovering we have the same weaknesses and struggles creates a sense of vulnerability; I have seen very few clergy in any Shed Happens events – some men I know have reflected that's because pastors and priests don't have mates; they have accountability partners and only trust other priests and partners with their hearts.

On the other hand, the Stafford Baptists’ Men’s Shed is a large backyard workshop, a few doors from the church building. It’s a very big investment by the local church and the pastor is closely connected.

For many of these blokes, it's more about the journey – and leaving it to the Holy Spirit to 'worry' about the destination. I came across one Shed group that had a motto, 'Better than fine'. This was a group of blokes that were interested in belonging and being open to one another, 'fine' was an acronym – Fouled up, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted. If a brother asked how you were doing, you had to be 'better than fine'. This was a brother that wanted to go with you and do the journey, looking for justice, mercy, and healing.

The Shed movement flips the coin over for blokes who've been burnt by church culture that told them, 'behave yourself, then believe what we all believe, and then we might let you belong'. Shed offers the opportunity to belong amongst men who are just as screwed up as anyone else.

Is Shed church or could it be church in future? Luke's benchmark for church is followers gathered around Jesus and sent by him to express the kingdom of God. If a Shed is only men gathered round a barbecue or a workbench, it doesn't measure up as a fresh, stale, or any other expression of church. If, however, some of these blokes are parts of Christ's body, connecting with others, investing time and love to grow alongside them; if this is more about incarnation than recreation, then we'll see the transforming work of God – and that does look a lot like church.


Peter Grant tells how a fresh expression of church has developed from long-standing work among young offenders.

The ministry of Reflex, as part of Youth for Christ North East, ran for 15 or 16 years but changes in the prison system relating to young offenders brought changes in the ministry too. Such a lot of great work was being done but things had to develop in a different way to serve the needs of those coming out of prison so, just over 12 months ago, we set up our charity – The Junction 42 Foundation – to develop our work with ex-offenders, their families and friends in the community.

I've been working with men involved in issues of offending and domestic violence for over 20 years and what we started to see were real openings with the gospel in prison but it all broke down when the men were released and tried to get into the community through church. It just didn't work because the cultural difference was too great to make that step.

As a charity we started to run a couple of groups in the community, one for men and one for women. We also set up some mentoring training and got some people involved from local churches. The guys' group had around 10-12 people coming along; some were just out of prison while others were mature Christians, some with an offending background in their past.

Connect - kitchenWe ran an Alpha course in May last year and ended up with about 40-45 taking part and 11 people being baptised. It was incredible to see people inviting their families and friends in a really natural way; it seemed to be a bit of a magnet for them. When we got to the end of the course, we knew we couldn't simply say, 'Well, that's done now so go and find a church.' We also knew we couldn't remain in the Alpha format because of the increasing, and very welcome, challenge of the sheer number of people wanting to worship together – and so Connect came into being.

The key for us is that it started really small, started from relationship not from structure. We read Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens by Neil Cole and it resonated with what we saw God doing with us.

A sense of ownership is something that has always been part of all that happens here. Right from the very start of Alpha, people went into the kitchens and started helping and then tidying up afterwards, they didn't have to be asked. That kind of 'come and be involved' approach is part of who we are and what we do; it's all about doing things together and not for. Connect is not something that's 'put on' by the church, instead that sense of ownership prompts many people to share their testimony and has encouraged people to discover – and use – their gifts.

Every week we see new people coming in, God is doing amazing things. Over the last year, we have seen many, many come to faith for the first time. We probably have about 60 'regulars' now –  though the number would be closer to 100 if everyone involved in Connect all came at the same time; it really has grown very quickly and the core of it is growing stronger.

Christians come to us from all sorts of church backgrounds, including Baptists, Anglicans and Free Churches and a retired Methodist minister who's helping us too. A lot of people are particularly getting involved in mentoring so that's something we are looking to use and be fairly intentional about it.

There have been a number of signs of growth. Our women's group, which meets on a Thursday, grew out of one of them saying, 'I want to start a sisterhood'. These are young women in their early 20s, passionate about their faith, who look at the Bible and focus on teaching. We also have about 20 people going to another weekly Bible study – from which we are seeing an emerging leadership team.

Connect - full roomWe are not affiliated to any one Christian denomination though we do meet at St Luke's Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the vicar – Robert Ward – is a great supporter of what we do. Robert heads up a network of church leaders in Tyneside and there are a few people now going to his church who started with us here. However, the majority of new Christians say that Connect is their church.

To be honest, we kind of resisted the whole idea of calling ourselves church for quite a long while but when others started calling it their church we thought, 'Well if they are happy with that, we will too.' We are not so bothered about it now.

I have been a Christian for most of my life but this is like nothing else I've come across before. Yes, the discipleship issues are generally more difficult than what most churches see because they might involve drugs and other addictive behaviours, re-offending and so on but now a wide range of people are now being drawn in so we are beginning to get away from the idea of us being seen as 'an ex-offenders church'. About 25% of those now attending have been in prison, 50% are people who have come through a connection with ex-offenders, either as family or friends, and 25% are from local churches lending their support too.

We don't have kids with us but we have quite a mix of ages, including a number of retired people who have a lot of wisdom. People are invited to come as guest speakers and some really understand about speaking into our culture, for others it is quite a new experience but they always tell us that they are greatly encouraged by being there. Again, as part of this strong sense of ownership here, we are very open to visitors and people are very welcome to come and see what we do.

We see partnership as being really important and so we are working with Christians from other areas who want to do similar things. Sunderland is just about to launch a Connect and we are also in touch with people looking to develop one in Durham. Our aim is operate as a network; we don't want oversight of them but to help them.

In terms of oversight, there are now seven or eight of us involved in that, including people we have seen emerge as leaders here. We used to meet with Robert and Alice Ward regularly but now our leadership is moving towards being more inclusive in its structure – something not necessarily run by the charity.

We meet on Tuesday nights, arriving at 5.30pm to cook and set up and starting at 7pm. We try to finish at 9pm but people tend to leave at about 10!

The biggest surprise to us here is the worship. It was during our third session of Alpha that we decided to introduce the idea of worship at Connect. The worship leader used to be a prison governor. We were unsure how this would go down with people unfamiliar with church but simply said that 'This is what Christians do'. The worship leader said he'd play a song through once so everyone would get the idea of what it was like.

It was 'How Great is Our God' and it was just amazing. After the first verse everyone was on their feet and going for it, it was such a God 'thing' because it could never have been organised, or had such an immediate effect, if it had come from us. It was very, very, very different than any other kind of worship I have ever come across. It was raw. Our musicians are very talented but they are not polished; we have guitar, drums and sometimes piano. Our singers are young women, with incredible voices, who became Christians with us and they sing with a couple of guys. We are now very passionate about music as a community, the worship band has come into prison to lead worship in the prison from where Connect first grew, and it's amazing to see and hear it – the guys there love singing. It sometimes sounds like a football chant. The closest description I would have is a kind of Geordie version of a black gospel church.

Our format is pretty flexible but generally we have:

  • some worship as people gather;
  • about 20 minutes of worship;
  • eat together;
  • news of what God is doing in people's lives, including testimonies at times;
  • speaker for 20 minutes maximum;
  • discussion around tables;
  • prayer and ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are very much up for networking and not being isolated. That's why we have made connections with local Tyneside churches; St Thomas' Church, Philadelphia in Sheffield; and Reflex's links with The Message Trust.

Now, we are excited about linking in with Fresh Expressions and being part of a network of fresh expressions of church; we don't know how things will develop but we do know that God is in control.

XY Church

Ben Norton, who appears on the Fresh Expressions DVD, on the edge, traces the history of XY lads' church in Bridlington.

The idea started back in September 2007 when I was thinking about what it meant to be an ordained pioneer minster and how that was going to work out in Bridlington. So I made lots of contacts with people in the town – but most of them seemed to be with blokes my age. So I began looking into how we could begin to reach them with the gospel.

I met with two other guys in my church to think about creating some events. The first event we had was a curry night at the church, which was really well attended. The month later we held a pizza night, again in the church. The atmosphere was laid back and relaxed and the idea was just to get to know the guys better. We continued to run events like, paint-balling and we also had a meat and beer night.

The momentum quickly grew and we had about 20 lads that we got to know really well. We began thinking about how we could develop the relationships and how we could engage with the gospel. We came up with the idea of meeting weekly in a pub and having a discussion based around the Bible.

So I began printing off a flier with some Scripture and some questions. The idea and the structure of the night worked well and we soon got a small group of five or six lads every week. But we began to find that starting the conversation with Scripture put some people off.

So we changed the format to picking an item from the news and basing the discussion around that with some faith-based questions and relevant Scriptures. This has worked really well. And, a few months in, we had a core of about ten lads who came every week, and about 30 who came to our events.

Over the last 18 months we have continued to make contact with more lads and things are going well. 'Where next?' is the huge question that we are looking at and praying about. I would love to see us develop into our own church that has a Eucharistic focus. But how we get there is another question! However, it is a hugely exciting part of the journey.

The most compelling thing about all we are doing is that we are meeting men who are interested in the issues we look at from a faith perspective, and how this changes their world view. One guy who came recently said: 'I don't do religion but this is really good!'.

I believe very strongly that as the church we need to go and meet people exactly where they are at, and allow them to see that we value their thoughts and ideas. We want to live a life that says: 'Have you thought about life the way that Jesus did?'

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.

Tudeley Messy Church

Revd Pamela Ive is parish deacon at All Saints,Tudeley, and she is thrilled at the development of Messy Church in her area. She tells the story so far.

I attended the Fresh Expressions mission shaped ministry course from September 2008 to July 2009 in Rochester. It was really useful and made me rethink a lot of things about how we reach out to people and, in certain aspects, also helped me to be more realistic about which goals were achievable.

As a result we changed the style and format of midweek after-school activity we had been doing for quite a while and I have been surprised and delighted at the response we've had to it.

In the past we had a monthly meeting called Light on Thursday which was really a discussion time with a very few mums who had gone through confirmation, and a couple of others who had joined along the way. There was a minimal amount of worship while the children had tea but there was not much faith input for them. That folded after about four years when the volunteer helpers moved on.

Tudeley Messy Church - PentecostI prayed with a member of a local Baptist Church about the direction in which we were meant to go. A third person came along from Christians Together in Capel and she had a vision that we should set up Messy Church so we decided to pool our resources and put our energies into that.

We are in a Local Ecumenical Partnership (Tudeley cum Capel with Five Oak Green), and Messy Church really came together because of the involvement of a number of churches. We also have an Ecumenical Church Council and they were happy to support it financially.

We are meeting on the fourth Sunday of the month at Five Oak Green United Church, and decided to schedule 10 Messy Churches for this year. Helpers come from the Baptists, the Anglican/URC LEP and a local charismatic Free Church.

We decided to stick to Sundays because we are quite close to London and a lot of dads don't get back until 7pm or 8pm from work during the week. If the children are aged five or six, that’s no good for them on a weekday, so we opted for Sunday from 4.45pm for an hour. I think that time of day is perfect. They have had their Sunday lunch and they may be on their way back home after time out somewhere, this is dead time and we fill the gap.

Tudeley Messy Church - fishAt our first meeting we catered for 40, buying two hotdogs for each person expected so we got 80. Then somebody reminded me that we might have vegetarians there so we got veggie versions as well. Thankfully we did, with a crowd of 65 on the day!

We have a very small church. When everyone is sitting down packed into rows, the maximum we can hold is about 100. It was a huge surprise to see who came because there were a number of people we had never come across before, and lots of husbands accompanied their wives so there were actually men under 40 there.

One mum said that her husband had decided not to come because he didn't think there would be any men – she couldn't wait to tell him that lots had turned up in the hope that he'd come along next time. We were just overwhelmed, it was wonderful chaos. The people who were there said they felt they could invite others to come, it was fantastic.

Tudeley Messy Church - cake buildingCreation was the theme. We had a table game and word searches, and told a story with drama involving the children. It was so packed and so noisy, we had to stand on chairs to be heard and seen.

Numbers now average about 45. This feels much more comfortable for the size of building we're meeting in – especially when we are being active. Many aspects have been very encouraging. Friends have invited others; we are building relationships within the community; and Christians who worship in different places are catching up with each other and working together (especially in the kitchen).

At our Palm Sunday Messy Church, we invited people to the Good Friday Family Service which was in a similar format. We started off by making Hot Cross buns and then baked them during the service, which meant we had a very sociable time afterwards! The service also brought different congregations together and we involved a small teenage after-school group in leading it.

Tudeley Messy Church - group with cakeAs we knew that not everybody would be there on Easter Sunday we included the celebration of the Resurrection as part of that Good Friday service. There was a wonderful sense of having gone through Holy Week and to Easter with our Messy Church newcomers. We had linked things together for them in the previous Messy Church sessions by following the accounts of Creation, Noah and God’s promise, and then God’s Promise showing itself in the death and resurrection of Christ. A rainbow poster we made on our second session carried the theme through.

For Messy Church at Pentecost, we built a church with cake including gingerbread people to show that the Church is about the people – not the building itself. We then ate it!

Most people who came to the first Messy Church have been to a subsequent one and we've welcomed others too. The social aspect seems to be one of the most important to people – nobody's ever in a hurry to leave. We're very much looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries

Faith and fries - Richard MoyRichard Moy, ordained pioneer minister explains how church is forming amongst those who have never been involved before, through Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries.

When the Methodist and Anglican churches in Wolverhampton realised there were 23,000 people involved in the 'night-time' economy of the city, most of whom had no Christian commitment, they decided to do something about it. Richard Moy was appointed to start to form church with those who often only came into the city to bars and clubs after 10pm. The first thing he did was go to a monastery – to pray hard! Then he visited St Thomas' Crookes Church in Sheffield to find out about their 'Life Shapes' program and that visit was followed by 40 days of prayer and fasting.

Faith and fries - foodA small team of three gathered to pray every week in a local church and then gradually others joined in. After a year they began to gather in a café location in the centre of town and now a pool of about 50 people meets regularly for Sunday evening worship. On any one occasion 30 or so will gather together. Church 18-30 has been born.

Richard is particularly pleased at the mixed nature of this new missional community. The age range is about 16-32 but members come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are graduates, others come from 'very difficult backgrounds in terms of education'. Some are unemployed and others are destitute.

Faith and fries - flierEarly on Richard decided that one size would not fit all. Based on differing learning styles, this fresh expression of church offers deliberately varied learning and worship opportunities. There's a gathering for 'reflectors' which has a real sense of the 'spiritual'. Another event is aimed at 'theorists' and encourages those who attend to think why they believe what they believe. A third gathering has a contemporary worship style and a fourth is based on food and sharing communion together.

But Richard's eyes light up when he mentions 'Man Night'. Every Monday a group of men meet to share a simple form of communion, watch a DVD or get to work on a Playstation! This is church literally out of the box! 10-15 attend regularly and Richard is seeing real discipleship growth amongst the group.

Richard believes the venue is vital. There's a weekly midday meeting in McDonalds – an opportunity to share Bible, burgers and fries! Yates' Wine Lodge provides another meeting place, along with a city centre church café. Recently Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries has acquired a flat and that is slowly becoming a centre of ministry for the church.

Faith and fries - mealAnd Richard believes what he is doing really is church. They operate as church – with regular worship, gathering around word and sacrament. People have been baptised as a result of joining Church 18-30 and mission is very much at the heart of things. If you see a couple of people sitting on a sofa in the middle of Wolverhampton, it is likely to be members of the church sharing their faith or offering to pray for passers by. And in a network church, 'some bits of the church will only last for a season and some bits will last forever', says Richard and that's OK.

Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries grew out of local Christians' concern for those who had no connection with church. It's still growing and Richard Moy is very open to what surprising things God might have in store for the future.

I love going to Church 18-30's Vitalise service because it does what it says on the tin. It really revitalised my relationship with God through John's Gospel and smoothies.

Katie, 18

I went to Church 18-30 because my faith was at a really low point and needed strengthening. Church 18-30 helped me to rediscover my faith and strengthen my relationship with God having fun along the way with the most amazing people!!!

Helen, 22


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.

Summer nights

When ordained pioneer minister, Ben Norton, was watching the tv one night he suddenly had an idea. Before long he got hold of Sam Foster a fellow pioneer in the next town to see if they could do something in their area together. They were soon taken aback by the amazing response. Ben takes up the story

The idea came from watching an episode of Top Gear when the presenters all travelled to Asia on mopeds and stopped over somewhere taking in the sights. One of the things that amazed them was the sight of hundreds of floating tea-lights being sent off down a river at night. The visual impact of this was amazing and even made the all-male macho petrol-heads stop and think.

I pondered what doing something similar might provoke in members of the public here on the Yorkshire coast. So Sam Foster (pioneer minister) and Shena Woolridge (pioneer minister and Church Army evangelist respectively, both based in Scarborough) and a handful of others set off to light up a section of the local beach and see if it would invoke something of the spiritual in passers by.

We were not too sure how it would be received, but were totally blown away. Two hundred people stopped and looked between 7:30 and 11:30pm.

Some lit a candle and walked off, some stood and chatted, some asked for prayer, and some told of their own spiritual journeys. But one thing I noticed throughout the night was that those who chose to take part in whatever way, ended up leaving the space in a different direction. For those who were walking on the beach they would have continued walking on the beach if we had not been there but they walked off up on to the pathway and vice versa.

I wondered if this was a symbol of what was happening spiritually for people? This event was maybe not life-changing, in the sense of making a 'u-turn'; but for many it was more of a 'tilt of the axis', for some ever so slightly. That night there was an encounter that maybe changed something, somewhere in their journey.

We are hopefully going to do some more summer nights up and down the East Coast and when we do, more info will appear on the St Maxs website and my blog.