The Stowe

Wichelstowe is a new housing area on the outskirts of Swindon, Wiltshire. Baptist pioneer minister Ali Boulton describes how The Stowe Church has developed there.

On 17 January 2008, in a Baptist ministers' prayer meeting, I was asked to pray for a yet to be built housing estate. As I bent my head to pray, I had one of those overwhelming encounters with God which left me with a sure sense that God was calling me to move to the estate to holistically serve and bless the community and plant a church.

That was the start of the journey which has resulted in the emergence of a new church and positive engagement in a new community.

It is hard to share everything about the last six-and-a-half years in one article so I have picked out some key events and principles. The first one the importance of 'calling' I have already shared.

The next key principles are prayer, partnership and discernment/preparation. The first step in my journey was to join the ecumenical prayer group which was made up of church leaders of the churches surrounding the planned new estateand the town's chaplain. Prayer for the estate started before I joined the group and I feel that prayer has made a huge difference – prayer and listening to God has unpinned the whole process.

The Stowe - housesPartnership has also been key. My first partnership was with the ecumenical group. We worked together on some foundational elements of the project, if I can call it that, we did not however move forward with a local ecumenical partnership in mind, but rather within a framework of a lead denomination. Personally, I think this has been key in allowing a new missional churches to emerge. Not everyone agrees with me but I hope that other denominations will take the lead in other new housing areas within these light touch partnerships based on relational support and prayer.

As well as specifically Baptist organisations, I also partnered the local housing association and the council. The housing association were keen to work with me as soon as they realisedI was going to move into the area because this demonstrated a level of commitment which interested them. They approached me before I moved in and offered me a grant to be able to deliver some of things I felt God was calling us to do – which was amazing! The relationship with both the housing association and the council has deepened over the years and become a really fruitful partnership. We have partnered many other organisations too – including churches, and charities such as those working with victims of abuse, metal health, and children and families.

This all formed part of the 14-month discernment and preparation leading up to moving into the estate. We also built up a team during this time of three other Christian couples who, alongside my family, were committed to unconditionally loving, blessing and serving the new estate. This included a retired Anglican priest, his wife, and two young couples from different church traditions. We covenanted to one another agreeing to be missional together and not seek to be spiritually fed and also to move onto the estate within two years. Unfortunately this last covenant promise has not been met fully as it has been financially impossible for two couples – however we are all still serving the community alongside each other. During this time of discernment and preparation, I constituted and formed a community group – with the other church leaders as trustees as there were no residents at that point. Also, as Churches Together, we applied for a council grant and planning permission for a portacabin on site, and I worked alongside the West of England Baptist Associationfor some help to buy a house and to apply for a special ministries grant from Baptist Home Mission.

The Stowe - welcome basketAnd so in April 2009, my family and I were the first to move on to the estate with a vision to unconditionally holistically bless the community and to seek to join in with the work of God's Spirit. The importance of living on the estate and being there right from the beginning was really significant, as was the call to bless in all areas of life.

It was the time of the credit crunch and so we lived alone on the estate for a month before the next residents moved in. Also because of the credit crunch, all the social houses filled up first. This was high priority social housing, so there were some quite vulnerable people in the first residents.

For the first year, I visited everyone as they moved in and gave them a welcome basket. It got crazy after a while but I would have liked to do it longer. As I met with each new resident I introduced myself as 'I'm Ali, I'm your neighbour. I'm a Baptist minister but I'm here to serve all faiths and none. Let me know if you have ideas about what we can do together.' My visits and the welcome baskets were unconditional – I told them about me but didn't ask for anything in for in return.

I felt that God had said some specific things to us:

  • first, I felt that God had said not to talk about him. It seemed like a strange missional strategy but more people came and talked to me about faith than ever before in my Christian life, which was amazing! Later, when we had some opposition to the Christian presence in the area, people commented that I had never imposed my faith on anyone. This was important as, by then, people had become Christians and a church for the unchurched had emerged.
  • secondly, I felt that God had said that he would tell us what to do through the community. This became very significant as time went on. I guess we just set about making friends with people. Some people wanted to exchange numbers, meet for coffee and set up a Facebook group. We organised a community fun day alongside the housing association and in response to our neighbours, organised community games.

The Stowe - venueAfter the community day, more people got in touch. Within a few days I was contacted for the first time by someone on the brink of suicide – this has become a key part of my ministry on the estate.

I also had some women come to my door saying, 'We loved the community day; will you organise a Halloween party next?' We struggled with that as none of us believed in celebrating Halloween but God had told us to unconditionally bless the community – all faiths and none – he had also told us that he would tell us what to do through the community. After much prayer, and the verse from Acts 10 telling Peter not to call things unclean which God has made clean, we did the party. One of my teenagers commented, 'Mum thinks she has claimed backed pumpkins for God; he thought he had them already.'

It was at the Halloween party that someone said, 'Do you know what I'd like? Wouldn't it be lovely if you did us a nativity play with all the children?' This ended up as a big outdoor community event. If we had said no to Halloween, I think that would have shut the door. The Halloween party is now an annual event.

We continued to serve the community in response to, and alongside, the people around us. Mostly starting in our house, we set up a toddler group, coffee morning, a toddler lunch club, a youth club, an after school club and amazingly we were asked to start a God club for the kids on a Sunday afternoon. There isn't space to share that whole story!

The Stowe - prayer walkingOur first Easter there, in 2010, was amazing. Some people were chatting about Easter and in response to some comment I made, I was asked if Easter was a 'God thing?' To cut a long story short, we put on some activities on Good Friday morning to explore the Christian story of Easter in the portacabin. We expected a few kids or families but about 50 people with no church background came along. It was a very special time. As a result I invited people to join us on Easter Sunday morning and 35 people joined us.

We thought we would do it again at Pentecost – but God reminded us that he was in control and would tell us what to do through the community. So ten days after Easter, someone said she had enjoyed church on Easter day at our house so much, could she come every week? Of course we didn't have a church but as I tried to think what to say she filled in the blanks! '10.30, your house on Sunday?' 'Sure!' And so the next Sunday, church began. The lady who asked me has never been, but that first Sunday, two families came and we saw our first person become a Christian a couple of weeks later on 24th April. We saw her life transform and she was the first to be baptised. Praise God we have seen others come to faith and be baptized too.

As we continued to work in the community the number of people exploring faith grew and we moved out of my house, first to the new school hall then into the community centre. We became a recognised church called The Stowe and part of the Baptist Union of Great Britain at the start of 2013.

We have continued to seek to unconditionally love and bless the community and we have worked alongside people of all faiths and none to establish a charitable community association and build healthy partnerships between the community and wider bodies such as the council and developers. The line between church and community is very blurred but we believe God is in it all and we have seen him bless this estate. This is very encouraging as the current houses are just the first 875 of 4,500 so we have a long way to go yet.

The Stowe - baptismI'd love to share more with you about how God has worked in the local community – through giving us a word to wash the feet of the community, resulting in regular pamper nights, and another word about an empowerment course. I'd like to tell you more about the people who have come to faith, about healings, and lives that have been changed. I'd love to tell you about our community activities, community trips, church camping weekends, our schools' work and my years as chair of governors in the new school and our new work with children, youth and families. But there isn't space for it all!

One of the greatest blessings is seeing new Christians grasping the vision to love and bless this community, some even taking on leadership.

This is particularly significant now as I've now been appointed the Pioneer Mission Enabler for the Southern Counties Baptist Association (SCBA). I'm supporting communities and projects already taking place in the region,helping people to build on mature church traditions and explore what pioneer mission looks like in their context. I'm working alongside people engaging with existing communities and helping to identifying new housing areas, make connections with other community stakeholders and create partnerships. It's exciting to see opportunities already developing.

It's a half-time role so I'll still be at The Stowe and I see the new job as being very much connected to the practical work on the ground. The words 'teaching hospital' come to mind because when people come to visit to see what we're doing here and join in, God seems to inspire them to go and love and bless their own communities. Also some of the community here are keen to support other churches locally; it's part of them being connected to the wider church.

Of course there are and will continue to be many challenges within the Stowe and SCBA as we seek to pioneer. New churches are fragile – people who explore faith come and go as the parable of the sower tells us. But God has done more than we could have asked or imagined and I look forward to joining in with what he is continuing to do both locally and regionally.

Buckshaw Village Church

Pioneer curate James Gwyn-Thomas is based at St Andrew's, Leyland, and also leads Buckshaw Village Church.

Buckshaw Village, known to many as Buckshaw, only started to be built 10 years ago. It's a huge area between the towns of Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire and is one of the largest sites for urban development in the North West. There's a population of about 10,000 at the moment but that's set to rise by a few thousand more as new housing becomes available.

Buckshaw - scaffoldingIt is being developed on the site of what was the Royal Ordnance Factory, Chorley, and Buckshaw is sandwiched between the M6 and M61 which means that a lot of the residents work in Preston or Manchester because the road links are so good.

Interestingly, there's a huge craving for community because everyone who moves here is new; no-one's grown up together in this place and that means they want to find a community spirit. Many people choose to come to Buckshaw because it was built with that expectation of creating community.

Buckshaw - houseInstead, it can seem a bit strange to newcomers at first because Buckshaw Village is all very manicured and neat, like living permanently in Center Parcs! That's why, when I first came, I spent the first four months just talking to people, finding out more about them and their lives, and listening to what they wanted to see happen here.

Buckshaw Village Church is a church plant from St Andrew's in Leyland and was established in the summer of 2010, with the support of the local Methodist and Anglican congregations in Leyland, Chorley and Euxton. Led by my predecessor, Ken Campbell, a small group of people started meeting together on Sunday mornings. The idea was to make gatherings accessible to everyone, regardless of age, background and any previous experience of 'church'.

Buckshaw - dog walkingWhen I came to Buckshaw, I found that the key thing was to hold everything lightly. We just wanted – and still want – to find ways of church getting involved with what the community is already doing, such as what happens through Buckshaw Village Community Association. It's very important to me that the word 'we' – rather than 'I' – is used when talking about the church here and, as part of that, we now have a church leadership team in place. I'm not on my own in this. Buckshaw Village Church exists for the community and in the community.

Buckshaw - chattingI work quite closely with local Anglican and Methodist ministers because we see Buckshaw as a kingdom priority; and we find it's so important to meet, pray for and support one another. The Methodists are also starting to come into the local primary school where they're running a Messy Church with our support.

Our main meeting of the week is on Sunday mornings in the Buckshaw Community Centre. We don't have a church building but we do hire the community centre room and that's our biggest financial outlay. Shops are being developed and some have already opened, including a café called Cowshed which is where we now run the Alpha Course on Thursday evenings.

Buckshaw - Community CentreBut some of our greatest growth is not through outreach courses like Alpha, but rather, through the relationships that form through times such as our toddler group: Semi-Quavers. Meeting on a Tuesday morning for many parents on the village has proven to be a life line and they greatly appreciate the time we spend together. Relationships, relationships, relationships! It has been great to provide events where we, as a church, can get to know the community. We've had a whiskey night, curry nights, afternoon-teas and hope to have cheese, wine, sausage, coffee and film nights too, all open to the community. As relationships are being built, we are starting to see crossover into our Sunday service as people realise they quite like us and can certainly trust us and that they too are actually quite interested in their own relationship with God!

Buckshaw - audience

It is of course also so important to have our midweek youth groups (sorted) and the recently started growth groups for fellowship and discipleship.

Buckshaw became a Bishop's Mission Order (BMO) because this is quite a big village but not a big enough community to have lots of different types of church. There was a danger that the area would attract all sorts of church plants which could weaken the overall mission. By working with the other local denominations, we said, 'Let's protect this and work together and be strategic for the kingdom'.

Buckshaw - coffeeIt's my first curacy but I already feel that, in future, I'm not going to long for a parish that has a church building because there is something very special about not having one! At the community centre, if people feel comfortable coming through the door for karate or acting class then you already have a head start. But a question is, 'How can we make that space that was sweaty on a Friday night for karate become one where we go to have a really special place of worship? Is it possible?' The answer seems to be, 'yes we can' because we are not limited, we can explore and discover, we can make mistakes as we continue to think about, 'What is the best way to do church in Buckshaw?'

Buckshaw - team

BELLS

Phil Smith is a lay pastor in a Queensland school and he is also helping to grow a faith community around a barbecue.

We are based on Australia's Sunshine Coast in a new real estate development where there is no church building. I work half time for the Uniting Church as one of two campus ministers at the Unity College ecumenical school in Caloundra.

In Bells Reach and Bell Vista, people are moving from the colder southern states to live the dream in Queensland but many find it's just another suburb – like the ones they left behind.

The estate surrounds the school, which is supported by Roman Catholic and Uniting Church parishes, and those involved in BELLS are people who live, work or go to school in that area. Using the College, BELLS has connected with 65 people in its first six months, meeting fortnightly on Sunday afternoons to hear one another's stories and ask where we see and hear God at work in our lives. We don't have a building or rows of pews; instead we get together either at Unity College or in the nearby park.

Our first big breakthrough came just before Christmas 2013 when the developer asked us, as the local church(!), to welcome people and provide a short chat and some worship songs at the open-air carols and movie evening. We introduced ourselves to 1,000 people, with the help of the Uniting Church, Churches of Christ, The Salvation Army and a local Christian radio station which provided cards and CDs to give away.

BELLS - music

BELLS (Belonging, Eating, Listening, Learning and Serving) is an acronym which describes what we stand for:

  • belonging together and within the community, a blessing we share;
  • eating, always part of our gathering, whether that's barbecue or breaking bread;
  • listening to one another's stories;
  • learning where Jesus' story intersects with ours;
  • serving and sending us out into the community.

BELLS originally grew from an occasional discussion group for senior high school students from Unity College in 2012. It became known as The God Stuff amongst eight or 10 regulars who said they couldn't cope with a traditional church service. Why? Their comments included, 'We don't know when to sit down and stand up' and 'We only usually sing when we're a bit drunk at karaoke nights'.

It was all very different with us because of it being story based. We would have coffee by the beach in late afternoon and explore how our experiences that week had been touched and shaped by what Jesus said. Christians in their mid-20s would come and tell their stories.

Then, at about the same time as Caloundra Uniting Church started praying about mission in the development around the school, a handful of 'non-church' staff, parents and students at Unity College also began asking about developing The God Stuff.

A group began to explore these issues on the understanding that there would be no plans for a church building (with a big cross at the front of it) or expectation that people would drive in from all over the place to sit in pews there.

BELLS - kitchen

Our questions and discussions centred on the nature of church, an understanding of Luke 10, and Jesus sending 'beginner disciples' into the villages where he had not yet been – to build relationship with people of peace, engage with them and accept their hospitality.

Rather than create something and ask people to come to a specific event, we put the word around that we were simply going to buy pizza one Sunday evening in June last year and see who turned up. We hoped for 15 but instead 37 people came to tell us what a gathering might be like and what it would achieve. Their main message was, 'don't call it church'.

Caloundra Uniting Church endorsed this organic development and sponsored us. Members donated some $5,000 to support what we were doing, and a handful of them come each fortnight to make the coffee, turn the sausages and pray for the group.

That same church is now seeking three years of funding to create a half-time pastor's position for me to grow BELLS as a faith community, a fresh expression of church.  This neighbourhood is set to grow dramatically over time with Caloundra South housing 50,000 people in the next 15 years.

Eating is a major part of what we do! People relax and talk when there's food and for Australians a BBQ is standard. Bringing food to a BBQ is an act of sharing; this may well be a ritual/liturgical aspect of BELLS, although one might not recognise it!

At the moment, we are focused on Luke's gospel for the messages to think about in our fortnightly meetings; considering how the Jesus story can be lived out in a culture that does not take it as 'given'. We prepare for that by putting out a trailer out on our YouTube channel a week before the meeting. The BELLS crew then begin to think of their own life experiences in relation to the message. We put up posters around the place and on the school noticeboard; it's also in the school newsletter and Community Association website.

BELLS - choppingOur meetings start with a 'sixty Seconds with…' slot when a volunteer is asked three questions in a minute. This not only acts as an ice-breaker but it provides an opportunity for an initial personal reflection on the message theme. The table groups then chat around those questions as we eat.

Two of our team sing for us and we now have some neighbourhood kids who are beginning to bring their guitars and jam along.

Someone will tell their story related to the message, perhaps on how they have experienced forgiveness – or something similar, then I talk about the scripture for five minutes. We pray simple thanks and requests in different ways, talk about our next opportunity for belonging or serving… and finish our dinner.

When we think about how we might grow the faith community, the school connection is certainly a 'foot in the door' and we have also had much encouragement from many other people of peace locally. The school principal offered the covered BBQ and canteen area for us; the real estate developer now views us as the local church; the publican and the Community Association advertise our gatherings and we actively engage with them in community events, such as park concerts and Christmas carols.

In seven months, four core households have emerged. Younger couples with kids have taken on the leadership in exploring opportunities for belonging, eating (looking at hospitality), listening – as in leading our worship times – and finding ways for us to serve.

As the pastor, my responsibility is the learning content. We also have three older, mature Christians – including two retired, ordained ministers – who pray for us and seek the big vision. They help give a framework of theological understanding to what we are exploring.

BELLSIn the light of Caloundra Uniting Church being our supportive 'mothership', I attend their church council meetings. Their insurance and finance people also look after our necessary bureaucracy.

At this stage I add all preparation for BELLS to my workload at school – hence our meetings being fortnightly. We very much want to become a weekly gathering and develop some discipleship/home groups. If funding becomes available in June 2014, I will be paid a stipend to spend half the week in the neighbourhood.

Our costs as this stage only involve the provision of food because our venue is free. Donations from individuals with a vision as to what we are doing here have amounted to about $7,000.

Long-term commitment is very important. A significant part of building relationships of trust with community groups, the local council, and so on, is the assurance that we will be here in 15 years' time. God knows what the neighbourhood, or our faith community, will look like then but we are here to grow with the neighbourhood from stage one.

I first heard of fresh expressions of church when researching new forms of church online and then followed up on that with a call to a couple of Uniting Church ministers in South Australia. It's exciting to see what God is doing in Caloundra as part of that fresh expressions movement worldwide. Our accountability is formally through the local Uniting Church but we are also blessed by encouragement and regular contact with other denominations with a heart for the new neighbourhood.

How might things develop from here? Well, after six months, and – it seems – the ongoing possibility of personnel and time resources, we have a few challenges and questions to consider.

  • More than 100 people have connected with us but the fortnightly gathering is always around 30. Half of that is core and constant. How will we go beyond that initial contact to build good daily friendships?
  • How will we offer discipleship/faith exploration programs and what will they be? (Our neighbourhood isn't asking the questions Alpha is answering, yet).
  • We are being deliberately engaged in the Community Association, events in the park and so on but there are new opportunities too. There are hoops to jump through but the developer's former sales office may be handed to Caloundra City Council to become a small community hub. Could we become the managing agents? If so, we could engage with many other community groups, have a highly visible venue for gatherings of different kinds.

Eaton and Millbridge Project

The Eaton/Millbridge Project is part of the Uniting Church of Australia's Wellington Regional Mission (WRM). Rev Karyl Davison and a team of volunteers support people in the area and are hoping to see a fresh expression of church take shape.

When a new housing development started to be built in the Eaton area of Western Australia, it had no community facilities. The Wellington Regional Mission saw an opportunity to do ministry there and I took on the role of creating community in Eaton and Millbridge.

A few years ago the WRM consisted of a number of small, declining semi-rural congregations plus one large congregation in Bunbury, the regional centre. As a result of hearing about fresh expressions of church, and with the urging of some forward thinking people keen on mission-shaped ministry, the WRM sold unutilised property and put the funds into a new community-based ministry.

Eaton and MIllbridge - parachute gamesA team of people went out into the community to see what God was up to. A process of listening occurred, including community gatherings and individual conversations, which identified that people wanted opportunities to do things as a 'family'. The WRM has invested in the Project by buying a manse in Millbridge (opposite a popular park) and I've been there since January last year.

As the Eaton and Millbridge area underwent dramatic residential growth, the WRM saw a great opportunity to help create a sense of community and bring the community together. The project had been a dream for a number of years but it was ready to move to the next level.

I have responsibility for Collie, Waterloo and Harvey congregations as well as the Eaton/Millbridge Project – being church in the community for the new housing development which will eventually cover about 500 acres of land. By its completion it will have over 1400 new homes, two government-owned  primary schools, and a Catholic school. The community is made up primarily of Anglo Australians, though there are a number of families from other cultural backgrounds.

The Eaton/Millbridge Project team is currently made up of volunteers from members of the Wellington Regional Mission congregations, a significant number of whom are residents in the area or have family living there. After 12 months we have got to the stage where other residents are becoming interested in joining the team.

Eaton and Millbridge - Santa workshopHowever, at this early stage of the Project we are still trying to make connections with people in the community. This is done mainly through events. We have now had two Easter Egg Hunts, a 'mini festival' called Christmas on Hunter, Movies by Moonlight as well as a number of smaller activities. Most are held in local parks as there are no indoor community spaces in the suburb.

We took part in the national Clean Up Australia Day by getting involved at Cadell Park, Millbridge. This year's Easter Egg Hunt was held in the same place and we had games and activities, plus the Hunt, and the all important coffee and cupcakes. We had over 150 people there, about two thirds of whom were children.

We continue to listen to the community and for the Spirit. At each event we have a comments board and invite people to make suggestions or tell us something about their community. We have also created a Community Banner featuring the handprints of all of those who come to our events.

Eaton and Millbridge - handprint bannerIn terms of 'advertising' what we do, we intend to connect with people electronically as well as face to face. All of our promotional material for the Project notes that we have a Facebook page and this enables me to let lots of people know about what's going on. I also send out reminders by email and we do a door-to-door leaflet drop before every event.

For those in the Project team, God's presence is much more apparent at their community events in a way that they never feel in regular worship. There is such a great sense of community and energy and fun it's a privilege to be part of.

We seek to engage with our community without an agenda of 'getting them to come to church'. We aim to be willing to receive hospitality as well as offer it; listen; and seek to identify what God is up to in our community. Our intention is that, as we gain the people's trust, we will begin offering different kinds of contemplative spaces at our events and invite them to engage in that alongside the fun activities such as games, craft, movies etc.

We hope the result will be some form of 'congregation' for unchurched or dechurched people but if we're true to our commitment to listen to the community and the Spirit, we can't set out to form a new congregation but to see what emerges.

Cringleford Community Project

Heather Cracknell, a pioneer curate near Norwich, is looking to establish a social enterprise café and community project on a new housing development. She hopes it will develop into a fresh expression.

Since I was ordained as a pioneer minister in 2011, the diocese of Norwich has encouraged me to explore what it means to be 'church' in an area of new housing.

Launched in June 2007, the Roundhouse Park development is on the outskirts of Norwich at Cringleford. Building work is still going and eventually there will be 1065 homes. In the next six to nine months there should be a school and eventually a community centre but, at the moment, there isn't a public place to meet at all.

I live in a house bought by the diocese at Roundhouse and my role is split between pioneering there and a traditional curacy in St Peter's Parish Church, Cringleford.

New housing areas are interesting because they have a very distinct culture and don't tend to integrate well with the villages around them. This is compounded at Roundhouse because the development is separated from Cringleford village by a dual carriageway so it's not easy to grow it as one community. Another factor is that the people moving to the new housing tend to be younger than those in the village. Cringleford is near the hospital, research park and university so the new development offers many young professionals and their families a more varied mix of housing.

Cringleford - knittingI have been here for just over 20 months and, in that time, my priority has simply been to get to know as many people as possible. I started by having regular curry nights at my house and, from that, people would suggest different things we might do. This led to 'Stitch and Yarn' which involves people coming together for crochet, knitting or some sort of stitch craft; a cup of tea and a lot of chat. We've also had quizzes, running sessions, picnics and even a 'bake-off' around the kitchens of Roundhouse Park. We are trying to offer as diverse a range of activities as we can but we are still in quite an exploratory phase.

Once a fortnight I host something called Table. People come together for a meal and they're free to explore Christian faith in a safe space. We eat together, have a simple reflection (usually with bread and wine) and get to know each other.

It's so important to try and discern what people are concerned about in the area rather than make any assumptions as to what you think they are concerned about! As part of that, we launched an online community survey in the autumn to find out more about what people wanted and why. The idea was that it would encourage increasing numbers of people to get involved in building community spirit.

We also used the survey to suggest the idea of creating a community project. This involves setting up and running a cafe to provide a place for people to go, spend time with friends, meet others and join in with community activities. It's good to try and get feedback on something like that because there's no point doing something that people don't want in the first place!

Cringleford - occupiedThe café would not only provide a physical focus for activities but, from the very start, be a spiritual hub. For us it's very important that Christian contemplative prayer and prayer stations of some sort would be 'built into' the rhythm of all activities there to give people the chance to explore Christian spirituality in a very familiar setting. It would be part and parcel of what's available and should beg the questions, 'What does it mean to live well? What would that mean to a community of people exploring faith together, meeting in a café space or school?'

The exciting thing is that we already have the embryo of that community at The Table. We are small in number but I can see the beginnings of a prayerful and supportive group of people.

St Peter's Church is fantastically supportive of what I'm doing on the Roundhouse and they have given me time for that. They also recently launched an appeal for various things associated with mission at the church, including updating of the church hall – and my community café project. If the fundraising goes well, then we will go out and find some match funding.

I have been very clear with St Peter's right from the beginning that the Roundhouse work is not about getting people to come along to the traditional church; some may well want to do that and I'd be delighted if they did but that's not the purpose of developing community in the new housing area.

Cringleford - housesAs a giving, supporting, encouraging new community of faith is formed at Roundhouse; that will be 'proper church' too.

It's taking time to develop a team to help me with what's developing at Roundhouse, and a number of local people are involved in helping create the community project planning. They're not necessarily involved in the parish church but they all have a heart for doing something in, and for, community.

I'm trying my very best to create a team but young professionals are understandably very busy. Many of them have got young babies or they're working full time, are in the process of setting up their own businesses, or work irregular shifts – so I am still doing most of the work on my own but I don't think there's any way round that at the moment.

This is an unusual area in that – although we have a German Lutheran congregation which meets at St Peter's – we do not have another church, of any denomination, in our parish. We are fortunate in that we have had some great support from Methodists who are not too far away and they have helped me to link up with regional Methodist projects, but there is no other Christian community on the doorstep.

Officially I have two-and-a-half years to go here but I hope I would be able to stay on as an associate priest licensed to the newer church. I don't know yet whether it will be a BMO but my aim would be to stay on in order to see it through because it is now generally recognised that seven years is the minimum time required to make something sustainable. We'll see!

Discovery Days

In 2003, Church of England minister Penny Joyce moved to a growing new housing estate in Witney, Oxfordshire, to start a community project funded by the Diocese of Oxford. She spent the first three months of her new role, which followed a curacy, 'getting to know people', in particular local churches and the school.

At the end of those three months, she sent a newsletter to every house identifying herself as a community worker and inviting residents to a meeting with the local planner. Around 50 people from the 250 houses then established on the estate turned up. This residents' meeting continues to take place once every three months, attracting 50 to 80 people at a time to its community discussions around wine and cheese. It is particularly valued by newcomers to the estate, which has now grown to 960 houses.

The estate is home, Penny says, to 'a huge cross section of people'. Social housing, young families, home-based workers and early retirees all live together on what, in its early years, has been a building site as well as a place in which to build community. Through the community project, Discovery Days, headed by Penny, these different types of people are able to come together in their own groups at different social and Christian-themed events. Events are advertised on a monthly community newsletter written by Penny and delivered by volunteers.

She spent the first three months getting to know people

The need for various activities is exemplified by an encounter Penny had early on in her ministry to the estate. While out and about she bumped into a young mother walking, looking for someone to talk to. Following this, a mother and toddler group was set up which attracts around 40 women each week.

Other regular events run by Discovery Days are a mixture of social activities and those with a Christian flavour. Families meet for Sunday tea and Christian-based activities. Men meet for football. Readers meet in a book group. Home-based workers meet for lunch. Christians on the estate meet in one of two weekly small groups, Discovery 1 and 2, while a second kind of Discovery group happens for seekers. More generally interested residents of the estate may attend Breathe, a social evening with wine, chat, and the possibility of moving through a series of stations provoking reflection on a life issue.

Christians are present at all the different events and activities whether social or Christian-focused. Penny sees evangelism in terms of a line of 10 to 1 (the Engel scale), on which individuals may be at the Christian end or the disinterested end.

I place events along that line so that people can choose,

she says.

If you're journeying at 8 or 9 you won't want to come to straight into a church situation, but you might want to come to something which looks at the basics of Christianity. We journey spiritually with someone and don't expect them to travel from a nine to a one in one leap.

By listening to the needs of the different groups of people within the community, Discovery Days offers a chance for everyone to discover faith and friendship.

Priorslee

Licensed as Pioneer Minister in Priorslee, Telford, Tim Carter outlines the launch of this Bishop's Mission Order in the Diocese of Lichfield.

Priorslee - village greenThere has been a lot of development around Telford in recent years. To the northeast of the town an area of around 1,800 houses have been built over the last 20 years. There is still land earmarked for development within this area with space for another approx. 500 houses. Within the area there are two primary schools, two small rows of shops, two doctor's surgeries and two pubs. The area shares a name with the original village of Priorslee, but there seems to be little feeling of it being continuous with it in any real sense.

The result is an affluent commuter area with many of the residents working in Wolverhampton and Birmingham because most of these houses are within a few minutes drive of the M54 junction.

This area has been identified as a mission priority over the last 5-10 years and various things tried along the way but then a strategic decision was taken to recruit someone to come and live on the estate and plant a church.

This BMO, the first in the diocese, is slightly unusual in that it doesn't cross any parish boundaries but the legislation is seen here as releasing the Pioneer Minister from expectations of involvement in inherited parochial ministry.

Priorslee - housesThe aim of the BMO is for a church to grow in this area, with the shape of that church (gathered or network or something else to be discerned) but the achievement of that aim feels like quite a long way away. The BMO mechanism allowed the diocese to create some space in order to explore that.

I am employed by the Diocesan Board of Finance, which provides administrative support and a governance framework in these early days of the ministry. My licence allows me to operate freely within a geographical area defined by the BMO and by invitation anywhere in the Diocese. The BMO is time limited with a review period and the licence is linked to the BMO so is valid as long as the BMO is in place.

Priorslee - roundaboutI am linked to what are known as two 'supporting' churches in the wider area – All Saints, Wellington and St Andrew's, Shifnal. We are still exploring exactly what that means though currently they are providing a place for my family to worship and be part of and be sustained by whilst, and until, the plant is able to sustain us. They are also providing some prayer support. This strategy has been implemented with the aim of guarding against the sense of isolation experienced by so many pioneers.

Priorslee - schoolI was licensed on September 6 and diocesan officers worked hard to get us into the house, purchased by the diocese on the estate, in time for my children to get into the local school for the start of term. We still need to work out how we get involved in this community and the school, for instance, is very open to us.

We're at very early stages and at the moment it's all about talking to people and having neighbours around for endless cups of tea!

SOURCE

As a Christian community based in the Hythe area of Colchester, members of SOURCE spend a lot of their time in the area's pubs, bars, coffee shops and cafes – says Church Army evangelist Nikki Foster-Kruczek.

Thirteen years ago the parish of New Town and the Hythe began to pray for God to show them how to respond to a part of the parish undergoing a massive regeneration. The Hythe, the old port area of Colchester, is still being redeveloped but it already looks very different to the way it was when work first got underway.

It was decided that a worker should be appointed, dedicated to living and working in the Hythe. The money was raised, interviews were held and I took on the post in May last year. I'm funded jointly by the Church Commissioners (Mission in New Housing Developments) and the Church Army. The local parish also gives to the work. I am on a fixed-term five year contract with Church Army acting as my employer but the expectation is that eventually the post will become self sustaining.

SOURCE - networkWithin a few weeks of me arriving, a small group of people from the local church had offered to help with the 'mission to the Hythe'. But the question was – how do we mission such a place?

The Hythe is now a marina and the boats moored at the quays are homes rather than commercial vessels. Hundreds of new houses and flats have been built and many people have moved into the area. The old pockets of heavy industry have almost gone to be replaced by call centres and offices. For us, a picture began to form an octopus, a central resourcing core with tentacles that reached out to the different parts of the Hythe.

There are few connections between the various small estates – thanks to a couple of main roads and the River Colne cutting across the area. A few muddy footpaths are used as short cuts but people generally live in their own small estates and rarely visit another part of the Hythe unless it is to go to a large supermarket or DIY store.

People commute to work in different parts of Colchester and Chelmsford, Ipswich and London. The Hythe has no parks, very little green space, no rubbish bins, no GP surgery and no school. Not every residential area has a play space for children and where such spaces are included they have very limited appeal to any child above the age of six. On the edge of the Hythe is the main campus for the University of Essex and many students live in the Hythe itself.

SOURCE - litter pickA small group began to prayer walk around the area regularly and 'notice' things. We saw the two pubs trying to attract more customers, a newly-opened wine bar, local businesses struggling to stay afloat and the coffee shops, cafes and benches where people ate their lunch. We also saw rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish. All over the Hythe, people had just dropped their litter.

So our first attempt at something 'missional' was to begin to take care of our local environment by organising a litter pick and clearing up one area of the Hythe. We also began to gather together to share food in someone's home once twice each month, to eat and pray and talk and see where God might lead us. This was a vital time in our formation as a small Christian community.

SOURCE - bin bagsWe felt that God was asking us to be visible and present in the Hythe, so we started to go to the different places and just 'hang out'. The coffee shops, cafes and pubs became places where we met to eat, drink, chat and above all listen to other people. Simply by being present in these places and willing to listen, we discovered that people had a lot to say and through those conversations God spoke loudly to us about caring for the area and being willing to walk with its people.

One day we saw a poster for a quiz night to be held at the local wine bar, a place we had heard was aimed at a gay clientele. In all honesty, we had mixed emotions about going there but when we went in, we were made welcome and have been going to the bar regularly ever since. We are known as people who like to have fun but are deeply spiritual.

Our decision to formally become the SOURCE community happened gradually. We talked about how we could function in the Hythe on a much more effective basis if we committed to being there full time. People began to pray about their calling to be part of what was emerging. Our name came from our meditations on the image of the river, our physical river and the image of water used throughout the Bible. God has become for us our 'source' of sustaining as we depend on Him to lead us in all we do.

SOURCE - commissioning

SOURCE was launched on January 30 this year at St Stephen's Church in Colchester. We wanted to make it a clear moment when we ceased to be members of St Stephen's and formally became committed members of SOURCE with a call to the Hythe. It was in the context of the weekly communion service and we wrote a special liturgy. There was a time of listening to God and people shared pictures, bits of Scripture and thoughts, we were anointed with oil and prayed with. We had a party afterwards, sharing lunch and fun together and the next evening SOURCE met for our first worship space, known as CENTRE.

Since then we have continued to love and serve God and our area and we are learning to love and serve one another in community together. We meet weekly on Monday evenings for CENTRE and we continue to pick up the litter, run a clothes swap and do lots of other things – such as bake cakes and give them to local businesses as a gift for the staff.

SOURCE - altarCENTRE is held in the home of one of our members who lives in the Hythe. We start by offering a simple meal at 7pm as some folk come straight from work and they need some food. It also helps to break the ice a bit. CENTRE keeps us focussed on God in the midst of life. We often sing, anything from ancient hymns to Hillsong, we focus ourselves on God, there is a time of reflection and sharing where the question 'Where have we seen God at work?' is asked. We usually look at the Bible together and then talk about it. Recently we read about the Sabbath and had a conversation about how we find our rest. We often hold some period of silence for people to just be with God. We bring intercessions in different ways and usually end with the Grace or the SOURCE community prayer. People usually leave by 9.30pm.

We would see SOURCE very much as an ecclesial community in its own right and are working with the Parish Church to keep that message clear. This is not always easy. SOURCE is learning together what it means to 'track God' both outwardly in mission and inwardly in our own spiritual journey. We still have more questions than answers and have no idea where God will take us next, but we're still praying and walking and hoping… and we're still looking for ways to engage with the people in the Hythe with a particular emphasis on those with little or no connection to church.

Immanuel Church

Graylingwell Chapel, in the centre of an 85-acre former hospital site in Sussex, had been derelict for years when Steve and Sarah Flashman first saw it. Now – as home to Immanuel Church – it's on course to be the spiritual heart of a landmark eco-friendly housing development. Ministers Steve and Sarah discuss the turnaround in fortune.

Immanuel Church - homes

Immanuel Church was actually born fifteen years ago, long before we were on the scene, when a group of people in Chichester started meeting in someone's home. The church soon grew and people felt that God was calling them to work in partnership with St Paul's Church in the Winterbourne Road area of the city. Meeting at St Michael's Hall, the church outgrew the facilities there and after a long period of consultation and negotiation moved into Graylingwell Chapel. The idea was to create a vibrant new community base open to all.

Immanuel Church at Graylingwell Chapel is not a Parish Church. We are in the parish of St Paul's, Chichester but we are becoming a Bishop's Mission Order and have been given a special brief as a 'network church' and 'missional community' to live out our Christian faith in ways that connect with people in this area. This means we can develop new forms of church whilst respecting Anglican traditions.

Immanuel Church - chapelSeven hundred homes will be built on this site over the next seven years. Graylingwell Chapel had been disused for eleven years by the time we first saw it; previously this late Victorian building had only been used by staff and patients of the NHS hospital here.

We came to Immanuel Church as ministers four years ago to live on the Winterbourne estate which is a mix of social housing and student lets. We chose to live on the estate because we felt it was really important for us to be incarnational and live with the people we serve, our home is right by what is currently a fence surrounding the Graylingwell site. It is possible to see the Chapel from where we live – though it was a bit difficult to do that initially.

When we first drove up to Graylingwell, the whole area was a mess and you couldn't really access the chapel building at all but we managed to make our way through the foliage to get to it and we could see the vision even then.

Immanuel Church - treesAs a result we started to establish a relationship with the developers, Linden Homes, and also got in touch with the architects and the site's owner English Partnerships (which became part of the Homes and Communities Agency in December 2008). A public consultation was held before moving forward with the development and some 200 people came to the site's old theatre building.

Plans were outlined for what will be the UK's largest carbon neutral development. All the homes are planned as energy efficient with heating supplied by a central heating and power plant as part of an on-site energy centre. The idea is that it would be a benchmark for future sustainable developments across the country.

The architects put up big sheets of paper and they asked us all to write our own dreams and visions for this site. We wrote that our dream was that Graylingwell Chapel would become the community's spiritual heart.

Later, during the consultation, the development team stood up in front of this packed crowd and said that when first researching their design ideas, they came to Chichester and could see the centre of the city was in the shape of a cross with roads from north, south, east and west meeting at the Market Cross near the cathedral. They had then drawn a line through the centre of a map showing the Graylingwell site and discovered – from aerial photos – that the Chapel building was at the centre of it all. They then said they hoped it would become the spiritual heart of Graylingwell and they drew a heart around the Chapel on their PowerPoint map.

Immanuel Church - heartWe were astounded that they used the same phrase as we had written down a little while earlier! The image of the heart has since become the church's logo.

The developers and architects also emphasised that they wanted to connect Graylingwell with Winterbourne, saying the communities needed to be interwoven. To illustrate this they drew a line to show where the cycle paths were scheduled to run – one was a direct route through what had been an old orchard from our front door directly to the chapel door. We took it as such an encouragement that this was definitely where God had called us and wanted us to be.

It helped us in developing relationship with all of these key people that we could point to the community work we were already involved in. Our Winterbourne Wonderland event on the streets of the estate involves games for the children, refreshments, food, a live band and a specially built grotto for Father Christmas.

And in the middle of the summer, we bring the seaside to Winterbourne Road with our Summersdale Seaside Special. We bring in sand, a huge Hawaiian backdrop and 'beachside' cocktails. Apart from the street parties, we also run a fellowship group in an elderly care home; have a social outreach clear-up group, and lots of other things.

There is no focus to the community around here. We only have one shop on the estate and it's the place where people meet – and kids loiter outside. At the time of building relationship we knew we couldn't develop a geographic focus but we could create a focus for something good. It was, and still is, important that the community feel they can 'own' what we do. Thankfully there has certainly been proof of that along the way.

Immanuel Church - inside the chapelWhen we moved in to the chapel building in Easter 2010, all the church turned up to clean the place and we came across a lady we didn't know doing the hoovering! It turned out that the church had helped her to clear and tidy up her garden and she wanted to give something in return.

We also have a New Community Rock Choir. Fifty eight people signed up for it and only a handful has any link at all with church but this is most definitely 'their' chapel.

The fact is that since moving in here we've had one miracle after another. Linden Homes put in a temporary electricity supply but didn't have permanent lighting. Then a member of our church was driving along when he saw lights being put into a skip. It turned out a school was being refurbished. He asked if he could have them for the church and he drove off again with all the lighting we needed.

A couple of weeks before we were due to move in, it was suggested that we might have to pay £10,000 a year to use the place! Some of our people were not at all sure about continuing with the whole thing but we said, 'This is the vision that God has given us and we will still move in on Easter weekend. If He wants us here, he will provide what we need.' The Monday before moving day one of the directors of the development company contacted us to say, 'We have decided we are not going to charge that figure. For the next two years you can use it for £1 a year.'

Immanuel Church - artWe are developing relationship as well as developing trust both with the community and those involved in delivering this scheme. We were able to put together quite detailed business plans for what was then English Partnerships and this really helped them to recognise that we were serious about the whole thing.

The idea of denominations or different streams of church is completely incomprehensible to many. If you mention to a lot of people in this area that we are from the Church of England, many wouldn't really know – or care – what that means. If people do have a view of what Christians were like, it would tend to be a stereotypical one of 'wet fish handshakes' and blue anoraks. There is no expectation of anything different.

It was at the Bishop of Chichester's invitation that we started on the route of becoming a Bishop's Mission Order. There had been difficult times before Immanuel Church was formed, its beginning was born out of pain, but Immanuel wasn't formed as an alternative to another congregation. Its growth was very organic and developed naturally. It had also always remained within the CofE's Canon law so the BMO offered an opportunity to embark on a new stage of Immanuel's journey.

Immanuel Church, in all but its direct governance, is sympathetic to the CofE and the BMO acknowledges that some churches are seeking a form of official recognition that falls into the Order's bracket. It’s all about restoration, reconciliation and healing.

Immanuel Church - busWe are very missional with Graylingwell and since we have moved here, the culture of the church has significantly changed. About 120 adults are now part of the church with attendances of roughly 100 on Sunday, plus children. We're now praying for new growth from people coming in as converts and there are good signs for future relationship building. Linden Homes has set up a Community Development Trust and a community development worker is using the Chapel for parties for new residents. Our youth and children's work currently takes place in a double decker bus parked alongside the Chapel. We bought it on eBay and later this year we do hope to go on the road with it.

The building itself will be restored by Linden Homes at an estimated cost of £300,000. They will start to do that when 150 houses have been built – 70 have gone up so far. We will remain in the Chapel while works continue, all of which will be in line with the carbon neutral development around it.

In thinking about the fresh expressions way of being incarnational in a setting rather than being attractional and bringing people back into a church building, it's all about knowing your context. For us here we recognise that one of the things that draws people in is the Chapel itself because they are curious to see what it's like. You can't always work to a formula of getting out and staying out. Many are coming to the church because of its community arts emphasis. You have got to know your own community and recognise where people are at as well as having a real Spirit-inspired vision.

Immanuel Church - chapelGraylingwell Chapel is the new community venue in Chichester but we can see a time, as the site develops, when additional communities could well become those little churches that are very typical of fresh expressions. This might be seen as 'Chapel Central' to a network of churches.

We still find it amazing that it was the secular community of architects and developers that set Graylingwell Chapel's agenda as the spiritual heart. They want to create something that is very contemporary, very alive. In turn, people have picked up on the welcome, the friendship, the atmosphere of the place. It is easy to become concerned that they will be put off by liturgy, the way we worship, what we say in a sermon or whatever but we shouldn't assume that these things are barriers. Instead, friends and friendship are often the keys to them coming in the first place and then coming back for more. We have got to live community and give people a glimpse as to what that means – that's the heart of the Trinity after all isn't it?

Immanuel Church - art

Reside

Reside - EllieReside is a Christian project evolving in response to growing housing developments to the south of Loughborough. It is led by Methodist Deacon Ellie Griffin, Reside's full-time paid worker.

The original vision for a worker on the development came from the Loughborough Churches Partnership and is mainly funded by the Anglican and Methodist Church. The rest of Reside's team is made up of volunteers from a range of denominations, most of whom live in the housing developments we serve.

I have been here for just over three-and-a-half years and am based on the Fairmeadows estate but also work on the new Grange Park housing development. Generally I attempt to co-ordinate the various activities of Reside and enthuse people to get involved.

Our vision is to be an evolving Christian network that provides safe and welcoming places, explores the Christian faith, cares for the community and collectively expresses each element of Church.

This is an affluent estate but we are in the parish of the Good Shepherd CofE Church which is based in a far more socially deprived area. In saying that, they still provide part of the funding for Reside and the vicar, Eric Whitley, is on our steering group. In some ways it's quite difficult to be taking support from a church with such limited resources themselves but, as often happens, it's those with less who tend to give more. They saw the vision of what we were trying to do and have gone for it – and we're very grateful for that.

Reside - buildingIt was only 25 years ago that the whole of the Fairmeadows estate was nothing more than a farmer's field. Eventually the community will consist of about 1600 homes. When the original plans for this development (known as Grange Park) were first set in place, the churches in Loughborough saw the need for the potential community to be developed and so looked to appointing a full time worker to live on the estate. I moved here with my family in September 2007.

It wasn't long before Reside was 'born'. We aim to contribute to community by enabling residents to be actively engaged in developing the area in which they live – whether that's through the residents’ association, involvement with schools, Neighbourhood Watch, litter picks or working with children and young people. The opportunities really are endless and the range of skills needed is diverse.

We want to get people excited about getting to know their neighbours and to provide opportunities for building relationships. There aren't many meeting places on the estate and so we are trying to be imaginative in how we address this so that all groups within the community can interact more with each other. Recently we made a trip to see a project near Malton which uses a council-funded facility called the 'Ryepod'. It is a converted mobile home hired out to various organisations for a range of purposes. This is the very beginning of our explorations but we are excited by the possibilities.

Reside - residents' association

In some ways, Loughborough has got quite a lot of pioneering stuff going on from Pioneer Network, New Frontiers International, student work and a huge variety of other churches. In saying that there is still an idea or expectation as to what 'real' church looks like; trying to convince those part of inherited models of church that Reside really is church can be quite difficult. Even if people can cope with Reside not having a building as a base they will still ask, 'why aren't you gathering for worship every week?' It can be so difficult for them to grasp that Reside may never have a big gathering for worship but it's very much church in a different way.

Reside cares about every aspect of community life and the individual lives of the residents who make up this community. This comes from our belief that God cares about every aspect of lives too and that the Christian faith has something to offer in each situation.

So far Reside has been involved in the Haddon Way Residents Association working with them to listen to the community's needs or concerns and hosting Community Fun Days, a Big Tidy Up event and an outdoor Christmas Carol service. We have also hosted Easter Fun Days on the Grange Park housing development two years running giving the families opportunity to meet their neighbours and have fun together.

Reside - Christmas

Through support from SOaR (Schools Outreach and Resources) we have been part of a prayer group for Outwoods Edge Primary School, led assemblies and delivered Easter lessons. Leading on from this we have been invited to lead the school community in celebrating harvest and Christmas and are currently exploring further ways of engaging with the school.

Offering the opportunity to ask questions about God and faith, we ran a six- week exploration course. In small discussion groups we used film clips, news articles and other medium to stir debate offering insight from biblical teaching and Christian thought. Reside has also hosted craft sessions, parties, a police drop-in, quiet space and Open House, all providing a variety of opportunities for residents in the area. All of our activities are provided free of charge as a gift to the community to express God's abundant, no-strings-attached love.

The Residents' Association was one of the first links we made into the community. At first they thought it a bit odd that someone from the church turned up and they wondered what we wanted from them. It was also a little confusing because I didn't 'fit' their idea as to what a church leader looked like! Once they became accustomed to the fact that I was attending as a resident and not just as a church representative, everything was fine.

Reside - police

It was interesting that after a community event run jointly by the Association and Reside, the chairman said to me,

I still don’t know what you're after. The church has bought the house you're living in and they're paying your wages for five years, what are they getting out of it?

It had taken him three years to ask that question directly and it was only because we'd built up such a good working relationship that he felt able to ask it at all. In turn I could tell him there was no catch; that it was all a gift to this community because God loves this area and the people who live here.

Over the next 12 months we hope to:

  • Develop the work we do with the local schools;
  • Explore the possibilities for a mobile meeting place;
  • Provide opportunities for residents to get to know one another;
  • Network those already actively serving this community;
  • Provide opportunities to explore the Christian faith;
  • Grow a number of 'Cell' groups;
  • Plan for long term sustainability of Reside.

Reside - hose

We are very much developing cells at the moment and we're just starting a pilot cell of people who will be leaders in different cell groups. We have got lots of good contacts now on the edges of the community but how can we take it a bit further? I think the cell church model, tweaked to this context, would be a very good model for us. I pray that it will take off and that the trust between groups will become stronger.

The work with the primary school has been awesome because initially it was closed to what we were offering to do. The vicar would go in for standard assemblies at key times of the year though they were a bit worried about taking anything further than that. Slowly they have begun to open up and this Easter we are working with them to host an exhibition of Hope where members of both the school and wider community can creatively offer their Hope for the future.

Again this has all taken time. Thanks to the gradual building up of relationship they invited me to be on their governing body and now they approach us to do things rather than the other way round. It's amazing to think that when I started here there was no link between anyone on the estate or anywhere to go so I used to sit at home praying, then walk around the streets and pray a bit more.

I was pregnant when I took up the post so that did mean I could meet other mums as a way of getting to know people. It also meant that any immediate expectations were lifted as to what I was to 'achieve' in the role; otherwise the aim was that I'd be involved in building a community centre by now because that was one of the points in my job description! The developers of the estate are providing space for a community centre of some description and I'm hoping that Reside and the residents will be able to work together on creating a special space where all sorts of activities can take place.

Reside - craft tableA five-year funding plan was put in place for us so we are now at the stage of looking at how things can be sustained in future. We are already starting to get some income from the local community but it's nowhere near enough for us to be financially sustainable – and that's in an affluent area! How can people hope to achieve that sustainability in poorer areas?

Also, the context has changed so much here in just a few years. Lots more people have moved in, mainly young families, but many head out for work early in the morning in their cars and the estate's almost dead in the daytime. The nearest shop is nearly a mile away and all of this can combine to incredible isolation for those left behind. There are actually quite a few older people here as well and the community – on the surface predominantly white and middle class – is actually quite a diverse one.

In serving them, Reside will never look like a 'normal' church. I think it will always be messy, an evolving network continually listening and continually responding to the needs of the community. I think that's why many traditional churches have come to a halt – because they stopped listening.