Soul Space

Soul Space is an initiative to engage with people interested in Mind, Body and Spirit fairs. URC Emerging Church Pioneer Tim Yau and Anglican Ordained Pioneer Minister Hannah Deaves tell the story so far.

Hannah begins:

I lead a small new monastic missional community called Morph Community. This was formed in 2000 by a group of people in their 20s and 30s who were on the fringes of, or who had left, the church.

The community has 'morphed' a great deal over the years, eventually becoming an alternative worship community of people of all ages who felt a sense of mission to both church leavers and spiritual seekers. However, for the most part we found the people we connected with were church leavers and that it was quite difficult to connect with spiritual seekers.

Soul Space - welcomeWe began to feel more challenged about mission to those seekers and in January 2011 we had a prayer evening to really focus on where God might be calling us in mission. We spent some time exploring our local context, looking at where spiritual seekers were, who were the people attending local Mind, Body and Spirit Fairs and who might be the people we could join with in this mission.

From this, a team of people were gathered together from churches across Ipswich and the Morph Community and we began to meet and explore together. We were aware of the rise in interest in spirituality which suggests more than three quarters of the population would admit to having a spiritual experience – so the people we are connecting with are maybe most accurately described not as 'spiritual seekers' but as 'spiritually open' and seeking wholeness, healing or connection.

Now we are in a community café as Soul Space – offering card readings [see below], meditations and generally just being there and listening to people. As to where this will lead I don't know. We hope that by always being able to tell people when we will be there again and by advertising in the town, people might begin to return and relationships be formed over time.

What opportunities for Christian discipleship might these fairs lead on to? The team at the fairs meet together after each event to discuss if any interest in further contact was expressed, and if so what type of follow-up might be most appropriate.

Soul Space - meditationsFrom these discussions it might be that we hold other more regular events, such as meditation courses, therapy nights, discussion/social/card reading evenings in a pub – or perhaps something completely different will emerge as a way to enable people to explore further. It could be in the development of web-based resources that people could dip in and out of, or meditation cards and objects for people to take home from the fairs. These could well provide on-going prompts for contact points with God. Many will possibly not want further contact other than perhaps attending a future fair, but – over a long period of time – if people keep coming, relationships might be built up and an interest in more regular points of contact might be expressed.

Tim continues:

Our first Soul Space took place in January 2013 and our intention is that it will welcome people of all backgrounds and beliefs to find space, stillness, refreshment and insight at a Christ-centred holistic spirituality event.

Mind, Body and Spirit Fairs are alternative spirituality events where you would find tarot card readers, reiki healing, and crystal therapists. We want to tap into that interest in spirituality to point people towards Christ and, hopefully, develop community through that.

Soul Space - St Lawrence CentreThe Soul Space team involves people from different churches across Ipswich, including myself, Hannah – as an Anglican self-supporting Ordained Pioneer Minister, a parish evangelist, a trainee congregational church minister, several people from Morph, and the leader of Ipswich in Prayer (an ecumenical prayer network). We are a diverse bunch and have all brought different experiences and perspectives to the planning table.

On the day of our pilot event in January we ran three 'stations' in the St Lawrence Centre, a redundant church turned community café space in Ipswich town centre.

  • a rolling presentation of images and quotations on the theme of uniqueness;
  • a table with meditation cards where two of the team were inviting and guiding people on the principles of Christian meditation;
  • Ruach insight card readings. To the uninitiated, these may look like tarot but they are simply images that encourage people to open up and relate their life story to the cards they choose, leading into prayer if the participant wishes.

After a slow start, footfall picked up and 10 people came for card readings with very positive responses. Hopefully this is the beginning of a journey that will reach out to people in Ipswich who may never have looked for answers in the Church or the Christian faith. We don't know where this journey will eventually lead but my hope is that a new Christian community would form out of the relationships that we begin to build through these events.

Soul Space - kids' worksheetsOur second event on in April went very well. Many were blessed through the pamper table and the mirrors meditation on that table – as well as the free samples provided by The Body Shop and Lush. We also had Blessing Teas and Colouring Meditation sheets. There were many good contacts and conversations made. All 200 flyers were given out; we did 17 card readings and most of these people agreed to be prayed for.

At this event we also introduced The Jesus Deck of cards; this provided a useful tool for speaking to people one-to-one about Jesus in a flexible and accessible way.

Our next event is booked for July 13 from 11am to 3pm.

No Holds Barred

Stuart Radcliffe is minister to two Methodist/URC churches in Cheshire. He tells how Heaton Moor United Church, Stockport, is linking with the local pub to develop community links.

It all started when we were thinking about how we could make a difference in our community to remind people that we love them – and God loves them.

In some communities, the way the church can work to meet people's needs is pretty obvious. It is very different where we are in Manchester. Yes there are high levels of deprivation in areas on either side of us but we are actually in lovely, green suburbia where – on the face of things – people are not too badly off at all. Whilst there are those who have the daily struggle to make ends meet, many set off to highly paid jobs in the morning and come home much later that day to their very desirable, four-bed detached homes.

But the thought kept coming to me that appearances were deceptive and that people had lots of problems behind their front doors. On the face of it, they are going out to work and getting a nice salary but they can pay a very high price for those demanding jobs with enormous stress levels. Our question was, 'How can we as a church recognise those stresses and make it clear that we care for the people living with those anxieties?'

No Holds Barred - coffeeAt that point we were two churches, Heaton Moor Methodist Church and The Heatons United Reformed Church. We wanted to do something for people during Holy Week so we went out to where they were and gave out coffee and hot cross buns, to those on their way to the railway station. We also gave them a little booklet about Easter and a leaflet explaining why we were doing it. The URC building was about 50 yards away from the station and it was an easy way to break into the busyness of people's lives.

It also made quite an impact on the church members who took part because they understood that they too could start to 'do' evangelism simply by saying, 'Would you like a free coffee?' From that initial idea, working with the community where they are, much has happened and grown. It has been marvellous to share stories and build relationships.

Two years on and we had become one church, Heaton Moor United Church, but the same question remained as to how we might best reach out into our community. The answer came when a few of us including my colleague Rev Richard Parkes were in a local pub, The Plough, and we came up with the idea of having Beer and Carols. Pub landlord Ian was really supportive and so members of the church gathered in the pub and – in between rounds of Ian's festive quiz and fancy dress – we sang praise to God in carols. The result was that I had more conversations about faith than I'd had for months and we also raised £200 for Christian Aid.

No Holds Barred - singingWhat could we do next? Our thoughts turned again to Easter but we no longer had the building by the station for distributing coffees. However The Plough was in a perfect position. All we had to do was persuade Ian to open up at 6am, allow us to give away coffee and receive nothing in return!

Amazingly, Ian agreed and so from Monday to Thursday of Holy Week we met at the pub from very early morning and gave away coffee and hot cross buns and booklets about the Easter story. Social media also had a role to play and we let people know what we were doing via Twitter. I'd just started the church Twitter account and people picked up on three keywords that I used: Heaton Moor, Community, Caring.

That meant what we were doing was picked up by a lot of people doing things in our area about community or caring. At that time the messages were being tweeted to 3,500 people; they are now retweeted to about 7,000 people because we have hit the right networks – these included local radio which picked up on the momentum of church doing something good in the community.

I chatted to Ian about how we might continue to develop these growing links with community. The Plough already hosted a knitting group, Spanish lessons and the history society. I said, 'How about a monthly discussion meeting' and he said, 'what night do you want to do it on?! I want people to come in here and feel that they are sitting in their own lounge, the more we can offer them the better'.

No Holds Barred - carolsThat group is called No Holds Barred and it involves talking over a variety of issues with a Christian input but in a very informal way. We also put the discussion starter details on all the tables in the pub, not just the area we're sitting in, so that people can still consider some of the issues even if they don't join us.

It stands on its own as a specific community. In December the evening was called, 'I wish it could be Christmas every day? How do I cope with Christmas at a time of financial austerity?' Past meetings have seen us look at prayer through the story of footballer Fabrice Muamba who survived a heart attack and we have also discussed trust as a result of the Jimmy Savile investigations.

Some months there have been 10 to 12 people taking part and other times there have been four of us, we've just got to keep at it. We have also had other events, such as a curry and comedy night at the pub. I think we need to give it two years before we assess what happens next. If it's to continue to grow it will look very different than church as we know it today.

We have to think how we can be relevant in our service to people. Maybe they will then see a purpose and later a meaning as to why we do what we do. I have learned a lot from the pub landlord because we Christians need to recognise that the church doesn't have exclusivity in wanting to serve people. I know it's a matter of good business practice for Ian but he also wants to provide a place where the community can come together in different ways. I think sometimes people respect us more as churches in the area when we join in with what others are already doing, such as the local traders' association. We offered to do some carol singing for them and they were really pleased.

For the first two years of my time here, all I seemed to do was have cups of coffee with people. Now I know why. It's because you become friends with them and now, after almost six years, those relationships have started to pay off. The thing is you have to make yourself available. It does mean you can't go for a quiet drink in the local pub any more because people want to chat to you about different things but that's great! It just means you have to go outside the area if you want a quiet might out.

No Holds Barred - antlersI'm always reluctant to put 'labels' on something like No Holds Barred because it's organic and I don't know where it's going to lead. If it leads us to a fresh expression meeting in the pub I'd be delighted and I'd love that to be the direction that it takes. What I'm starting to learn is that I get more out of it by letting it go where it wants to go but I have no intention of it being an 'outreach' to get people in to our standard church services. That's not its purpose; we have been quite clear with our church about that and they're very supportive of that.

If somebody said they wanted to get more involved in my traditional church community as a result of coming to No Holds Barred then that's fine but the group doesn't exist to be a gateway to 'proper' church. I would say, 'You are more than welcome to come but it's nothing like this.' We have to get away from any idea that we are creating things that will appeal to people in a postmodern way but what we are really asking them to do is to sign on the dotted line and be part of traditional church.

There are lots of questions around fresh expressions but I think financial support is going to become increasingly important. At the moment fresh expressions are predominantly being funded by the established church but there has to be a point where fresh expressions fund themselves in order to continue.

I'm on the FEAST (Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Team) for Greater Manchester and I went on the mission shaped ministry course locally. One of the key things I learned from that was that we have got permission to fail. That means we don't say, 'it didn't work' but instead ask, 'What's the next thing? Just keep at it.' It's also very important to keep open to stopping some things as well as starting them. I'm enjoying doing stuff our way but it's important to discover what will work for you.

1st Sunday@5

Castle Square United Reformed Church in Trefforest hosts a Café Church every month. Leader Gethin Rhys explains its development since launching in September 2008.

Our original vision for 1st Sunday@5 is so very different to what we have ended up with but that's part and parcel of allowing the vision to change over time. The church in Trefforest, a village in the south east of Pontypridd, is right next door to the University of Glamorgan and 1st Sunday was originally promoted through the university chaplaincy.

1st Sunday at 5 - tableHowever, after the first few sessions it became clear that we were not reaching the people we were aiming for. Another church in Pontypridd had started an all-singing, all-dancing café service, complete with live bands, at the same time as us and that attracted the students. We couldn't compete with that. After a few months we were at the stage of thinking Café Church was an interesting experiment that hadn't worked and we would let it die a natural death.

But then I was approached by some of the people who were members of the Baptist Church up the road and they wanted to explore different ways of worshipping. We did a couple of services in their building rather than ours but our premises turned out to be more suitable. They formed the core of the group, to which various people have since been added. It's mainly made up of local residents, one or two of whom are regular churchgoers at other local churches and others who have got fed up with traditional church but are still interested in spiritual questions. They find Café Church to be a good way of exploring those issues.

1st Sunday at 5 - juiceI also run Sacred Space, another Café Church, in conjunction with local Anglicans in Porth. Sometimes I carry over the same theme, though slightly amended.

At Trefforest, at least one session a year is led by someone other than me. It's informal and we have opportunity to maybe watch a DVD clip and then have a chat about it and take part in associated activities. We say the Café Church offers 'good coffee, great cake and inspirational worship'.

It was interesting that the Café Church members led the way in asking me if they could have Communion. This meant a lot because many had previously lost touch or became disillusioned with traditional church but still wanted to share in Communion. What I did was to use bread and wine as a theme for our time together and we had different kinds of bread and different kinds of wine on hand. We talked about the significance of bread and wine in different cultures and I then asked everyone to get a piece of bread and pair it with whatever wine they wanted – the one led into another and it was then very natural to share Communion together.

1st Sunday at 5 - fishing1st Sunday has developed in a very different way to the Porth Café Church in that it has drawn in people who had left traditional church, whereas in Porth we have appealed across ages and across theologies within traditional churches. Our main problem in Trefforest comes with leadership because inviting people to share leadership responsibilities for something they see as part of the traditional church – which they feel very disillusioned about – makes it very difficult. One of those who comes along is an active lay preacher. She has very much enjoyed attending 1st Sunday@5 and not having to lead. I have respected that but we will have to look at people who are willing to find a way of continuing it as my term in the church is likely to end in about a year's time.

Sacred Space

The Rhondda's café church, Sacred Space, first opened its doors in Porth three years ago. Gethin Rhys, minister of Porth URC, organises the monthly sessions with Porth Newydd vicar, Chris Coles. Gethin describes how a sabbatical led to a new way of doing church.

Our first meeting, at Porth Plaza, was entitled Aspects of Love and it attracted people of all ages to watch film clips and listen to music about love in all its forms. We 'tasted' two Bible verses (involving horseradish and honey), wrote prayers and penned letters and postcards to prisoners of conscience adopted by Christians Against Torture. BBC Radio Wales also interviewed us on behalf of Good Morning, Wales!

Sacred Space - ladiesAt another service, we launched a 90kg rice challenge. The idea was to sell 90kg of fairly traded rice (in 1kg bags at £2.75 per kilo) to enable the Malawian farmer who grew the rice to send a child to high school for a whole year. A harvest session, entitled Bread of Heaven, saw us prepare bread for baking while worshipping together at the same time.

Our February 2011 topic was 'Money, Money, Money', when we looked at the 'art' of tax evasion and its devastating effect on people's lives in the UK and abroad. The informal format included Monopoly and Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Sacred Space, as an ecumenical venture, is sponsored by the Porth Newydd parish of the Church in Wales and Porth URC. It all began when I used some time on sabbatical to look at café churches, I came back quite convinced that we should get involved in that. I spoke to my Anglican colleague, Chris Coles, because I felt this was something we could share – Rhondda has one of the lowest levels of church attendance in the UK. Before too long, Sacred Space had got off the ground.

Sacred Space - Porth PlazaWe use the council-owned Porth Plaza in the centre of the town; it's a very good building for Sacred Space – especially as it's not on church territory. The council also let us have it for free for the first year which meant we could start the café church without a big financial outlay.

We meet on the third Sunday of the month at 7pm, it's not the ideal time but it reflects the fact that we are running conventional churches as well and Sacred Space is an add-on. In my other church we have a café church at 5pm on a Sunday and I think that's a good time but Chris has got Evensong so can't do it then. The 7pm start does rule out very young families because it runs too late for them to get children to bed and ready for school the next day.

We deliberately have a different format each time we meet. I plan it with Chris though there are a few lay people who sometimes come and join us but it's quite difficult to find times to be able to get together. Looking at long term viability we are going to have to find a way around it so it doesn't become dependent on us as clergy. In terms of who comes along to the sessions, at the moment we get many people who are connected with other churches but we are not often reaching the unchurched. Throughout the first year we advertised it pretty heavily and are on local radio quite a lot but it hasn't really prompted people from outside the churches to try it. We might have been better doing café church in a midweek slot but, again, it all depends on time, energy and resources.

At the moment we do attract people from various churches right across the age range – apart from the very young. We now have a number of children from seven and eight years upwards, a few teenagers and adults from 20s to 80s. We call it the Rhondda's Café Church so we get quite a mix of people from a wide area.

Sacred Space - pointing

Craft activities do particularly well; that's really what engages people and makes it all age. Adults get involved in the craft because children ask them to help with what they're doing, adults wouldn't necessarily do that but a request from a child usually breaks down barriers and really makes a difference.

We follow the liturgical year reasonably closely whilst trying not to repeat the same themes too much because we don't want to get into a rut. We've always tried to ensure that it's never the same from one session to the next in order to avoid complacency. A recent Sacred Space was based on 1 John 4, for instance; the first time we had based café church on an extended Bible passage. We are very, very determined that when people arrive they shouldn't know exactly what to expect.

I was a stranger at every café church I visited on sabbatical and it was very interesting because I'm afraid a lot of them had become holy huddles and I did feel like a spare part when I arrived. That's why there is always something for people to do, maybe a quiz or a puzzle of some sort, when they first walk in the door at Sacred Space. The idea is that they won't feel awkward while waiting for something to begin.

At the start of my sabbatical I went along to a fresh expression of church with my teenage daughter. We went to a Sunday meeting but there were no welcomers so we did feel like spare parts – that wasn't a good start.

It got worse because there was a teenage group which met in parallel with the main meeting but no-one told us that at the start of the service. We only discovered that vital bit of information at the end and my daughter was really disappointed that she could have been with them doing something more interesting and appropriate to her own age group.

Sacred Space - cake

I also deliberately tried not to mention what I did for a living as I visited all these places because they would then treat me differently when they knew I was a minister.

A fresh expression needs to be genuinely fresh otherwise we are deceiving ourselves. There has been quite a churn of people since we started but there are some who have hardly missed a café church since we began, many of whom are from the Anglican congregation. It took my congregation a little longer to latch on to it all.

In our Sunday morning service at Porth URC we have started a Sunday school after a gap of many years. Some of those Sunday school children are coming to café church and that makes for an interesting crossover. There is also a core of people who come to Sacred Space immediately after Evensong. There have only been one or two sessions when there hasn't been somebody there for the first time from the outside but they are mostly from other congregations.

A number of initiatives, inspired by Sacred Space, have spun off to other churches as a result of these visits and that's great. The fact is that we didn't know what it would turn out be when we started but this is what has happened in this context whereas my 'other' church-based café church has developed differently. They each take shape in their own way in their own time.

I am still convinced this is the kind of church that could be much more accessible than something involving pew-based worship. I know that Sunday evening at 7 is not the best time in the week for reaching these people but at the moment that is a challenge that can't be met very easily. The Plaza building is hired out to other people, we are confined to the times we can book it, our own church schedules and the availability of people who have family and work commitments. A possibility for us may be to have it before Evensong, perhaps on a Sunday at 3pm.

Sacred Space - dog collarThe Spirit blows where it will and I'm not too inclined to try and control that in any way. In some fresh expressions material there can be an emphasis on knowing of the people you intend to reach, a target audience if you like, but we don't do any of that and I think we are the better for not doing it. Sacred Space has worked by not being strategised and, as a result, I see it as a real development for outreach.

It would be great to see people not connected with any other church at Sacred Space but at the moment it is clearly providing a very important service for all our churches. We have no problems with this and will not be making any major changes in the way we do things in a bid to change the outcome – at least for now.

Church people are the only people in the world who know about what Sunday of the month you're on. Realistically I think it is already on the way to being a full blown church but, for it to have a full identity, it would need to meet weekly. It would need that regular meeting for the core to build but I'm already ministering with two churches so there are all kinds of issues around that. We haven't got the critical mass of leadership people to make that work and those we do have don't want to leave traditional church.

There have been some amazing moments along the way. At one session on patterns of prayer, we had a group of teenagers just wander in to ask what was happening. They said, 'Can we come in and have a cup of coffee?' I said yes and they were there for the whole time, taking a full and active part in it. One boy had been excluded from school but I wish his teachers could have seen him that evening, being involved in confession, adoration, intercession.

Hope Theatre Café

On the first Saturday evening of each month from February to July, Christchurch URC/Methodist Church is transformed into a café style performance venue. Revd Darren and Anne Middleton explain more.

The audience will be seated around small tables and treated to free tea, coffee and home made cakes! The café will open at 7pm and the performance will start at 7.30pm.

Each month there will be a different professional Christian performer – theatre company, singer, musician or mime artist to name a few – who will share their message of the hope that they have in knowing Jesus, through their chosen art form. The performance will last for about an hour and a half and will be followed by a prayer and an opportunity to stay to chat or pray with someone if they wish.

The reason for Hope Theatre Café is that we want to provide a non-threatening venue to invite the local community to hear a message of hope through the accessible medium of theatre and the arts. The arts have a way of transcending barriers, of reaching the bits of us that other mediums just cannot reach. We have nothing against preaching a good gospel message but we have both been involved in theatre and the arts for many years and have experienced how powerful they can be.

If this article or our interview on the podcast has excited you or left you wondering what on earth we are on about, then come and visit Hope Theatre Café at Christchurch URC/Methodist Church. Come and engage ALL your senses: smell the coffee, taste the wonderful baking, see the transformation of the building, and feel the stress of the week drain away, as you engage with the hope we have in a wonderful saviour.

Messy Church at Parkstone URC

Alison Dalton, Church Related Community Worker, looks at the growth of Messy Church at Parkstone United Reformed Church, Poole.

We began our Messy Church journey four years ago with our ecumenical partners – the Parish of Parkstone St Peter's and St Osmund's with Branksea St Mary's.

They already had really strong links with our local schools and were involved in holiday activity days. Those developing these events had been inspired by Messy Church founder Lucy Moore and wanted to explore the idea of Messy Church further. As a result we talked together and developed our team throughout 2006.

Messy Church Parkstone URCAfter discussions with the schools, parents and carers and wider community it was decided that the Messy Church model would be piloted over six months. However, through my experience as a Church Related Community Worker, I realised that six months was not long enough to get something off the ground and so it was extended to one year. Our Messy Church journey began in January 2007 but it was in the eleventh month that our numbers increased. Our lowest numbers in the early days were around 10 children and their carers whilst our highest numbers were over 60 children plus parents/carers.

We were in no doubt that this was a different experience to our earlier activity days, this was Messy Church! The upshot is that we have found ourselves developing a community, asking questions of ourselves about Church, baptism and who we really are. For me personally that has been a key part of the whole thing, being able to look at such questions as, 'Is this an activity or is it church?' 'If it is church, how can we make it more sustainable?' 'How can we be open to people's questioning without imposing our belief system on them?'

Messy Church Parkstone URCI feel the whole thing is about relationship. If I was in the position of forming a new traditional church and it was developing as a community, I wouldn't expect that to happen after a month or so – it would take years. Why should Messy Church be any different? I have just got to be ready to be where people are, not expect things to happen quickly but be prepared when it does.

It's all about timing and unreal expectations.

Lucy Moore has facilitated two training sessions for us and continues to support us through the Messy Church Network. Nearly four years on – and with a cluster of a dozen Messy Churches in Poole – we realise that this development is really important for us as individuals, as a team and as a wider ecumenical partnership. Parkstone and St Peter's have been a Local Ecumenical Partnership for about nine years but Messy Church, among other initiatives, has helped that partnership to deepen even further because we have got a shared goal, a shared vision and shared experience. When we work together we grow together and that's of great benefit to everyone.

Messy Church Parkstone URCThose Messy Churches which are part of our local network have worked together to ensure that they are not in competition with each other and their Messy Church times do not clash. This means that mums or dads and their children can go to all the various Messy Churches if they want to and we have already found that some parents are doing just that.

There are many personal good news stories about God's work through these churches. People who have gone forward for baptism in other churches have said it was because of their involvement in Messy Church; our Messy Church coordinator has been accepted for ministerial training; members of St Peter's youth group, and other young people, have become actively involved as volunteers while students at a local college cook – and sometimes serve – food for Messy Church sessions as part of their studies in life skills.

Messy Church Parkstone URC

Church at The Centre

Church at the Centre (United Reformed), Tonge Children's Centre sees its mission as sharing the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people of Tonge Moor through worship, fellowship and action. Community Minister Pat Oliver explains more.

Church at the Centre - building

Tonge Moor United Reformed Church, Bolton, was originally founded as a Congregational Church in 1891 and is now a member of the Vision Pastorate with Rose Hill URC and St Andrew and St George URC. In 2000, the church reviewed its calling of service to the community and major issues were identified as a result:

  • increasing age and decreasing numbers of members;
  • burden of upkeep and unsuitability of a building over 100 years old;
  • call to work more closely with other churches and organisations supporting the Tonge Moor community.

Whilst many members of the fellowship had their roots in the Congregational and United Reformed Churches, many of them actually lived outside the immediate community and so did not share (as residents) the problems and aspirations of local people. It was strongly felt that there was a need for the church to be shaped by local residents into the form of fellowship which best suits the needs of the community.

Church at the Centre - tablesThe church responded by firstly inviting neighbouring churches (Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic) to create Churches Together in Tonge Moor. Then after taking advice on the potential uses and limitations of its existing building, the church also approached Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council and East Bolton Regeneration with a view to making the church's land available for the development of a Community Centre, which would include accommodation for the church.

In October 2003, after demonstrating a willingness to work alongside others supporting the community, the church was invited to join in the creation of a new Children's Centre to be built on the church's land and that of the neighbouring Tonge Moor Community Primary School. The fellowship adopted the name Church at The Centre, when the Children's Centre opened in May 2006.

Out of the church's desire to better serve its local community, the church identified the following aims for its Church-in-Community project, Building Bridges:

  • To counter alienation in young people and fear in older people by building bridges between the two age groups and developing mutual trust and support;
  • To explore opportunities presented by the Church's partnership with the Children's Centre;
  • Use this experience to identify and share ways in which other churches could become more engaged in the national Children's Services/Children's Centres initiatives in their areas;
  • To provide a model for other churches to shake off the constraints imposed by obsolete buildings.

Church at the Centre - FairtradeThe Tonge Moor project involves Age Concern, Bolton Council Children's Services, other denominations, local Residents' Associations and URC NW Synod (all represented on the Project Management Group). The church has developed financial management systems for its community support work separate from its life as a worshipping fellowship. This was done to facilitate access to, and eligibility for financial support from a variety of bodies.

The Children's Centre's main remit is to help 0 to 5-year-olds, their parents and families, but we work alongside them to provide some supportive extra glue eg. summer holiday activities for the older siblings of families using the statutory services, craft activities or just chatting with lonely young parents in the Centre cafe etc. I basically try to grasp every opportunity I can to support what's going on here. It works as a seven day a week operation, five days a week for children's services with a community café and activities on Saturday and our informal services on Sundays. We try to be open to and willing to take advantage of as many opportunities as we can to demonstrate the love of God in Christ in this place.

Church at the Centre - craftsIn terms of community development, it takes time to build up relationships so as I'm based in the Centre, I'm able to work with the Centre's community outreach leader to organise some events jointly – it is part of their community cohesion remit and it's our reason for being. We are also building a volunteer base, involving people from church and community, which will help us to offer long-term support in this area. I’m not into offering something that comes and goes very quickly because that builds on the low expectation that many people have around here. People are accustomed to things starting up and then disappearing without trace; this contributes to the feeling that 'we don't matter'.

Being based in someone else's building has required adjustments by the church fellowship. Even new members who never knew the old building have preconceptions based on the traditional model where a Church has control of its own building. We've had to learn to share. People now appreciate how hard it is to cross the threshold of someone else's building no matter how warm the invitation! This new Centre is far more welcoming to 'non-church' people and provides 'neutral space' for church folk to meet with others from our local community and this is happening more and more now.

Church at the Centre - mosaicA recent joint venture involved creating a mosaic on the theme of nature. Anyone who came in to the Centre via the café was invited to join in and it took us three months to complete. We had a community artist working with us and the result is wonderful – the folks who aren't used to being creative have something to be very proud of. As far as the theme of it is concerned, for those who have no faith it's nature, for those with faith it's creation. This is the best visual example so far of what we are trying to do together.

I think at the beginning of all of this people said, 'Let's have a church within a Children's Centre' but what that actually means in practice is very different to what some imagined it would be. It can be a challenge for many to realise that church can look very different from the way they might expect. Folk outside of our fellowship find it hard to take on board that we're all about supporting people in living as good a life as they can in their community.

If they ask us about our motivation, then we have an opening to tell them about the whys and wherefores behind it all – the faith that stirs us into this action. If they don't ask, we just get on with it knowing that in God's time our message will be received one way or another.

We have about 30 members and we are growing. Some of the new folk have come from very different sorts of church backgrounds, or from no church background at all but whoever you are, you still have to get through the doors in the first place. As a result, hospitality events are very popular and very rewarding. We work with the other Partners in the Centre on special occasions and we also have a hugely popular candlelight Advent Supper.

Church at the Centre - singing

Weekend baptisms, weddings and funerals can take place here as in any church but, mid-week – thanks to an arrangement with the Centre Management, the same services are possible. When requested, part of the premises is closed and we use a different entrance, enabling families to have their ceremony on the day and time they choose. Thus far only funerals have taken place mid-week but who knows what the future will bring.

My role is not about me alone or about building church in its narrowest sense; it's about supporting all in the challenge of looking for where God's love is already evident and joining in, it's about all of us carrying God's love to where it's needed, and it's about us together building God's community wherever God calls it to be. Not an easy task… some of the challenge comes from those who say that if people don't become 'official' members of our churches then how will we continue as a denomination? Others ask, 'If you are based in a Children's Centre, do you get children coming to church on Sunday?

Church at The Centre believe that we are taking our worship beyond Sunday mornings and into the week, and sharing the love of God as we meet people in their everyday lives – just as Jesus did. We don't expect people to respond by falling in with past traditional patterns – all must be encouraged to worship in ways that suit them and their journey with God.

As we go forward we know we are totally reliant on faith and the way God works in the community through people who say they have no faith. Christians don't have the monopoly on God after all.

Tudeley Messy Church

Revd Pamela Ive is parish deacon at All Saints,Tudeley, and she is thrilled at the development of Messy Church in her area. She tells the story so far.

I attended the Fresh Expressions mission shaped ministry course from September 2008 to July 2009 in Rochester. It was really useful and made me rethink a lot of things about how we reach out to people and, in certain aspects, also helped me to be more realistic about which goals were achievable.

As a result we changed the style and format of midweek after-school activity we had been doing for quite a while and I have been surprised and delighted at the response we've had to it.

In the past we had a monthly meeting called Light on Thursday which was really a discussion time with a very few mums who had gone through confirmation, and a couple of others who had joined along the way. There was a minimal amount of worship while the children had tea but there was not much faith input for them. That folded after about four years when the volunteer helpers moved on.

Tudeley Messy Church - PentecostI prayed with a member of a local Baptist Church about the direction in which we were meant to go. A third person came along from Christians Together in Capel and she had a vision that we should set up Messy Church so we decided to pool our resources and put our energies into that.

We are in a Local Ecumenical Partnership (Tudeley cum Capel with Five Oak Green), and Messy Church really came together because of the involvement of a number of churches. We also have an Ecumenical Church Council and they were happy to support it financially.

We are meeting on the fourth Sunday of the month at Five Oak Green United Church, and decided to schedule 10 Messy Churches for this year. Helpers come from the Baptists, the Anglican/URC LEP and a local charismatic Free Church.

We decided to stick to Sundays because we are quite close to London and a lot of dads don't get back until 7pm or 8pm from work during the week. If the children are aged five or six, that’s no good for them on a weekday, so we opted for Sunday from 4.45pm for an hour. I think that time of day is perfect. They have had their Sunday lunch and they may be on their way back home after time out somewhere, this is dead time and we fill the gap.

Tudeley Messy Church - fishAt our first meeting we catered for 40, buying two hotdogs for each person expected so we got 80. Then somebody reminded me that we might have vegetarians there so we got veggie versions as well. Thankfully we did, with a crowd of 65 on the day!

We have a very small church. When everyone is sitting down packed into rows, the maximum we can hold is about 100. It was a huge surprise to see who came because there were a number of people we had never come across before, and lots of husbands accompanied their wives so there were actually men under 40 there.

One mum said that her husband had decided not to come because he didn't think there would be any men – she couldn't wait to tell him that lots had turned up in the hope that he'd come along next time. We were just overwhelmed, it was wonderful chaos. The people who were there said they felt they could invite others to come, it was fantastic.

Tudeley Messy Church - cake buildingCreation was the theme. We had a table game and word searches, and told a story with drama involving the children. It was so packed and so noisy, we had to stand on chairs to be heard and seen.

Numbers now average about 45. This feels much more comfortable for the size of building we're meeting in – especially when we are being active. Many aspects have been very encouraging. Friends have invited others; we are building relationships within the community; and Christians who worship in different places are catching up with each other and working together (especially in the kitchen).

At our Palm Sunday Messy Church, we invited people to the Good Friday Family Service which was in a similar format. We started off by making Hot Cross buns and then baked them during the service, which meant we had a very sociable time afterwards! The service also brought different congregations together and we involved a small teenage after-school group in leading it.

Tudeley Messy Church - group with cakeAs we knew that not everybody would be there on Easter Sunday we included the celebration of the Resurrection as part of that Good Friday service. There was a wonderful sense of having gone through Holy Week and to Easter with our Messy Church newcomers. We had linked things together for them in the previous Messy Church sessions by following the accounts of Creation, Noah and God’s promise, and then God’s Promise showing itself in the death and resurrection of Christ. A rainbow poster we made on our second session carried the theme through.

For Messy Church at Pentecost, we built a church with cake including gingerbread people to show that the Church is about the people – not the building itself. We then ate it!

Most people who came to the first Messy Church have been to a subsequent one and we've welcomed others too. The social aspect seems to be one of the most important to people – nobody's ever in a hurry to leave. We're very much looking forward to seeing what happens next.


Sacred - peninsulaAfter many years of working in the area, Greenwich United Church (United Reformed and Methodist) has started a fresh expression of church on the Greenwich Peninsula. SACRED explores the sacred in body, mind, heart and spirit. Revd Martyn Coe explains more.

This area is experiencing rapid change and will continue to do so in the run-up to the Olympics in two years' time. There's no doubt that London 2012 will have a major impact on the lives of those who live and work here, and all of the churches are beginning to look at how we might respond to those challenges. SACRED is part of that thinking, though our concern is very much for the here and now as well as what is to come. We want to be seen to be available to those around us and be part of the community today. That has to be better than trying to play catch-up with an expected influx of 20,000 people to the Peninsula over the next decade or so.

Sacred - school signWe meet in Millennium Primary School on Wednesday nights for about an hour-and-a-half and have a four weekly pattern encompassing worship, reflection, thinking creativity and symbolic action. We look at Heart – looking inside ourselves; Body – worship reflecting on the whole body of Christ throughout the world; Spirit – communion influenced by the Iona Community and Head – using a DVD study course to explore faith.

We believe this monthly cycle gives us a consistency of presence and the chance to expand our horizons and get to know one another. Things are set to change again soon because, despite the economic slowdown, building work is continuing and a new multi-faith centre will go up quite close to the O2 Arena over the next couple of months.

Sacred - barrierThere is undoubtedly pressure on developers to keep to that deadline – otherwise it will still be 3,000 parking spaces by 2012. That wouldn’t look too good with the world's cameras trained on London!

During Lent we are working alongside an Anglican church which meets in the same school on Sundays and we use the Living Questions DVD to explore faith issues. For our theology and ecclesiology, the course works very well as it comes from our more radical liberal background.

Sacred - domeWe are looking to welcome to people when they move into the area, a sort of drop-in facility. As part of that we are in talks with the local authority and the Scout District about starting Beavers and Cubs to meet immediately before SACRED.

One of our challenges as a fresh expression of church is for us to become sustainable in funds and resources over a period. At the moment, SACRED is part funded by the southern synod of The United Reformed Church and I work alongside Deacon Jane Rice, and Alison Adam who used to be with the Wild Goose community.

Models of church and ways of reaching people have changed dramatically in recent times. In this area, for instance, it's very concierge-driven in that you can't easily do leafleting any more because you can no longer just walk into buildings and put a leaflet through someone's letterbox.

Sacred - treesWe also need to be aware that in many of these new developments what looks like public space may not be public space at all. I may think I'm on public property because it's an open, green area but I could be asked to leave it because I am actually on private land.

It is helpful that I am part of a multi-faith chaplaincy in the area. We visit businesses and developments, and my 'patch' includes ASDA and a number of restaurants in the O2 Arena. I also have a Health and Safety certificate so I can legally go onto building sites to speak to people.

I'm not sure if we will move SACRED down to the multi-faith centre when it opens. It will be handy to the O2 but not close to where people live. It's more in the commercial district.

Sacred - groupWe are talking about offering daily prayer there in the middle of the day. Everyone involved is hoping that it will work together but we have been very, very clear that what we are doing is a multi faith activity rather than an inter faith activity. We are people of faith working alongside each other for the common good.