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

Mini Mass

A eucharistic midweek congregation in suburban North Ascot in Berkshire aimed primarily at under 5s and their families. This fresh expression of church, called Mini Mass, meets on a Tuesday morning at 9.30am after the school run. Meeting in the Chapel of St Mary and St John, chairs are arranged in a horseshoe shape with a small altar at the open end.

Adults and children are all welcomed by name by means of a song. A Bible story is told either from a picture book or acted out using Godly Play methods. All are then asked to share something they are thankful for and something they would like prayer for; the intercessions follow, again in the form of a simple song. The group is then led in a eucharistic prayer, including short sung responses by the parish clergy or occasionally by one of two mums who have permission from the Bishop to officiate at a communion by extension service. This leads into communion. After a prayer of dismissal, tea, coffee and biscuits are served in the adjoining hall.

It's not just mums – grandmothers and child-minders attend, and occasionally a few dads. In addition, a few other adults attend, some who find work patterns make attending Sunday congregations difficult, as well as others whose discipline includes a daily eucharist. Older children also attend out of term time. Mini Mass is run by the mums themselves who review its effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

The vicar believes that one real strength of Mini Mass is that it has proved for some to be a gentle way 'into the church' or 'back into the church'. One ongoing concern is that for some it has proved to be merely a cul-de-sac, with a service designed for children being the only act of worship for a few of the adults. While some reflection on how to move beyond this is required, Mini Mass remains one of the important opportunities for outreach, service and pastoral care offered by the parish of All Saints.

These reflections of the parish illustrate one of the dilemmas of church for under 5s. Who is being discipled in this context and what does discipleship mean? What is the long term strategy for helping young children grow up in the Christian faith?


Blesséd aims to impact the lives of younger people who do not relate to some traditional forms of church, but with a more 'ancient:future' perspective than some other fresh expressions. Simon Rundell, Parish Priest for the church of Saint Thomas the Apostle, in Elson of the Diocese of Portsmouth, works hard to nourish, support and facilitate Blesséd with a personal passion for gutsy mission. Simon is most definitely a visionary! In fact, a number of other sacramental initiatives have taken inspiration from Simon's work with Blesséd in and around South East England.

When you have nothing, the sacrament is everything.

Blessed - robesBlesséd is an unfunded, somewhat unloved and quite ramshackle loose collection of individuals seeking to draw deeply on the incarnational mysteries and views of the sacramental life and through that proclaim ancient truths in modern ways.

It has been a dream to realise Blesséd as a truly alternative, ecclesial community, to foster and support a non-parochial gathering which is centred upon the Eucharist. This has been a long, hard and quite frustrating process, as the necessary work which underpins this can get lost beneath the pressures of other things: of parochial commitments and responsibilities and lack of money and time. Frankly, I am not sure it is working well at present and not convinced that what we want is necessarily what God actually wants.

One of the most important things about alternative worship (and the spiritual communities associated with it which seek to 'reach out for God') is the recognition that we might, and indeed have the permission to, fail.

Blesséd makes in its own way, a significant yet small contribution to the sum total of 'creative worship' as a form of mission. It expresses a different perspective than some of the more protestant-influenced fresh expressions and irritates some in its insistence that the sacramental life touches everyone whether they know it, like it or dislike it. As with other fresh expressions, we are placed on the edge or outside of the Church BUT engaged with the local unchurched or dechurched culture.

Blessed at GreenbeltYet the outside is just where Church is called to be. This may not be a comfortable place, but it is from this vantage point that we can proclaim a transformative, newly-relational insight into society, following a God who calls us to engage with the wider community.

Being a fresh expression is inherently about struggle, about failing, as well as moments of success. In Blesséd numbers remain small, those who share in worship and support each other online are few and far between and weak and tired. And yet, that is what we are called to do – to support each other in our frailty, to gather in our brokenness to share in something tangible and yet powerfully inexpressible.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. Our very weakness, poverty and vulnerability are the source of our reliance on God.

So where does Blesséd go? If it isn't a formal, licensed, constituted or commissioned community, what then will it look like? It will, I sense, continue to be a roving resource and irritant: an inspiration to some and a folly to others; a burner of carpets and good ideas and a shot in the arm for those seeking to find a new place to encounter God in the Eucharist.

There is no agenda, just an openness to God. Pray for us, and help us to discern God's will. Until then, the altar is open and we, the people, gather to seek Christ present amongst us. Come.

Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie, 18

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

Helen, 22


Beer and a singalong helped to launch Leicester-based Presence as a Bishop's Mission Order. City Centre Pioneer Minister and Presence leader, Revd David Cundill, looks back at a whirlwind year and outlines his hopes and plans for the future.

Presence - Beer and CarolsIt all happened very quickly. I started in post at the end of May 2009, discussions took place over the summer to sort out the BMO, and it was signed in December at a Beer&Carols event. We certainly reaped the benefits of the hard work that other BMOs had done before us in Exeter and Thanet.

Bishop Tim Stevens started the ball rolling when he gave me a brief to 'just go and plant a new church in the city centre. I give you permission to fail; you have got to take risks.'

That church was to be in an area of new apartments, waterside redevelopment, and the DeMontfort University campus. The result is Presence… a fresh approach to church. We describe it as a church for people who don't do church or go there, never did, don't anymore, don't think they fit in, doubters, sceptics, seekers and the spiritually curious.

Presence - Men's weekendIn the middle of the BMO area is The Quay, a canal side pub which was itself part of a regeneration project a few years ago. It is now the base for Presence's midweek meetings, and some of those at Presence have become regulars at the pub’s open mic session on Thursday nights.

My first task is to develop a 24-strong planting team to reach out to the area's diverse communities; including those based around a series of tower blocks in gated developments at Freemens Meadow, Westbridge Wharf and Leicester Square.

These new blocks are in stark contrast to the area's traditional terraced streets. Each tower block looks in on a quadrangle, and you have to get through two gates to get into the heart of it all. There are no community facilities. When you look at the ads for these apartments you'd think that we had so many stockbrokers just about to nip on their bikes to Canary Wharf – and yet the development stands at the edge of the country's biggest Hindu population, but you’d never know that from the marketing image portrayed.

Presence - mealThe regeneration of great swathes of the city means that new communities have become cut off from parish churches because the landscape has shifted, but by starting a fresh expression alongside those churches, we can redefine a pastoral boundary. It has just worked brilliantly in that it's possible to run a straight mixed economy which lets the existing parishes do what they do while we look at how we use these places in new and creative ways.

In other areas people may say, 'we are all in this together', but underneath the surface they are worried. In Leicester I believe it has worked – and, with God’s help will continue to work because of the unique circumstances surrounding redevelopment of this city.

Presence - candlesThis is a minimum 10 year project, and part of the challenge is that the landscape will continue to change dramatically during that time. Large brownfield sites in our area are set aside for new developments but are yet to be built on, so we need to be flexible in our approach and planning.

But some of our plans are very firmly in the pipeline, including the launch of a film club in the Highcross area; the setting up of a Christians Against Poverty (CAP) centre and money management course; and a term time Street Pastors scheme around DeMontfort University.

Presence - logoWe also very much hope to be involved at The Quay on St Patrick's Day. There are lots of possibilities but we might look at having a religious 'bit' followed by Open Communion using Naan bread – reflecting the type of area we're in. We want to reclaim these celebrations for God, and show that we're a church of festival and fun.