The Well

An ex-mining village in Dunfermline lies at the heart of a developing fresh expression of church. Aileen Christie reports.

It takes a long time to build trust and relationship and we have certainly found that at Wellwood. It's a village of about 750 people and it's a place that's quite isolated in the northern part of Dunfermline.

Wellwood used to be a mining village but the industry's decline brought difficult times for what is a close-knit community.

In 2004, Wellwood was brought into the parish of Gillespie Memorial Church, part of the Church of Scotland. We were doing Purpose Driven Church and, at one point, we all held hands before being told to turn around and look outwards. Some of us felt it was no coincidence that Wellwood came into our parish at that very stage in the life of Gillespie.

The congregation embraced the idea of reaching out to the village but it didn't go too smoothly at first; we tried to deliver Easter eggs but this was met with suspicion by villagers who had been let down by churches in the past. Thankfully, that seems almost unbelievable now – and it's all down to the community relationships we have built up since then.

Jesus in the Park,or J in the Park, was our next step. That's when we took a large tent to the local park in the summer of 2006 and offered a week-long programme of activities, including drama, games, crafts and worship. We did that for five years and we did see some people coming to faith, that was all well and good but it was then a major step for them to walk into a traditional church setting.

We started off with the whole congregation involved and now there is a relatively small number of people concerned with it, I guess it's slightly unusual because it has taken the opposite track to many fresh expressions in that we began with a very large group that has now become smaller in number – but the good thing is that the smaller group is one that's more focused on its intention to be church in the community.

In those early days, ten years ago, we weren't looking to create a fresh expression of church; all we wanted to do was to engage the people of Wellwood to come to our church. In the first year, some of the kids came along and we built up some good relationships. After that, we did have people coming down to church and it was a complete disaster; that's when we realised that church as we knew it was just not going to meet the needs of people with no experience of church.

From then on our aim was not to get them to come to our church but to find out what would be 'church' at Wellwood – and that's still the journey we're on today. We are still not there in exploring discipleship but we can see that that will come in God's time.

We started to put our energies into getting to know the residents and developing friendships with them. We had a Scripture Union group at Wellwood Primary School and that meant we were seeing the people every week; it just built relationships but it really does take such a long time, we couldn't believe how many years it takes to get to that stage.

Again, we still had no idea of setting up a fresh expression of church but then I did the mission shaped ministry course in Edinburgh and things developed from there. We'd come to the natural end of Jesus in the Park at the point when I was doing msm and I felt it right that we should have a permanent presence in the village, a place for the community which might also become home to a fresh expression.

There wasn't a community facility at all at Wellwood. There was a small food store and what was an empty unit next to it which people remembered as a post office and later a beauty salon. It's a fairly small space and had lain empty all the time we had been in the village. If we were going to set up a permanent presence in the village, that was the only place to do it.

The Well - building and bannerInitially we were completely funded by the church but after Jesus in the Park finished, the funding wasn't as available so we were looking for external funding. Thankfully, we have a great relationship with the Fife Council in the Dunfermline area and they were very amenable to partnering with us in Wellwood. We also applied to various trusts and the Go For It fund of the Church of Scotland. Although not significant sums of money, this helped us to tell our story in various circles of assistance. Go For It has been such a huge source of support and encouragement along the way and we are very grateful for that.

We knew that we had to make a move for the empty unit so, in the end, we just went into the neighbouring shop and asked the woman who owned both sets of premises, 'How do you feel about us taking on the next door unit, even though we can't afford to pay anything like what you are asking?' She said, 'That sounds like a great idea!' It should have been £650 a month but she gave it to us for the first year for £200 a month with an increase to £300 after that time.

The wonderful thing is that Gillespie Memorial Church did support us in that. They agreed that if we didn't manage to get funding, they would underwrite us when we took on the lease. That sort of support meant such a lot to us.

We can have small meetings in the unit, which has become a real hub for the local community and is known as The Well, but we are now hoping to move into the local primary school. That's when I think we can start developing working with adults coming in and having meetings and chats. At the moment the environment doesn't allow for that. It's really reaching the end of its lifespan for us but it was the ideal location at the time.

We're into our fourth year and the unit is used regularly by the community. We have a lively youth group on a Monday night and hope to revive a drop-in on Thursday lunchtimes for secondary school pupils.

People in the village give us far more credit than we feel is due to us for making things happen but the truth is that they have found the confidence to develop as a community; we have been happy to support them in that. A major turning point was the planning of a Gala in the village. In mining communities, the Gala was a big event on the calendar but there hadn't been a Gala at Wellwood for about 20 years.

Then it was decided that it would be great to have a Gala again and The Well became the meeting place for the Gala committee. We were able to facilitate that and we helped with applications to the council, and so on, but we weren't even officially on the committee; we simply went along to the meetings.

It was fantastic to see people gain in confidence and actually take control but even until the very last minute we didn't know how the wider community would react to the Gala. We went to the top of the village where the parade was going to start, there weren't many people around… and then, with 10 minutes to go, all the doors opened and the people came out as the band came marching down the road. It was so significant for everyone in the village. That then was the turning point because the attitude changed from complaining about the council to thinking about what they could achieve themselves.

By the second year, it strengthened our relationship with the community and the rest of the people. Now we're looking forward to the fourth Gala on the last Saturday in July.

It has been a real highlight to see how that has developed but there have also been some terrible low points. Wellwood's primary school closed in October 2014 as part of a package of school closures across the area; we walked alongside the parents to build a case for the school to remain open but, in the end, the decision went against them. It was a devastating blow.

The children now have to go out of the village to school. They have settled all right but I think it's more about the impact on the community not to have a school at the heart of it any more.

But there's now a possibility of using the redundant school premises, getting it at a token rent for use by the community. We really hope the residents get the chance to do that, particularly as they are saying to us, 'The church needs to be there, we couldn't do it without you'.

We have to get the paperwork done by April. We never know where we are going next on this journey but we would hope and pray to be established in the old school buildings in the summer.

The school closure was awful, though working closely with the parents has been such a blessing. If the school was made available, it would give us the space to do a lot more, particularly with the kids, and it would also give us so much more scope in the range of things on offer.

There are three of us on the team at the moment. I work with Shirley and Linda (our respective husbands also lend a hand!) We are all lay people. We also have those who support us in the church – mainly in prayer but they are also there if we need help at all. As I've mentioned, there was a massive buy-in from Gillespie Memorial Church at the start and there is still a lot of goodwill but, in practical terms, it's just us.

All three of us are 50 and we are in this journey for the long haul. We all do what we can do and then we wait and see what happens. We do work very closely with the people on the Gala committee, about four or five of them, and I think we are at a tipping point in terms of members of the local community stepping up to take responsibility. I think we are on the verge of seeing people say, is there a role for me?

We are all partners working in Wellwood together. The adults now know there is no 'side' to us; it would never have worked if we did. We say, 'we are here to help you', because it's all about working alongside people so that they are finding out for themselves.

How many people are coming to our church? That's not what we are about. We have seen change in the community and have built up trusting, open relationships which leave the way open for deeper conversations to arise naturally. All the children in the village had contact with J in the park and the SU group and now have a grounding in the Bible stories and, we hope, an understanding of who Jesus is.

We've encountered some ministers in the wider church who do not have much understanding about what we are trying to do and don't seem to be 'buying' it. But that's OK, we just try and remain faithful to what God wants us to do with the people in this area; we leave everything else up to him.

Deeper Network Church

Andy Poultney is minister-in-charge of Deeper Network Church, based in what was a restaurant on Romford High Street.

Deeper Network Church originated as 'Deeper' six years ago at St James', Collier Row, with St John's, Havering-Atte-Bower. Deeper, a fresh expression of church, came together as I began serving as curate with a bunch of young adults; my plan was simply to see what God was doing and join in with it.

Following much discussion and prayer, we decided that we wanted to focus on other young adults in the pub and club culture of central Romford. Night-time economy is important here; about 10,000 to 12,000 people descend on the local pubs and clubs every weekend.

We had great support from the community of St James' and St John's and the result was that we launched The Deeper Lounge as a safe space, in Romford's market place, on Friday nights. It started in December 2009 and it has continued to run most weeks; we have served many hundreds of cups of tea and coffee since then and – more importantly – met some great people and had some great chats.

Deeper Network Church - caféWorking alongside Street Pastors, we set up under one of the market stalls and operated from there. After a while, the local authority recognised that we were providing a valuable service and wanted to help us a little more so they bought us a large, pop-up gazebo. It was about a year ago that we moved to a prime spot and now we regularly see about 100 people a night.

I'm part of The Order of Mission and, using missional community 'language', I was – by this stage – beginning to think about what was to happen next because the end of my curacy was on the horizon. The Friday nights were going well and there was also a youth project called DIY (Deeply Impacting Youth) which was engaging with about 60-70 young people.

There was a very strong sense that if we moved away, the work was not yet strong enough to be led by anybody else, and in 2012 we felt God was calling us to become a permanent presence in central Romford rather than just dipping in and out.

In April 2013, ten of us were released from St James' and St John's in order to establish a new worshipping community known as Deeper Network Church. Our office base, and home to lots of what we do now, is called The Deeper Lounge and it's on the high street in Romford.

Deeper Network Church - caféIt's owned by the London Borough of Havering and we rent it from them. It used to be an Afro-Caribbean restaurant but the building has been gutted at a cost of £50,000. It's always incredible to see what God can do, time and time again I've been in the building while work has been going on and as people walk past, one in five will stop and ask what is going on. It offers a natural opportunity to get into conversations with all sorts of people. We applied to the Mission Opportunities Fund to cover our salary costs but money is tight and we are living by faith beyond 2014.

The Diocese of Chelmsford granted us a Bishop's Mission Order and this has been important in how we, and others, view the work. When talking about The Deeper Lounge I like to say, 'this is not a youth centre, it's not a community centre, I want to start calling it home – to us that home is a church'. It's a venue and the idea is that we will continue to do a lot of outward focused work and to engage with mission with different community groups.

We have got a reception area, a coffee shop-sized space, a small kitchen, an office and a prayer room. The plan after Easter is to do a bit of everything in this space, including activities for young people, homeless people and parents. Deeper Network Church will develop for all these different people groups.

Part of my previous role was to act as youth adviser to the bishop but I am now stopping that work as my wife and I will be moving into a community house because I'm becoming Young Vocations Champion for the diocese. This will involve mentoring interns and four guys will live with us and take on placements.

Deeper Network Church - mealBasically, everything that we do begins with service. When we're out under the gazebo speaking to young people late at night at Friday, we'll say, 'would you like a free tea or coffee?' Generally the third or fourth question people ask is, 'why are you doing this?' You tell them and we get varying responses: from complete disbelief to 'oh, that's cute' or similar.

Everything we do is to move on conversations and relationships from 'Oh cute' to our vision of deepening life together as disciples of Jesus Christ. That can be a real challenge but there's nothing else I'd rather do.

Cove Church (the Gathering)

Pastor David Swan tells how a growing community on the south side of Aberdeen is part of the Church of Scotland but is also exploring fresh expressions as part of its ministry.

I was originally a church planter with OMF International (Overseas Missionary Fellowship) in Thailand but then I felt God was calling me into the Church of Scotland. All the way through my training, I knew I wasn't going to be a traditional parish minister and – by the time I came to be interviewed for the position at Cove – I could tell them that they would be employing me as a planter rather than a church minister because my ministry was more apostolic than pastoral. I've been here for eight years now.

In Scotland, at that time, the concept of fresh expressions of church was not one we were overly familiar with though we did have the Church of Scotland's A Church without Walls report and there was increased focus on emerging ministries.

Cove Church - settingThe first three years were quite challenging due to the history of how Cove Church had come into being but it has been a journey of redefining our aspirational values and asking ourselves, 'How do they work out in practice?' A key element of that was always to have 'home churches', bringing them all together on Sunday as a Gathering – which I feel is a good culturally appropriate Scottish way of talking about assembly or ecclesia.

So we now meet together in café style on Sunday mornings at Loirston Annexe in Cove and, during the week, some of us meet in smaller groups in homes in and around the town. In saying that, in Aberdeen there has been resistance to folk meeting in homes due I think to value put on privacy in this part of the world – being a Glaswegian and having worked in Asia that is something I have found hard to comprehend.

However, we now have two of these home churches and people now love and appreciate them for how they follow the model of welcome, worship, word and witness to:

  • have fellowship together;
  • support and encourage each other to explore what God is saying to us.

Cove Church - settingThings are changing; we are now becoming a parish grouping with our sister church – South St Nicholas – which means that we 'share' Dan Robertson as our new community minister for Cove and Kincorth. Dan began as Associate Minister for South St Nicholas Church in September 2010 and much has happened in the time that he and his wife Stef have been there.

It is interesting that, as time has gone on, the congregation has changed dramatically in terms of its make-up. Although we are part of wider Presbyterian network, they don't see their primary identity as Presbyterians – however, they would say that being part of the Church of Scotland adds a certain local credibility and gives reassurance to many that we are not a sect!

Some things have developed and then stopped, including a youth and family charitable outreach project called Blue Horizon, which we developed with 2 other partner churches. The project did much to build bridges in the community, and show care and encouragement to teenagers and the parents of teenagers. We are sad to see the project fold this year but we can see a positive legacy of relationship building that we hope we can develop towards more intentional mission. Beyond Blue Horizon we want to continue to bless, encourage and serve the families and young people in Cove and Kincorth.

Cove Church - singingOn Sunday (29th September 2013) we launched a new initiative called engage to seek to bless our community in any way we can think of – we will start by welcoming people to new homes being built in the area and saying thank you to the heroes of our community. From there, we want to expand and share ideas to get out and about and be a blessing to others and worship God not just with words but by kind acts and works of service. engage will run on the last Sunday of every month and will start by meeting together at Loirston Annexe at 10.30am as usual, and then we'll take it for there.

We do have a lot going on at the moment. Our children and youth programme (Blast) meets as part of the Gathering every Sunday while our teen home church gets together every month for fun, food and an open conversation of what it means to follow Jesus as a teenager in today's world.

For the more mature in age, Seniors is a relaxed, friendly group which also meets monthly at Altens Community Centre. We start the afternoon with a catch-up over tea and coffee and have a theme for the day which is usually of a spiritual nature.

The way I describe all of this is that we are on a journey to be what we always said that we were – but we weren't. We want to be a true fresh expression of church but we're not yet.

Cove Church - groupIn the Church of Scotland, we need to have a new 'language' to describe what churches like ours are doing. Some people think we are 'playing at being church' and there can be little recognition of the values involved in being a different form of church. The thinking is along the lines of, 'You are a little, experimental church but eventually you will grow up, become like us and settle down again'.

Here, the normal procedure – after a period of years – would be for us to go for what we call 'full status' but we don't want to do that as an independent church. Instead we will begin as part of a parish grouping and explore how to structure ourselves slightly differently in the way we do things.  We do need to have a mechanism where a fresh expression church is recognised within the wider church – as any parish church is recognised by the wider church.

From the end of May to the beginning of July I was on a study leave programme looking at fresh expressions of church in England. During that time – and as part of a reading week in Glasgow and prayer week walking the West Highland Way – I was surprised that God was speaking to me more about discipleship and making disciples the way Jesus did. It should seem obvious that we make disciples the way the master did it – so why don't we?

At Cove, we really want to take on that challenge. What does that look like in this area in the 21st century? It's important to keep on asking those difficult questions.

Quest-ion? Youth Project

Elaine Watkinson is on the Mission Team at Gainsborough Methodist Circuit and, with her caravan, is pioneering the Quest-ion? youth project.

I was Circuit youth coordinator in Grimsby and Cleethorpes and was involved in the ministry of the Side Door fresh expression of church in Grimsby for 12 years. However, I left the Grimsby Circuit because I was sure God wanted me to extend the mission, which wasn't possible within Grimsby at that time in the way he was calling me to do it.

What I wanted to do was to go out and meet the young people wherever they happened to be. That meant going to places like car parks, playing fields, bus stops – all the areas where they just 'hang around' and wait to see what happens.

Quest-ion? youth project - gatheringI and a colleague then moved to the Gainsborough Circuit. We got a caravan – we called it Gabriel – and we'd hitch it up and move it on all over the place for what became The Quest-ion? youth project. Since then we've replaced 'Gabriel' with 'Abraham' – a more modern caravan – but the work to reach those beyond the reach of inherited church remains the same. We've started to build up quite a regular community but I have no idea how that will develop, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Quest-ion? youth project - skateboardingThe project is not officially recognised as 'church' by all the Circuit, although recognised by individuals who are mission orientated, so we are looking to make it clear that what we are doing is not 'new' or radical or strange; it's exactly what John Wesley did!

I still volunteer at Side Door and the work has been – and continues to be – a joy. When things get tough we need to remember that people's lives have been changed forever and it's important to celebrate that.

Heathfield cafechurch

Plans for a cafechurch came about through Churches Together in Heathfield and District, East Sussex. Follow their journey as they prepare for 'opening night' on Friday 26th April 2013.

It was a coming together of ideas when a Costa Coffee shop opened in Heathfield High Street and cafechurch network advertised a training day in the area.

Members of the 12 churches represented in Churches Together in Heathfield and District wanted to find out more about what might be possible as a result of these two 'coincidental' events. Three people attended the Network's training day last year and were inspired to look at building on what had already been happening in the community.

Five years previously, Churches Together in Heathfield and District had set up a Street Pastors initiative under the auspices of the Ascension Trust which initiated the national Street Pastor movement. The small town does not have late night bars or clubs but it was suffering increased levels of vandalism. Street Pastors started to be available in and around the town's car parks, skate park, playgrounds and streets from early evenings on Fridays. They built up good relationships with the teenagers and young adults they came across and started to ask, 'but what happens next? How can we reach these people we wouldn't normally reach from our own church settings?'

Heathfield cafechurch - teamThe cafechurch is now seen as the next move in these ongoing relationships with individuals – and the wider community.

In November 2012, 130 people attended a Churches Together supper at the Beehive pub, Heathfield, when Sue Mumford – one of the cafechurch planning group – spoke about the vision surrounding its launch. More than 20 people signed up to be involved.

The cafechurch is focusing on attracting 18 to 35-year-olds though all ages will be welcome if they are looking to engage with a new form of church.

Sue Mumford says,

Heathfield is a lovely town but there is very little for teenagers to do here and our churches are sadly lacking in young people. We realised that it was right to try and go to them rather than sit back and hope they would come to us. We have listened to what they have told us and – through prayer – we believe it's right for us to step out in faith in this way. 

We have no idea what will happen but we just have to make a start.

Heathfield cafechurch - signKeith Miller, another of the planning group, adds,

If you have never been involved in church, going into a church building is quite an ordeal. A coffee shop, on the other hand, is a very familiar, very safe, very relaxed environment. This may provide a step towards church – or it may not. It may lead to a new way of doing church or it may fade away. We'll have to wait and see.

We are fortunate to have several, very good independent coffee shops in the town,

comments George Dearsley, Vice-Moderator of Churches Together in Heathfield and District,

but they were a little too small for what was needed to get this off the ground. We have already seen that the teenagers and young adults are accustomed to going to Costa – but, personally, we'll certainly continue to make good use of all of the coffee shops in Heathfield.

Heathfield cafehurch - venueA coordinator provides prayer backing, both in the development of prayer partners in each of the link churches involved and on site. A 'dress rehearsal' for young people from local churches was held last week in order to give the planning group an idea of timings and practicalities.

Friday's session will run from 7pm (for 7.30pm start) until 9pm. Watch this space…

Hot Chocolate

Charis Robertson is the Acting Director of Hot Chocolate Trust in Dundee. She tells how the city centre youth work organisation is seeing the signs of a developing church community.

Hot Chocolate started in 2001 in the heart of Dundee. There is a shopping mall built around The Steeple Church in the city centre and, in front of the church, is a grassy area which became a meeting place for young people from the 'alternative' culture (ie. those dressed in black with piercings and tattoos and skateboards and thrash metal music etc).

At that time, there was a young woman on placement as a part-time youth worker with The Steeple who was looking outside the church, saying,

There is a community inside the walls of the church and there is a community outside the walls.

Hot Chocolate - outside churchShe went out with a small group of volunteers and they had no agenda other than to go and meet young people on that grassy area. Within a few months, there were quite a few significant relationships developing. We are called Hot Chocolate simply because that's what the volunteers took out with them and the young people themselves started calling the encounters, Hot Chocolate. The name just stuck.

Then we started to ask the young people, 'If you had a bit of space in the church building, what would you do with it?' The answer was that they wanted some rehearsal space, a place they could just crash out and be themselves, and so we ended up with some thrash metal bands come to rehearse in the sanctuary of the church!

Since the outset, it has been the young people who have made the decisions about how, when and what happens. These roots remain totally foundational to who we are and the way we operate today.

It all grew very organically and was very relationally-based. We became an independent charity in 2004 and we now have six paid staff (two of whom are full time) and around 35 youth work volunteers each year. We work with about 300 young people in the course of a year and do lots of things, including group work and one-to-one sessions but we don't preach at them or do anything that would be seen as typically 'churchy' in any way. Instead we get alongside to support them and are always asking the question, 'What do you want to do?' We've got good facilities, including a sports room, kitchen and chill-out room so we have the space to accommodate lots of different types of activities.

Many of the young people are from difficult family contexts and some have been in and out of young offender institutes. The young people we encounter hear from so many sources that they are bad, stupid, worthless, and will amount to nothing. Giving as much of the responsibility and ownership of Hot Chocolate to the young people as possible has resulted in a deep commitment and respect for both the place and the relationships around it. Creating a space that is truly owned by the young people has been vital to this. They most commonly describe it as their 'home', where they can make their own cup of tea, hang their art on the wall, and find a place of belonging. Hot Chocolate is not here to do things for young people or to provide a service for young people, but instead to grow a community with young people. That actually makes all the difference. 

Hot Chocolate - group

We've found too that language can also play a huge part in unhelpful power dynamics, and Hot Chocolate works hard to be thoughtful about this. For example: we are not a service. We do not have clients, customers or service users. We are a community, and the young people are young people. We do not have staff and volunteers, we have team. We do not try to fix the young people but walk alongside them, open to learning as much from them as they might from us.

Our approach is not that of a typical church based youth work organisation. We don't do God slots, but we share our lives, and those of the team who have faith share our faith when the time is right. A lot of the young folk are interested in spirituality and it is not difficult to get spiritual conversations at all.

As time has gone on, some of the young folk have found faith. That has often coincided with them coming onto team and experiencing a more explicitly Christian part of the community. As the former young people find that sense of belonging amongst the team, it opens up all sorts of questions. One young person started coming when he was 13 or 14, became a Christian along the way and is now one of our key volunteers. Not all of the team are Christians, but all are open to exploring and all feel that the Christian ethos is very important. We also often attract team members who are disillusioned with mainstream church – especially artists and social activists especially who feel they haven't found their place. 

Hot Chocolate - feet

What they tend to describe as their 'church' time is when we're sitting around the dinner table together, three times a week. Before opening for any youth work session, the team has a meal together and shares some sort of devotion – and that's where they find belonging and faith. We want to develop specifically around that time, and help grow an indigenous Christian leadership. We feel uneasy about importing worship resources that are not appropriate to our context so we have started writing worship and prayers of our own. In a way, everything that has happened so far in the way of church community is completely accidental, and so tends to be quite different to intentional church planting models and approaches. (This is not a bad thing, it is just different).

Hot Chocolate has never been about getting the young people into church on a Sunday morning and it wasn't even about starting a youth project. It was simply about building relationships and seeing what might emerge, motivated by the love of God. It seems that every couple of months we stop and say, 'What are you up to now God? It's changing again!' We know we are very strong on belonging, on community and activism; we are not necessarily great at discipleship but we are learning.

Hot Chocolate experiments: not recklessly, but without anxiety of failure. There is a strong culture of reflection, vulnerability and learning together, even when we have made mistakes.

Hot Chocolate - logoWe've learned a lot about the God of mission. It's God's mission to transform the lives of the young people and not ours. God is already at work doing this, and so our job is to get alongside him, not the other way around. This has been a liberating, challenging realisation.

In terms of challenges, when you work for a charity, finance is always going to be a challenge but we do have support from various agencies, including the Church of Scotland's Go For It Fund which aims to encourage creative ways of working which develop the life and mission of the local church and are transformative for both communities and congregations. We have had some major staffing changes in the team in the past couple of years too, but we have just appointed a new director to start in January so we are looking forward to starting the new year with a leader who is very missional-minded, someone to help us grow this amazing community together.

E1 Community Church (Cable Street)

It began as an Urban Expression church planting team 15 years ago in London's East End but became E1 Community Church (E1CC) after the merger of three Urban Expression church plants (including Cable Street Community Church). Phil Warburton and Alex Alexander are Baptist ministers who lead the church and they explain more.

Things have changed a great deal since the original Cable Street Community Church was featured on expressions: the dvd – 1. E1CC now covers the south west of the Borough of Tower Hamlets and is based in Shadwell and Stepney.

Originally led by Jim and Juliet Kilpin, we were a small team on a steep learning curve made up of a group of people trying to figure out together how to follow Jesus and love our neighbours.

E1CC parachuteWe remain a small church that struggles in many ways with the seeming chaos of life and messiness of church but there is also a lot of joy along the way and much hope for the future. Today E1CC covers the same geographical area and includes Sunday meetings in the homes of two families from the church and Wednesdays at 6pm in the hall of St Mary's Church on Cable Street. Once a month we have celebrations which are all-age, messy church, café-style, with a meal to finish. We have active children's and youth groups too, who bring us much joy and often speak nuggets of truth to us 'grown-ups'! You will rarely hear a sermon here but we hope, pray and trust that people will hear plenty of what God is saying.

Alex Alexander was called to lead the church alongside Phil in July 2009. Along with other churches in Tower Hamlets, we have set up a Mission House initiative to encourage and enable people with a heart for the inner city to live and minister here. Four local churches are part of the Mission House at the moment and each church has a volunteer who joins in with the life of the church and the local community. Rachel Fergusson joined us a year ago as part of this initiative and it is great working with a team of people passionate about the community and church of Shadwell and Stepney.

E1CC gardenWhat are we about? E1 Community Church have five key distinctives. We are a Jesus-centred church; worshipping and following Jesus together in our daily lives. We are a church at the edge, seeking to be a church of people who have too little rather than have too much and of those who often feel marginalized by society and sometimes by the church. We are made up of people who live in the local neighbourhood and our worship, discipleship and decision-making aim to be relevant to the area in which we live. We aim to be multi-voiced in order to discover together what God might be saying to us. We believe passionately in being people of peace and we try to work at this both within church and within our community.

Each year we have a focus on a particular topic and we work on getting funds together for a charity specialising in that particular field. This year we are focusing on the Olympics to highlight issues of justice, inequality, disability and human trafficking. We are using the Baptist Missionary Society's Undefeated resources.

We are also involved with other churches in Tower Hamlets to run a winter Night Shelter and Foodbank based in various locations through Tower Hamlets, as well as youth and children's work both within church and in our neighbourhood. We are really excited about what God is doing in Tower Hamlets and we want to continue to join in with bringing his kingdom here!


Dave Saunders tells how his faith journey led him from England's south coast to become a VentureFX pioneer in Scotland.

It all goes back to walking along Eastbourne beach with my church leader, pouring my heart out with frustration at the fact that my schoolmates didn't want anything to do with Church. He then asked, 'What would Church look like for young people?'

After going on to help establish a youth church, which flopped after about six months, I decided to take a year out with Youth for Christ. I had no idea where I might be living following my YFC training but I was looking for the sunniest location, preferably near to Eastbourne. When I heard that YFC was working with the Methodist Church to help plant a youth church, I knew that was where I was to go. I then found out they were doing it in Inverness; I put that down to God's sense of humour!

Reverb - give wayI was 18 when I came to Inverness for my year out. Nine years later I'm still here. I knew when I first arrived that I loved this city and felt called to the young people who don't 'do' church or want anything to do with Christianity. My heart broke for the young people I met and that we had failed, as church, to communicate the great message of hope to them. In some ways I would say I was angry with the church because of that.

I was placed in a Methodist church. This was completely foreign to what I was used to but I was struck by Peter Howson's deep passion, as minister, to help young people engage with God and life in a way they could understand. He wasn't about getting young people into his service; it was about giving young people a chance to meet their creator.

So Revolution youth church was born and after two years I was asked to be its leader (even though I have had no formal theological training). I had gone from feeling hurt and frustrated by Church to being passionate about what it can be: a force for peace and justice, and a family that truly loves God and the communities around it.

We enjoyed four great years as Revolution and then had a radical rethink. As a result we went from being a programme-led Sunday evening service to being a group of people called to serve all the people of Merkinch and Dalneigh in Inverness. Merkinch is known locally as The Ferry, an area which is in the top 3% of deprived areas of Scotland.

Reverb logoWe changed our name from 'Revolution' to 'Reverb' because we want to reverberate the love of God in the community around us.

We are now a group of 8 – with about 25 or so in a larger core group – and between us we have many connections with the community; including all the young people, now in their twenties, who I met while working in the school.

We hold a written 'evolving covenant' which we call the 'invisible bond' with each other to help us to be clear that we only exist to serve God and to share His love and justice with the community around us. Every Sunday we check that this remains our priority before we then try to work out together how we can be better at it. The conversation over dinner is about what opportunities God gave us during that week, what scripture says about it and how we can learn from each other's experience of God in the world. It's where faith and life collide.

We have several local expressions of love:

  • Reverb - glovesdig your heart out. Local businesses and churches sponsor garden makeovers for deserving local people and we get involved in this practical expression of love for the community;
  • wash your heart out. This is based on Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet as a way to get to know people. We're willing to be there to get to know people better by saying, 'If you tell us who you are, we'll wash your car';
  • sing your heart out. This took place last Christmas when we organised a carol service in the football field.
  • path people. A phone number that anyone disadvantaged can ring over the winter months to ask us to clear their path of snow and ice.

This is all relationship-driven ministry, not personality-driven. Looking to the future, I would say failure would involve everything depending on me and all falling apart if I moved on. It's important not to follow me but to follow Christ.

'Success' would involve inspiring people to love God and love their neighbour the best they can in small pockets of churches, maybe 10 communities of 10 members.

Reverb - tableHowever it shapes up, the crucial thing is to have small groups engaged in conversation and meeting over a meal.  You don't need a large group to achieve huge difference.  It's easy to engage in the 'attractional model' of large events, it's an entirely different ball game to create missional disciples.

Reverb's mission is to instigate and cause holy mischief and I pray that will continue and grow as we see what God is doing in this area.

The missional life is not easy! But the challenges and opportunities it throws up reminds me of St Paul's words,

We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. For we know how dearly God loves us.

Romans 5.3-4

Eagles Wings

Eagles Wings - groupEagles Wings is a church plant and community service ministry on a housing estate in Northamptonshire. It was founded by two neighbouring churches.

Two Northamptonshire Church of England churches were running a community ministry on a nearby council estate. A children's club and a family activity were each held monthly, while a team of 17 met every Tuesday evening to pray, worship and plan. Every member of the team lived outside the estate, but there was a growing desire to develop the monthly activities into church.

In 2005 the Diocese of Peterborough invited Richard Priestley and Mandy Priestley, of Church Army, to live on the estate. The Priestleys inherited a team, which they had to get to know.

Our first task was to live and to listen, to try to understand the team and to share a vision for how the church might look,

says Richard.

The vision was to create a community church, where a shared life might become evident.

Richard and Mandy along with the team spent the first year on the estate learning how to model Christian community. Richard and Mandy operated an open door policy to their home, encouraging the team members to eat with one another and setting the example by inviting members to eat with them regularly.

We opened ourselves up to them,

says Richard.

We tried to make the regular gatherings more social. We encouraged prayer for one another as a group, not just for the events and mission. We were modelling a fresh expression of church.

Eagles Wings: 'A place of refuge, a place providing spiritual food, help for practical problems and a listening ear'

The team began to share a vision for a church that would be

a place of refuge, a place providing spiritual food, help for practical problems and a listening ear.

One of the team's families moved house to live on the estate, while a few estate residents began to join in with the team's Tuesday night meetings.

Two types of members were forming in the now growing team: those living on the estate and those living outside, a development which caused Richard to experiment with dividing the team into two along these lines.

This caused some tension, but it helped us all to understand the needs of the estate,

Richard reflects.

We talked and listened through the problems and produced a different approach.

Two groups were formed but with mixed membership.

The process was helpful for community building and awareness of incarnational ministry, a focus of the mission itself,

Richard adds.

Some members left the team, partly as a result of this time of change, which proved a turning point in members' realisation of their commitment to Eagles Wings. While some wanted to continue, others realised that their time of involvement with the new community was over.

They left with a blessing,

Richard says.

We gave permission for the tired members to stop, and we ended one of the events as it was not working in the way it was intended.

Eagles wings - tableEagles Wings is now heavily involved on the estate. It runs youth work and children's activities and partners with other groups such as a Neighbourhood Learning project, which runs cookery courses for low income families, among other things.

Mandy and members of Eagles Wings run a breakfast club at the primary school, which makes contact with parents on the estate, and there is a partnership with a bicycle recycling project. A weekly Sunday tea reflects its vision for sharing and socialising with the local community. Held in a parish hall with around 55 participants, it has taken on 'an identity and a life'. Members have a chance to lead and contribute to the input.

A time of reflection is followed by tea. For a short period of time they tried once a month to have a reflection extending to half an hour of worship as 'a bridging event' for those who are drawing nearer to full participation in church life. This experiment did not work and was not continued. Other ways to bring people to worship are being sought. Small groups take place on alternate Tuesdays, with a central meeting for teaching and worship on the other Tuesdays.

Our vision is for a growing church, but our method is organic,

Richard says.

We want to be a community of faith that by its nature draws people to God, nurtures disciples and sends to mission.


Inspired by a year working with Metro Ministries in New York, Barry and Camilla Johnston are connecting with non-churched children and youth in their area by going to where they are.

Every Saturday for eight months of the year (spring/summer/autumn), they take their yellow Sidewalk van to the same local park where local children gather to play. The team run an hour of activities that include songs, games, a memory verse, a drama based on a Bible story, three object lessons and a life lesson (cartoon story tying it all together). Though aimed at the children, parents and older siblings tend to watch from the back. Some are increasingly helping in minor roles and making suggestions of what would make it better.

For all the children they befriend, appropriate longer-term discipleship of those who want to know more about the Christian faith is one that the Sidewalk community takes responsibility for. They make regular visits to the families of the children that come and are starting to look to establishing a community house as a base for some who are involved.

Sidewalk LogoThe Sidewalk community who facilitate this ministry meet weekly for food and fun. They meet in the park to continue to build relationships with families there and then gather in a team member's home. In terms of the fresh expressions journey, they are now preparing for the stage of what kind of worship will sustain them. What kind of deeper spiritual disciplines or input is appropriate for the community that is made up of seasoned Christians, new Christians and not yet Christians that all play a part in making Sidewalk happen?

Being a multi-cultural area, they have found many of the kids coming to Sidewalk are from Muslim families. As cross-cultural mission engagement with Muslim children and their families is not common, there are limited resources available for this kind of ministry. Therefore, they are pioneering something very precious and learning as they go.