Matt Caldicott leads the Generation Project, set up in 2011 by Rugby Deanery to connect with 20 to 30-year-olds in the area. Matt tells of the story so far, including the launch of Park Pastors.
I started in post in July last year and my brief was to connect with young adults. It was very much a blank sheet of paper and I thought about trying to reach this 'missing generation' in pubs and cafes but it was July, and quite sunny, so – on my first day – I went to the park!
I had previously visited Caldecott Park with my own kids but I didn't really know it that well. It underwent a nine month Heritage Lottery Fund restoration project in 2008/09 and it's a beautiful place, a little piece of heaven in the middle of Rugby.
I started to visit it three times a week to prayer walk and meet people. After a week or so, I thought it appropriate to tell Trevor, the park ranger, that I was a Christian hoping to connect with people there. His first reaction was, 'There's a better park down the road for you to do that!' But our friendship has grown over time as our relationship has deepened and now we work together from a position of trust.
My first aim was to meet people of peace and I made contact with many of them during the summer, including:
- deanery clergy and other local ministers;
- those involved in local specific mission focused ministries so as to try and not 'reinvent the wheel' and repeat something that's already happening;
- people with no links to church at present.
An interesting, and positive, challenge in this area is that Rugby churches are connected through the Revive network. This means that church leaders from all denominations meet and work together regularly, renewing vision for the church's mission in the area and the emergence of new projects. As I was coming into such a strong environment of Christians doing all sorts of things across the town, I asked myself, 'How can I start something new with such a lot going on? Where are the gaps?' The park has been such an answer to prayer because it offers a unique base for ministry.
A turning point came when Trevor and I started to chat about the possibilities for the park's Café which had been closed due to the economic downturn. The original idea when the park re-opened in 2009 was that it would become a community hub, but that project had never been realised. We started to dream dreams about, 'What if it reopened as a joint venture; a council-church-run community café that connects with people in various ways? I proposed that we would offer Park Pastors, running along the same lines as Street Pastors, as a spiritual thread to that. We would be based at the Café.
During my times of walking the park I had a real sense of it being a place of peace and restoration and I wanted to work on that theme of the peace of the place. We could ask people the question, 'If there are things in your life that are broken, how can we help you to be restored?' Ultimately the idea is to grow missional community out of that.
Rugby Borough Council welcomed the idea of opening up the Café again, put in more than £20,000 for catering staff wages, and even provided us with Park Pastor t-shirts and sweatshirts to signify our 'official presence' within the park. We will be running a pilot 'year' from April to October and the aim is to work towards establishing it as a charity so we can attract funding. My appointment currently sees me running the project for three days a week with the rest of the time spent in pioneer ministry training with the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course.
Thankfully I also have a colleague, Aaron Lincoln, who is working alongside me on this. As a church planter he had been called to the area three years ago but he really felt God calling him to get involved in something new – not the traditional church plant he had done before. We started to meet and it has developed from there.
Park Pastors plan to launch at Easter, when the Café is scheduled to re-open, and I would seek to have a mixed-age team. We will welcome all we come across but we do also hope to focus on young dads. There are lots of places for young mums and their babies to go but we want to put the park on the map as a good place for guys to come too, somewhere they can meet other blokes that understand the pressures of family life.
The council has also provided us with a wooded area of the park to install a permanent outdoor labyrinth and we will provide guided meditations for iPods. Hopefully that will be ideal for people working in the centre of town who want to get away from it all for a while at lunchtime.
In another development, I have also become chaplain at Rugby College of Further Education; it is relationship building time at the moment but I can see that in the winter – when we can't be in the park so much – we will be able to base our missional community there.
I have been thinking very much of the theology of the guest: God is here, now, with us and in the conversations we have with people but – in the park – we are on someone else's turf as well. We have been so privileged that the council said yes to us; we are guests in this environment. It turns the tables on what we think about mission and shifts our perception of who holds the power.
If we adopt the attitude of a guest, it takes away some of the barriers as to what is expected of us. It will help us think creatively about how we approach mission and focus us on collaboration, both with the council and the people who visit the park. The very word 'pioneer' can have some very difficult connotations attached to it; I don't like the theology of 'claiming' – it’s too Gung-ho for me and speaks less about Jesus than we might think.
Joining in with what is already happening in a community means that you don't have to try and make people jump through hoops to do things or go somewhere they wouldn't naturally connect with. As Park Pastors, we can offer an added dimension to what is already going on in the life of the park, and hopefully illuminate God's presence through missional community drawing alongside the people we meet.
We have to bring the gospel into new places but when you're invited into someone else's environment, you can't make all the rules, you have to adapt. We need a mixed economy, to be flexible and connect in ways that surprise people.