Sanctuary West London

Salvation Army Captains Gary and Dawn Lacey came to Ealing in 2013 to set up a prayer centre and develop Christian community there. Dawn tells the story of what happened.

The concept of planting a house of prayer wasn't new to my husband, Gary, and I because we had previously set up centres in Durham and Liverpool. In fact, the vision was very much that we would set up a national network of these prayer houses.

However, almost right from the start in West London, we have felt ourselves to be in a really tough spiritual battle. Church planting, or being involved in fresh-expressions-type work, is never the easiest thing to do – and we've had that calling about houses of prayer over the past ten years – but everything seemed to step up a gear when we came to Ealing.

We still hold on to the prophetic words that God gave us about houses of prayer so whether Ealing is the final one for us to be involved in, and someone else then takes up the mantle, we don't know. We just seek to keep going wherever God leads us. All the settings we've known have been so different. In Liverpool, the prayer house seemed to help disgruntled Christians come back into relationship with God though we did also do much street work there – and praying for the city. In Durham, a lot of young students got involved.

Sanctuary - groupThe vision for a house of prayer is to create a place that is based on prayer, mission and justice. Hospitality and pilgrimage, creativity and teaching are also very important to our missional approach. Here, the focus is on serving those in need, people who are experiencing homelessness and those who use the building we're based in during the week. A few organisations rent the space but they are still very much aware that it's a Christian house of prayer. Gary and I pray that we're faithful in simply opening the doors and seeing what God does.

There are four designated prayer rooms, a hospitality area, a community room, spaces for creative prayer and a worship/gathering room.

Our main meeting is on a Thursday evening, we are not doing a Sunday morning service. What's happening is that we are building a community of people happy to meet together on Thursdays to find out more about what it means to be a Christian; it's almost like a home group. We have recently been looking at, 'What does God to say to us in the silence?' That same group will eventually form a new church; there are about twelve of us at the moment – some of us are staunch Salvationists, others go to an Anglican church. It is a great mix of people.

We probably have about an hour and a half together during which time we have coffee and listen to a talk before we leave it open for discussion and just go for it! As a community, we have a daily rhythm of prayer at 10am and 12noon and that forms the basis of what we are about. That very much feeds into this place being somewhere for people to become more effective in the development of a lifestyle of prayer; that's why we have prayer cards out on the table for everyone and teaching on subjects like personal prayer life, spiritual warfare, street prayer and prayer ministry. When people come in and talk to us about experiencing homelessness, or desperation, or whatever it may be, we always ask them if they'd like us to pray for them.

Sanctuary - celebrationWe have a paid worker, who is brilliant, and we have loads of volunteers. We certainly need them because we run a charity shop next door as well.  Our café is open from 10am to 3pm, Tuesday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. We've got a luncheon club, a kids' club, and also have a particular call to those who are experiencing homelessness. Our goal this year is just to stabilise everything that's happening because at the heart of everything we do is the desire to see people come to know Jesus.

It's interesting to look back at the history of this place because there was a Salvation Army Centre in this building from 1909. In the past it was a very traditional corps but, by the time we came, there were only about 10-15 people left and they knew that something needed to change; they just didn't know how to make that change. It's all about bringing people into a relationship with Jesus – whether that's done in a traditional or contemporary way.

I totally understand that it can be very difficult to take on board why things need to be so different, particularly if you've always done something a certain way. All I can say, here in Ealing, is that this is growing; people are coming to a knowledge of God because he is doing new things and we have just got to join in!

Sanctuary - rooms

Red Church

Ben Dyer tells of the development of a missional community of young adults in Ormskirk.

It is almost two-and-a-half years since my wife, Bethany, and I made the move from York to Ormskirk. I had been part of the leadership team of a church plant from St Michael le Belfrey called Conversations; this was aimed at 18-30s and we met in a bar each week. When that came to an end after five years, I told God, 'I'm never doing church leadership again. It is far too hard work and stressful'. That was in February 2012 but by April/May I felt that God wanted me to be in church leadership again!

After various conversations, we came to Ormskirk Deanery where they wanted 'something for young adults'. I subsequently had a formal interview with the Deanery and they offered me the job with a five-year contract.

Why Red Church? In some Bibles, the words of Jesus are written in red, which stands for what Jesus said. Red is symbolic of the blood of Jesus, which stands for what Jesus did. Lastly, red is short for redemption, which stands for what it means to us. People often ask why we are called 'Red Church' and in our answer we can often tell people the good news of Jesus through just explaining our name. I joke with people that it's also because we are all supporters of Manchester United! However, this is a dangerous thing to say in an area where most football fans would say they follow Liverpool or Everton.

Red Church - Ben DyerI started here in January 2013 and, for the first three months; I basically tried to evaluate the situation. As part of that, I met every single vicar in the Deanery and lots of people in the diocese, including young adults in churches – and not in churches – to see what was going on. Then I presented a vision and a strategy to the Deanery with what I felt God was saying about how we connect with young adults in the area, help them come to know Jesus, and love the church.

There are 18 churches in the Deanery and it is predominantly rural but then we also have a few densely populated urban areas. In York there had been many young adults who were very gifted, very mature in their faith and keen to get involved in things. I came with the same expectations to Ormskirk but soon realised that this was a very different place.

I have found a lot of people who go through youth groups at church but seem to fall off the radar somewhere between 16 and 18. Even if they are living in their home town and have grown up in the church – and actually quite like God, and call themselves a Christian – they haven't managed to engage with church.

The original plan was that we would get together 15-20 young adults in some sort of gathering and attract other people to that. The only problem was that in six months we only managed to find two other people willing to be part of Red Church. So, we then formed a group of the four of us and we'd meet once a week in our house to read the Bible and pray a bit. There were hardly any young adults in local churches. In terms of disillusioned 18-30s, in all 18 churches, I'd say there was under 20 young adults committed to church.

Red Church - groupAfter losing hope, more people started coming along to our house! In June 2013, we had four and by August we had twelve. Sometimes it would be people I came across who were disillusioned with church. One young woman invited a friend who had never been to church at all; she in turn brought along someone else who had no church background either! Some of the people had been in church all their lives but still didn't find themselves loving church.

It was very relaxed, we often watched a Nooma DVD, we'd chat what it was about, find out what was happening in people's lives and pray for each other. It wasn't intense 'Jesus-ness', it was just getting to know each other.

I decided it would be good to do an Alpha course and, because we had outgrown our living room, we decided to move it to a public venue. In September 2013 we set it up in a local bar and ran an Alpha. In my opinion it didn't go very well. We ran the course until Christmas but had a drop-off in terms of attendance every week.

At the same time, we launched a football team which trains at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. Our football team plays in the South Manchester and Cheshire Christian Football League and 90% of those involved have no experience of church. Most of the guys who come along have been invited by their friends.

Red Church - candlesThe fact is that, for most people, coming to know Jesus is a long-term thing. The message we want to give is, 'We're not asking you to say "yes" or "no" to the Christian faith within a certain timeframe; you can just belong with us in some sort of community'.

We believe church is fundamentally about relationships. Relationships with others and a relationship with God. How we 'do church'/our strategy is based on the idea that people generally move forward in their journey with God within community rather than outside it. Our church strategy has five levels with each level looking to attract different people and have a different intensity of 'Jesus-ness'. Our five levels are:

  1. Our lowest level of 'Jesus-ness' is activity-based small groups. We think people generally form friendships and community more naturally and quickly while they are doing something together. We don't shove Jesus down people's throats, we just hang out and become friends. Whether that is through our football team, film club or girls/guys nights – they all bring people together and start friendships.
  2. Red Group is where we introduce Jesus more intentionally. It's still very social but it all relates to Jesus. Red Group takes place every Tuesday evening at a coffee shop in Ormskirk. We generally play a silly game, show a Nooma DVD, or someone may tell their testimony for 5 or 10 minutes. People can ask questions, we have a chat and leave. We don't tell people you have to believe anything, but we introduce people to the idea of faith gently.
  3. An Alpha course. That's where we can explore who Jesus is, why he died and what it means for me. We haven't run an Alpha course since 2013 but we plan to run another one soon. My motto is 'Make It Easy for Yourself' (I have to fight against perfectionism) so we are going to use the Alpha Express shortened videos. I feel Alpha is more about the relationships we have with the people and how the discussion groups are led, rather than giving live talks.
  4. Red Church - gatheringA service where we can encourage and challenge each other, while giving people an opportunity to connect with God. Red Church runs its service every Sunday at 4pm in Ormskirk School, it is not wacky or weird, it has all the main elements of a standard service but in a very contemporary and relaxed way. From 4-4.15 we have drink and doughnuts. At 4.15 we have a game, notices, worship slot, talk and reflection, which is maybe a video or a poem to give people space and time to reflect on the talk or their week.
  5. Our deepest level of 'Jesus-ness' used to be a mentoring network, but this just changed to small groups because creating a mentoring networks turned out to be a logistical nightmare! We share a meal together, open the Bible, talk about the stuff going on in our life, and pray.

People can plug in to whatever 'level' they want, if people want to come to football for the rest of their life they are very welcome to be part of us at that level. However, the hope is that as people build relationships and hopefully become interested in God they will begin to move through the different levels.

Red Church - bonfire night

On top of this, we also have a prayer meeting in a coffee shop at the University on a Thursday evening and we are trying to grow leaders from within our ranks through running the Growing Leaders' course. We currently have 8 leaders, all of whom are at different stages on their journey with God, but we are trying to grow and develop.

We have had a lot of encouragement from the Diocese and most people in the Deanery have been happy with how Red Church is developing, I think one of the reasons for that is for the most part we are not 'competing' with any other church. When I moved here I was shocked to find out most of the students from Edge Hill Uni were going to churches in Liverpool because they didn't find a church in Ormskirk where they felt at home – so it has been good to be able to offer them a spiritual 'home' on their doorstep.

I would say one of the challenges, as a lay pioneer minister, is administration of the Sacraments. That is still being worked out but I pray it will be considered by the Church as a whole because if we are a growing, functioning, worshipping, Christian community we must navigate any obstacles in the way of people's walk with God. It is a major issue.

Giving has been part and parcel of what we do right from the start but it is much easier to deal with the finances now because the Deanery has now set up its own charity for Red Church.

I'm fortunate in that I don't feel isolated in my ministry, which pioneers can often feel (although vicars serving in traditional churches can often feel the same). I think Liverpool Diocese has done a great job in terms of general support and creating accountability – and I am now an Associate in The Joshua Centre. They do recognise that pioneers need a lot of support, but I'm of the opinion that if you want/need support, it is also your responsibility to create your own.  

Red Church - weekend away meal

I see massive opportunity in working with young adults. They are very open to the idea of spirituality, God and real community – not what they see as 'fake' community – but they are sometimes closed to the idea of traditional church. I meet a lot of young adults who are lonely and are earnestly searching for meaning in their life and I feel the church can offer them both real community and answers to some of their deep questions.

I'm an incredibly excited about continuing to see God work in Ormskirk and the surrounding area and I hope that Red Church will still be helping people discover Jesus and church in 50 years' time.

The Living Room and Franky’s Pizza

Tina Powsey tells of two new initiatives which may be at the start of a fresh expressions journey.

I am the Fresh Expressions Worker for the Southport Methodist Circuit, in the second year of a three-year post. I'm a lay employee of the Circuit and a lot has happened since I first took on the role!

When I started in the job, I prayed about what God wanted me to concentrate on because I was starting from scratch. One of the areas of concern that I felt he was talking to me about was people on the fringe – such as the homeless and vulnerable.

I'd been reading a lot about fresh expressions of church and the fresh expressions journey of listening, loving and serving, building community, exploring discipleship, church taking shape, and doing it again. One of the main messages that came home to me was that in order to serve a community you had to 'belong' to that community and be involved in it.

So, thinking about reaching those on the margins, I began serving at the Soup Kitchen on London Street, Southport – and finally the idea came to me to provide something more for the guests there so that they would have the chance to find out about faith in Jesus. I had in mind John 10.10, 'I have come so they can have life. I want them to have it in the fullest possible way'.

The Soup KitchenIt's odd because I had been praying about the right location to do it; I knew it had to be somewhere comfortable and I was initially thinking about all the different cafes and coffee houses we have in town. At first I felt embarrassed to raise the issue with the guy who runs the Soup Kitchen because I knew he already wanted the guests to have a relationship with God and I didn't want him to feel that I'd come along as the newcomer with the 'big idea'.

It was almost a year to the day since I began serving at the Soup Kitchen. We went for a church weekend away and the Soup Kitchen organiser was there. I didn't know him very well but I went to talk to him and said, 'I'd like an opportunity for the guests of the Soup Kitchen to have a time to chat, have somebody to chat to, and ultimately find freedom in Christ. What do you think?'

He was great, quite emotional about it all, and wanted to give his complete support. What had happened was that the Soup Kitchen had been given permission by the Council to open up for another day in the week but they didn't have enough volunteers to staff an extra day or resources to provide a meal for another day. That meant there was an opportunity for something else to happen at the venue, so The Living Room was created to meet at the Soup Kitchen on tuesdays from 11am to 1pm.

The people who come are of all faiths and none, some have been involved in church life in the past but others would find it very difficult to cope with a conventional church setting. Whoever, they are, it's important to meet them 'where they're at' and not try to impose something on them with which they're uncomfortable.

The Living Room - guestsAs the Soup Kitchen serves on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, The Living Room is seen as offering something different. It doesn't provide meals or practical support for instance, just a safe space to 'be' and for our friends to be welcomed with loving, attentive conversations and the same grace Jesus would show to them – and tea, coffee and toast.  At one point I got a little bit frustrated, thinking some were only coming for tea and toast, but then our other volunteers reminded me, 'You need to just serve them and love them and if that's through a slice of toast, then that's fine!'

When I think of it now, I was so naïve when we started. Cathy Walker, the first volunteer, and I literally put some prayer stations together and prayed that people would turn up. We didn't have any particular format to follow. Now it's on more of an organised footing because anyone who wants to volunteer must be DBS checked and go on a basic safeguarding course. They also have to serve behind the counter, simply handing out tea, coffee and toast, for three sessions before they do anything else; it's a great opportunity for them to get to know our guests. We're there every week and we are asking volunteers to commit to serving twice a month.

Our guests call The Living Room all sorts of things, including a lighthouse and a safe place; others come every single week and call it their church. Different volunteers take turns leading the reflections. There are probably about eight to nine guests there on average and usually three of us on the team.

The Living Room - paper chain of gratitudeWe open at 11am and have a reflection and worship time together at 12.15pm. One of our recent themes was 'gratitude'; we made a paper chain together on which we each wrote what something for which we were thankful.  It's encouraging to see everyone participate and learn new ways to have simple conversations with their Creator.

One of the guests who comes regularly now serves weekly at Christ Church, Southport ,and attends every Sunday; some have also decided to begin visiting a couple of the Methodist churches in the town – Leyland Road and Victoria Methodist. That's great too, though The Living Room isn't set up as a stepping stone to traditional church. We just have to respond to what people want to do.

It's a [Methodist] Circuit initiative that is certainly meeting a need and I really pray that it will grow ecumenically. We have got volunteers from the Methodist churches but we're having an open volunteer meeting on 16th March and I'd love to see many people involved from churches across Southport.

We don't know what God's going to do with it but it's just turning into something so special.

Another initiative which we have just started is Franky's Pizza, also known as 'Pizza Church'. Stewart McTaggart and I are the primary volunteers and administrators of the ministry and, after a few successful trials, we have now set the open days and times as the first and third Friday of every month from 11am-1pm at The Church of St Francis of Assisi, on the Kew estate, Southport. St Francis is a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. It has very good facilities with a large hall and a beautifully equipped kitchen.

Franky's Pizza - making pizzaThe idea behind it is that it's a bit like the Somewhere Else 'bread church' in Liverpool. We wanted to attract residents of the estate to something and we thought that making something to enjoy together was a good option. My husband even bought a pizza oven for the ministry so that we can cook the pizza as it should be cooked!

Guests are first taken through the process of making a pizza dough. While it's proving, which takes about 20-30 minutes, we have a time of reflection and fellowship. The reflection is usually centred on the reading of a parable and we encourage people to tell us their thoughts on it and what it means to them.

It's a united project from the Diocese of Liverpool and the Methodist Church and both the diocese and circuit have contributed funds towards it. As a result, we provide all the ingredients, including fresh toppings, and people make one pizza and some garlic bread for a £2 donation. Everyone can then sit down to eat their pizza together and we have proper pizza boxes if people want to have it as a takeaway.

It is very early days for Franky's Pizza and The Living Room but I pray that many people will come to know Christ at these 'safe places'.


Methodist VentureFX Pioneer Minister Simon Oliver, whose ministry comes under the banner of 'RevCoffee', explains how new things are happening in Cottenham through community, creativity, Christianity and cappuccinos.

I am employed by the Cambridge Methodist Circuit to work alongside the Cottenham Community Centre (CCC) and Coffee Shop.

The Centre and Coffee Shop came into existence when, after many years of faithful worship and service, Cottenham Methodist Church closed down in November 2007. The day after its final service a public meeting was held to explore the possibilities of how the building might be used as a community resource.

The CCC was formed, much hard work and fund raising was carried out, and in February 2011 the beautiful Coffee Shop was opened. It is no longer a church, but I am privileged to be a part of the Community Centre team. I was appointed as part of the VentureFX scheme to work alongside the CCC with young adults and families in Cottenham, a vibrant village of about 7,000 people just outside Cambridge.

RevCoffee - counterAt the heart of my role lies a conviction that being a welcome, accepting, incarnational Christian presence in the community is key to contemporary ministry. So I spend a great deal of time simply hanging out in the coffee shop, sometimes working behind the counter, sometimes tapping away on my laptop, and often just meeting friends old and new.

Out of these relationships, and my connections with other community groups and churches in the village, I try to find fresh ways of exploring issues of life, meaning and faith. People are interested in looking at such issues but often feel alienated, disconnected or simply uninterested in traditional Church, or are just too busy with the chaos and demands of life to find the time and space in their schedules.

We now have quite a few initiatives and projects going on in and around the Community Centre and Coffee Shop; my wife and toddler are very involved in many of these groups. My approach is to be as collaborative as possible, so everything has been set up as a result of prayerfully listening to what people might be interested in, and in partnership with others (sometimes Christians, sometimes those who don't usually have anything to do with traditional church). These initiatives include:

  • Arts Night: A small group of young-ish poets, musicians, storytellers, comedians, singers, photographers and artists get together on the second Sunday of the month. It is a mostly musical group and we have also had some great poetry from Larkin, Yeats and our own members, short stories and photography. Each month has a theme (eg war and peace, parenthood, love, death, resurrection) and we share original and borrowed material and attempt collaborate in creating new works, as well as putting on quality performances. And we always have some really interesting conversations exploring issues of life and faith from a variety of perspectives.
  • Film Club: A fun, new group where people of all beliefs and none come together to watch a movie, eat popcorn and then explore the existential and spiritual issues that come out of it.
  • Dad's Play: We have a large (70-plus on the books) group of dads and male carers/guardians of under-5s who meet informally in the back hall of the Cottenham Community Centre Coffee Shop. The kids get the chance to play together while the men get a chance to eat bacon sandwiches and drink good coffee. We also have regular curry nights – although the children aren't invited to this!
  • RevCoffee - logoMarriage and Parenting Courses. We have run a number of these courses in the Coffee Shop.
  • Daily Prayer: This takes place from 8:30 – 8:45 am, Sunday to Friday at the Coffee Shop. It is often just a couple of adults and my two-year-old, but others often pop in, have a natter and occasionally join us or ask for prayer.
  • Football Plus+: A group young and not-so-young men play football on the first and third Sundays of the month, and a small group of us are exploring the possibility of using of the fourth Sunday to talk football, life and faith over a couple of beers (or lemonades).
  • the Roost: this is new all-age event which we have been experimenting with over the last few months on Sunday afternoons and which officially 'launches' in September. It is a relaxed group which includes arts, craft, conversation, messy play, videos, the Sunday papers, music, poetry, coffee, flapjack and more to give people the opportunity to have fun together, create community and to explore different issues from a Christian perspective.

All of our activities aim to be open and accessible to all, and to give people the opportunity to develop meaningful community and consider the possibility of faith. All beliefs and viewpoints are valued, and seen as equal conversation partners as we try to make sense of life together. Everything is done in very low key and simple ways and – as I have already said – relationships take precedence over activities.

My ultimate hope is that through one or more of our initiatives people are given the opportunity to have a meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ and to explore what that might mean for them.

I take the Methodist and Fresh Expressions commitment to ecumenism very seriously, and have found it very encouraging to work alongside the Baptist Church, The Salvation Army, All Saints Parish Church and Christians Together in Cottenham as we seek to develop our ministries in collaboration.

It is not always easy, but it is a wonderful role and a rewarding project, and I feel very grateful to God and to the Methodist Church for allowing me to be a part of it!

The Gate Faith Community

Baptist minister James Karran is looking to develop a new monastic community at a Cardiff arts centre. He tells the story so far.

I used to be part of a fresh expression called Solace, a bar church in Cardiff that I started with Church Army officer Wendy Sanderson in 2007. Sadly, Solace came to an end four years later but what didn't come to an end was my vision of incarnational Christian communities that meet in pubs!

The idea of setting up a new monastic community was inspired by a retreat I went on to The Northumbria Community in August 2011 at a time when I was considering where God was leading me next. While there I was thoroughly impressed by the type of community they modelled: namely one defined by openness, acceptance – and, most of all – hospitality. It was this coupled with a long-standing desire of mine to see pubs and bars in Britain 'redeemed' from the bad reputation they currently have that led me to the concept of a new monastic community that was based in a pub or bar.

After the initial inspiration, I began prayerfully pushing doors and this led me to a conversation with the executive director of The Gate Arts Centre in Cardiff, Paul Hocking. Paul, a retired evangelical minister, shared the same vision for authentic, hospitable and incarnational Christian community. The idea of starting a new monastic community at The Gate emerged out of this conversation and the proverbial ball started rolling.

The Gate - cross and communionThe Gate is perfectly situated to be the soil in which a new monastic community could grow because it has all the key elements – a good reputation, people who regularly come in, existing Christian connections and a bar! There are also amazing opportunities for ministry amongst the groups already connected with the venue.

We had our first community meeting in September 2012 and there were five of us, none of whom really knew each other or had much of an idea of how this would work. All were Christians, but mainly Christians who had been wounded by – or else fallen away from – mainstream church in the past. Since then we have grown to 11 members; some are already followers of Jesus but others have never been to church in their life before. We are currently developing a rhythm of prayer and a 'way of life' for the community to live by, as well as learning in general what it means to be a community of spiritual pilgrims who come from diverse backgrounds.

Our meetings take place on Sunday afternoons at 4.30pm in the Cafe Bar of The Gate and they are always based around a meal. We each contribute an item of food and fit in elements of worship, prayer and reflection around our eating, laughing and chatting together. In this, the meetings resemble something of the Sedar meal of Jewish tradition. The meal element is extremely important and illustrates the emphasis on hospitality that we want to place. Jesus is the ultimate host, inviting us into the great celebration of his resurrection, and we want to incarnate this in the small corner of the world God has placed us in. In this way, the meal also becomes central to our understanding of outreach.

As a community we live by a code of three principles:

  • learn from Jesus as best we can – become an apprentice;
  • serve others selflessly – become a host;
  • never judge anyone for where they are on their own life journeys but to help them discover where God is leading them to next. – become a pilgrim.

The Gate - FeastThis whole venture is non-stipendiary so I have no regular income though I do run a tentmaking enterprise called Solace Ministries – as part of which I conduct religious and civil weddings, blessings and funerals. I am still exploring a vision in the longer term to see a new monastic community that is based in, owns and runs a cafe bar/pub. The 'abbey' or 'Monastery Pub' would be a home, hub and base for the community, providing a centre for meeting, mission and ministry. It would provide a centre to go out from and come home to.

A number of 'new monastic communities' in Britain are geographically dispersed but bound together by a common rule and set of core values. The community I envisage would be of this type. Some members would (by necessity) be geographically located in proximity to the 'abbey', but many others would be elsewhere and find their sense of identity through adopting the community's 'way of life', taking an avid and prayerful interest in the life of the community and 'returning home' to the abbey for family worship celebrations at certain important seasons during the year.

As well as the dispersed community, eventually local communities would be established around the country for localised accountability, prayer support and worship. These smaller communities, known as 'cellae', would be bound together and to the larger community by the way of life, but would also undertake pilgrimages to the abbey at certain times. Establishing these local discipleship communities would be the primary focus for the community's missionary activity.

Burning Bush Barn

Burning Bush Barn - paintIt is almost three years since Burning Bush Barn was established as a place of creativity and contemplation. Wendy Shaw has seen how the quiet space has become a place of blessing for many.

The barn is in the grounds of the Rectory at St Mary's Church, Rockland, near Norwich. It was disused and very run down when we first arrived in the area but through a lot of hard work, successful grant applications, diocesan funding and wider fundraising, the barn is now a wonderful, quiet place for people to come and be.

I wouldn't describe it as a church or an art gallery but it has the potential to be more than both can be individually. It is rooted in the understanding that creativity is the language of a God who created and continues to create in us – and through us.

The journey for me involved traditional Church of England training and curacy but I had been trying for many years to find my own voice for prayer and healing through arts. In 2003 my path crossed with that of artist Kate Litchfield and we started prayer painting together and exploring the depth of non-verbal prayer. We began with canvas, making marks and line and colour that enabled us to be honest and play in prayer like we hadn-t done before.

We had wanted to try a prayer painting workshop day and very quickly we had a long waiting list. It was very difficult initially because we had to hire venues, get all the furniture out of the way, 'declutter' the space we were using, put out the art materials and pack them all away again at the end of the session.

The context is crucial, and a silent still space was integral to this way of praying. Word started to spread about what we were doing and we quickly got calls from other dioceses to stage similar days but we eventually took the decision to stay within Norwich Diocese, the place we had been called to and supported by.

Burning Bush Barn - exteriorWhen my husband became Rector at Rockland St Mary, the barn was derelict in the garden but we could see how the building could be used in a new way for our developing needs. The fundraising appeal for £203,000 was launched in May 2007 to renovate and preserve it. Much has been done because we now have a worship/gallery space and studio space but there's more to do because we'd love to have a hospitality space too. We have got planning permission to do that but have still got to raise about £65,000 to pay for it.

We have up to 26 people, Christians and non-Christians, for the Thursday morning breakfast sessions and it's a wonderful time to be together. If God comes up during our conversations during those sessions then that's great but we are not there to evangelise. Our belief is that this creativity is a language of God; it's not art and faith, they're inseparable. Art is not something we do; art is a way of living.

Burning Bush Barn regularly welcomes people from ages 9 to 84, it's a great joy! It is not about making fantastic works of art but instead our focus is on the process; it's in the waiting, of making marks.

So many artists say to me, 'I'm a Christian but I don't go to church, I struggle with it'. How do we gather these people together? We are continuing to grow; people want to be here but they don't have to commit to anything. A hospitality space would allow us to develop the community here because we need to be grounding and acknowledging that and seeing it grow.

We implicitly break bread in recognition of gathering as a body and the presence of Jesus Christ here. We try to pitch it so it's open enough for everybody to be able to find a place; we believe in accepting people where they're at.

Burning Bush Barn - logWe often say we don't know where we're going here but the important thing is to watch and wait for the move of the wave. As a result we don't know how long to be on that wave but that's OK. I may want to know what I'm doing this time next year but I can't tell you that. We have to wait.

In all of the questions about this being a fresh expression of church there is a presumption that we want to make church. Do we? As an ordained priest I know that anything we do is rooted in the gospel – otherwise you can't be flexible – but people ask, 'What sort of shape are you at Burning Bush Barn?' I would say it's not church shaped, it's probably amoeba shaped because the edges of it are ready to change at any time. And we are people who live on the edge. We are edge dwellers.

We are not here to make something permanent because we hold what we have lightly, allowing it to move, and one day it may disappear. We began doing something because we felt that God was calling us to it. The sacrament is at the heart of what we do here; the whole thing is rooted in it; that holds us – but we are a transient group of people that allows freedom of movement. The authorities have had to struggle with that a bit and funding is quite difficult because Christian funders are uncertain about the arts and arts funders tend to be more uncertain about anything that seems to be based around faith or religion in any way.

I am asked, 'How many people do you have?', 'What are your donations like?' Well, as far as the money goes, sometimes it comes in and sometimes it doesn't. But, to us, it is important that what we do here is offered without charge, to ensure that they are truly accessible. We are very grateful to the Diocese of Norwich which pays our services' bills.

We have to live responsibly as artists, as a faith community. We are here to work that out creatively; to live from what we have, not for what we haven't.

Burning Bush Barn - Psalms banner

Burning Bush Barn - mugs

The Plant Church

The Plant Church, Park Langley, is a mission initiative of the Diocese of Rochester and was granted a Bishop's Mission Order in 2009. After the original minister moved on, David Rue was appointed its new pastor-teacher in September 2011.

The Plant Church started five years ago as a church plant from Christ Church, Bromley. We meet on Sunday mornings in the function room of the Park Langley Tennis Club and currently have about 30 regulars. Our aim as a church is to make Jesus known in Park Langley. This is a huge challenge and keeps us depending upon God's Word and on prayer to build up the body so that we can win the lost to Christ.

Plant Church - groupOur most active channel of outreach over the last five years has been our Wednesday morning mums and toddlers group, known as Sparklers. Through this group we've seen one person become a Christian, and many have heard the gospel and now have weekly contact with Christians.

In an attempt to make Sundays more accessible for families from the local community, we have held a number of all age services and have been encouraged to see new people popping in each week. We have just finished a Christianity Explored course, and are now seeking to faithfully follow up the three people who attended.

Plant Church - barSunday mornings, midweek bible study groups and prayer meetings continue to be encouraging times. In particular, there has been a growing number coming to our prayer meeting and an encouraging spirit of prayer. A recent move to smaller bible study groups has helped the congregation to deepen bonds of fellowship and has increased opportunities to serve one another through prayer, bible study and hospitality. We have also been spurred on in our evangelism by Simon Manchester's resource, Six Steps to Talking About Jesus.

Our challenge in Park Langley is to keep the great commission of Matthew 28 at the heart of everything we do. This reminds us that we are to be disciples making disciples. To this end our message has been to preach Christ, our prayer: that the Father will raise up harvesters and our confidence: that Jesus will build his church.

The Community of Aidan and Hilda

The Community of Aidan and Hilda is an internationally dispersed community of Christians following a Way of Life and a Rule of Prayer.

Sixty members, described as Voyagers, and over 100 Explorers, who are testing out their membership, keep in touch with Community Guardians in places such as Lindisfarne and London from their homes in the UK and around the world. A sister community in the US has over 100 Voyagers.

Founded in 1994, the Community is the fruit of regular meetings and prayer between seven church workers who discovered a shared vision for

a new way of being church,

says the Community's International Guardian, Ray Simpson.

Meeting overnight once every three months at a Christian centre in central England, they developed a Way of Life. After three years, this was presented at a symposium where they attracted their first 27 members.

Annual gatherings in central England continue. Voyagers also take an annual retreat together at Whitby. Regional groups are developing, with a particularly thriving group in Zimbabwe. Community houses in Birmingham and Lindisfarne provide 'spiritual homes'.

They're very important as places anybody feels they can come to,

says Ray. There can also be linked ministries, cells and churches.

Aside from face-to-face meetings such as these, the community stays in touch through the internet, a magazine, prayer, and hospitality in members' homes

A quarterly magazine and prayer diary lists every Voyager and Explorer, while detailed prayer requests are received at the Lindisfarne home of the community, the Open Gate, where they are offered at the midday and night prayer services each day.

Ray describes these daily prayer patterns as

most important.

Members know that there is prayer at midday and 9pm at the Open Gate,

he says.

The daily rhythm of prayer is not prescribed; it is encouraged. The liturgical use the daily pattern; the non-liturgical use it as a resource.

'Aidan and Hilda is a bridge for a lot of people who are very New Age or neo-pagan and have a vision of Jesus or are inspired by contact with the community'

Voyagers have access to PALM on the community's website, a prayer and listening ministry where Voyagers can post prophetic words, insights and prayers.

As a mark of identification, every new Voyager receives a wooden Celtic cross inscribed with A and H, and a handbook. Each Voyager is accompanied by a 'soul friend' to help them on their faith journey. Ray keeps in touch with members individually by telephone and email. Each member works with a soul friend, and the community seeks to resource soul friends.

This close communication from the heart of the community means that people all over the world are finding a way to be part of church. Ray tells of a heavy metal band leader in Australia whose band is now a link ministry with the community, and of a cell church in Oxfordshire made up of members of different churches, which finds a coherence through membership of Aidan and Hilda.

And it is not just church members who find a spiritual home in the community.

Aidan and Hilda is a bridge for a lot of people who are very New Age or neo-pagan and have a vision of Jesus or are inspired by contact with the community,

says Ray.

One such woman was baptised in the sea after discussing the nature of church with Ray. Unable to commit to the church as she viewed it, she felt she could commit to the 'family and friends of Jesus' and even worship with them in places she might find difficult.

Until fresh expressions we would have said we were not a church, but I think now we realise that the universal Body of Christ is bigger than any one part,

says Ray.

Come and Go

Robert Harrison, vicar of St John's Hillingdon, and teams of people from the church have spent over a year planning for an innovative way of doing Sunday mornings. Here he answers questions local people might ask about how it works.

Come and Go - logoWhat is 'Come & Go' worship?

It is exactly what it says: come when you can and go when you like. Our worship starts at 8am and continues all the way through to lunch at 12.30pm. You can arrive at any time in between, and leave whenever you wish.

Will I interrupt people if I arrive at the wrong time?

No. If you arrive in a quiet bit, it would help if you come in quietly, of course. But we are quite used to people arriving and leaving all through the morning.

Will people think I'm rude if I go half way through something?

Again, if you leave at a quiet moment, no-one will mind if you leave quietly. There is a planned opportunity to leave every half hour (at the end of each section), but you are welcome to leave at any stage.

Is there a minimum amount of time I will be expected to stay?

It is quite common for people to worship for one half hour section and then leave. But if you can only stay for five minutes, we will be pleased that you joined our worship, and believe God will too.

Occasionally, people stay for the full five hours. Those who have, have enjoyed the experience.

If I stay for a long time, will the worship start repeating itself?

Every half hour has a different style and approach. Each Sunday, a single theme runs through the morning's worship, but each section explores that theme in a different way.

You will get to look at the same aspect of Christian life and faith from many different perspectives.

I am used to worshipping in other Church of England churches. Will I get the kind of 'service' I am used to?

If you come from 8.00am to 9.00am, you will worship in a traditional, 'Book of Common Prayer – 1662' format.

If you come from 10.00am to 11.00am, you will find the worship similar to other services based on 'Common Worship – 2000'.

The worship from 11.30am to 12.30pm is contemporary, relaxed and interactive, while keeping within the guidelines of the Church of England.

Will I get a whole service every half hour?

That depends on what you mean by a 'whole service'. You will get a complete act of worship, but you will not get all of the ingredients that are commonly found in a Church of England service. The Come & Go program is designed so that you will get a fairly well-balanced spiritual diet if you stay for about one and half hours.

What style of worship will I find at St John's?

We do not believe that there is a 'right' way of worshipping God. (Jacob heaped up a pile of stones and poured oil on them; Moses roasted a sheep and ate it with his family and neighbours. King David wrote spiritual songs, and sacrificed bulls on a neighbour's farm; King Solomon did the same in a magnificent Temple. Jesus read the scriptures and discussed their meaning in a purpose-built synagogue; St Peter gathered Christians for regular communal meals in people's homes, and St Paul encouraged them to sing together and tell one another about God).

We purposefully offer a wide variety of worship styles so you can worship God in a way that suits your needs.

As a general rule, our Sundays begin with formal and traditional worship. As the morning progresses the style and content gradually become more informal and contemporary.

Are breakfast, coffee and lunch part of the worship, or gaps in the worship?

They are very much part of the worship. The very first worship gatherings of the Christian church took place over communal meals (not least of these were Jesus' Last Supper and his first meetings with his disciples after the Resurrection).

At St John's we have a strong emphasis on being a community of Christians. There are few things better for a community than eating together.

Do I have to pay?

In every half hour section there is an opportunity to make a financial offering. Making a significant offering from our income has been a vital part of Christian and Jewish worship all the way back to Abraham.

In the meal-centred sections, you will be invited to make a contribution towards your food. Any surplus money, after the costs have been met, will go into the general offering.

As St John's is a charity, we can claim tax back from the government if tax payers fill in a very simple form to register their gift.

Come and go - bannerWhere did the Come & Go idea come from?

We live in an age of extended shop opening, flexible working hours and 24/7 entertainment. There are only a few things in our lives that require us to arrive at a particular time and stay until it is finished, unless we have booked in advance.

We want to make it possible for as many people as possible who want to worship God, to do so.

Does Come & Go worship make a lot of extra work for the church leaders?

No. Because each half hour section is self-contained, it has been possible to include a wider spectrum of church members in leading our worship. As a result, the clergy are now doing slightly less on a Sunday morning than they used to. They are also regularly able to take part in leading the children's worship.

Even the vicar is free to come & go when he is not directly involved in leading the worship.

How much planning goes into each Sunday morning?

All the people who leading the half-hour sections on any given Sunday meet together about ten days beforehand.

They discuss the Bible readings for that Sunday and decide on a relevant theme arising from those readings.

They then talk through how each of them will explore that Bible passage & theme in the section(s) they are leading.

Finally they agree on a 'conversation topic' which is used three or four times during the morning when worshippers have an opportunity to talk among themselves.

They then go home and continue their own prayer and preparation.

What happens in each of the half hour sections?

8.00am Morning Prayer: the traditional 'Prayer Book' service of 'Matins', slightly shortened, with prayers, Bible readings and ancient Psalms & Canticles (there is no singing at this time in the morning).

8.30am Traditional Communion: the Communion part of the Holy Communion service in the 'Book of Common Prayer – 1662', along with a short sermon.

9.00am Breakfast & Conversation: a continental breakfast, preceded by a traditional prayer of thanksgiving. Sometimes we chat about the theme for the day, sometimes we just chat.

9.30am Songs of Praise: a selection of well loved hymns & songs, interspersed with a short Bible reading, a 'thought for the day', and time for prayer.

10.00am Understanding our Faith: a reading from the Bible, followed by a 'sermon' applying the theme of the reading to life and faith in the 21st century. Then a song and some prayers to give you time to respond to God.

10.30am Family Communion: a contemporary Anglican celebration of Holy Communion that links Jesus' Last Supper & his first meetings with his disciples after the Resurrection to the challenges and opportunities of our lives today.

11.00am Refreshments & Activities: after the communal announcements and a prayer of commitment to God, we disperse to a wide variety of activities, from coffee and chat, to presentations about different aspects of church and local community life. There is also an opportunity to talk and pray, in private, about particular concerns.

11.30am Praise & Worship: contemporary worship songs (with the occasional golden oldie) mixed with time to pray and a short reading from the Bible.

12noon Exploring Faith Together: a Bible story retold rather than read, a discussion instead of a sermon, and the bread & wine of communion shared together as an informal meal rather than a formal liturgical act.

12.30pm Food & Friendship: a simple ploughman's-style lunch with plenty of time to chat and relax together, beginning with some revitalised mealtime prayers.

Come and Go - communion

How do children fit in?

It is particularly useful for families to be free to come and go according to their needs. There are a number of different ways that children can take part in our worship.

There is a special area for toddlers and the adults they bring with them, which is equipped with soft and quiet toys. Those with toddlers do not have to sit in this area, but may if they wish.

Between 9.30am and 11.00am there is a parallel program of worship for children in school 'key stages' 1, 2 & 3. This happens in the Church Hall.

The children leave the church building together at about 9.40am and return to join in the Family Communion at about 10.45am. If you are arriving or leaving between these times, you will need to bring your children to, or collect them from, the church hall.

If you would like your children to stay with you in church, we have activity packs suitable for children in different age groups (any of our 'Welcomers' will happily give you one).

On the first Sunday of every month the 10.00 to 11.00 sections are particularly designed for all the family. There is no parallel 'Junior Church' on these Sundays.

Between 11.30am and 12.30pm there are activities and involvement for children within the worship in the Church.

What were the influences for the Come & Go idea?

The activity that most typifies our current British culture is shopping. Shops work on the simple principle of having an opening time and a closing time. Shoppers are free to come and go at any time in between.

Almost everyone in this country has a television. We are all familiar with the idea of looking through a varied programme schedule and choosing what interests us.

The Orthodox Christians of eastern Europe have been coming and going in their worship for hundreds of years.

How have the worshipping patterns of people changed?

Overall, attendance has grown. Occasional worshippers are coming more often. New worshippers can now fit Sunday worship into their busy lives. Regular worshippers with another commitment can fit worship around other obligations.

Beyond that, the 'Come when you can & Go when you like' message has made St John's appear much more welcoming.

Before, people had to come to church on our terms. Now, they can come on their own terms. We hope that, in time, we will all become more familiar with God's terms.

How did the existing congregation cope with the change?

Understandably, people were anxious at first.

This is one step in a long journey of growth and development. Come & Go is part of an ongoing process of mission planning.

We consulted very widely over a period of six months. We gradually unveiled the new pattern, giving people opportunities to ask questions. We deliberately shaped the new pattern so that if people came at much the same time as before, they would get much the same experience.

Now that people have had time to settle into the new pattern, they enjoy the freedom and the focus that it offers.

We were, in effect, already open from 8.00am to 1.00pm, but the only options were to arrive at 8.00, 9.45 or 11.30. In reality, a considerable number of people regularly arrived late for services; those people now feel much more comfortable about their part in the church community.

It took us about a year to take the whole thing through from initial idea to introduction. Looking back, the amount of work that went into developing and refining our plans was well worthwhile.

Under the Canopy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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