River in the City

River in the City - Keith HitchmanThe vision for River in the City is to create new ways of 'being church' for people who work, relax and live in Liverpool City Centre. Pioneer minister Keith Hitchman envisages a growing network of small communities in workplaces, cafes, and many other areas.

Liverpool ONE is one of the biggest shopping centres in the country. Its 42 acres includes 160 shops, more than 20 bars and restaurants, a 14-screen cinema and a park. It is the largest city centre regeneration project in Europe.

River in the City - streetRiver in the City will seek to serve those who visit, work and live in this development but it will also be there for anyone in and around the Liverpool city centre. The slogan for Liverpool ONE is 'Love the City'; the aim of River in the City is to follow Jesus' lead and to love the city in his name, demonstrating that love in useful and practical ways.

The Diocese of Liverpool is looking at a model of church that doesn't involve a large number of people coming together in one place but sees groups being established around a common interest – whatever that interest may be. In a world of choice and change, people form groups with others who share the same interests and views on life. It is through these groups that they discuss and ask the big questions and I want to help people to do that.

River in the City - wheelThis is about taking church out of the church building and into the workplace environment. It's about growing faith where life happens and life happens in the workplace and places like the city centre.

It's interesting how people see my work. Someone recently described me as 'the travelling vicar.' In a sense I suppose that's what I am! Other things are also important here. I have already been asked the key question of what football team I support. My son has chosen Liverpool because I don't think we'll survive without supporting a team from the city but I'm going to stick with my own favourites, West Ham. That means I don't have to be a 'Blue' (Everton) or a 'Red' (Liverpool). Anyway if you add the blue and the red together you'd probably get the claret colour of The Hammers!

River in the City - blocksCulture is changing so rapidly that, for me, fresh expressions is not an add-on. It is vital. We're mapping out the way the Church will look over the next 200 years and that's exciting, but it’s also disturbing for people I think. The line that comes to me is from the book of Acts, 'these people are disturbing our city'.

Supportive bishops, deacons and those in leadership in the Diocese mean there is a growing understanding of what it means to do church in new ways and be church in new ways for a new time. I love the fact that there is a strategy for pioneer ministry here and the imagery of Lake and River – with the river of fresh expressions flowing into the lake of the inherited models of church. There's something very holistic about that.

River in the City - cityscape


In just a few years, Riverforce has become an official staff support network in Merseyside Police. The workplace church is involved in the formulation of any policy before its implementation in the force.

It also receives funding from Merseyside Police and its leadership team has grown to six, covering virtually the whole of the force which provides policing services for the five local authority areas that make up Merseyside – Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and the Wirral.

Recent developments at Riverforce have also seen the setting up of a counselling service. Weekly or fortnightly cells now operate in most areas of the force while joint celebrations at police headquarters in Liverpool city centre regularly bring together up to 90 officers.

Merseyside has a population of 1.4m, with the police workforce – as of December 2009 – standing at 7899 (including officers, staff and specials). A city-wide Christian prayer event at the waterfront Liverpool Echo Arena in 2009 saw 250 officers from Neighbourhood Policing Teams join the 4,500 audience. So successful was the Redeeming Our Communities launch that Merseyside Police requested a follow-up celebration in 2011.

Riverforce members have recently been going out to local churches to help them work more closely with the police. The first event attracted 150 people.

Chief Inspector Peter Owens, who launched Riverforce in 2006, has now retired but continues as a manager with the Occupational Health Team – and as chairman of the missional cell network. He is very encouraged by the developments:

We have had a lot of interest from other parts of the country and other organisations. On an individual level too there are some amazing testimonies. We will be running a force-wide Alpha course in the autumn. It's hard work but worth it.