I like…

postman royal mail vanI like being a part of a community where the postman knows exactly where you live, recognises you, and pulls over in his van to give you a parcel that you’ve missed.

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Walking Worship

photo-6Yesterday we had our first experiment of Walking Church, which we titled, Walking Worship (simply because of the alliteration). This was inspired by Wood Green Mennonite Church experiments in London which I came across at the 2012 Greenbelt festival.

Meeting at 10am on a Sunday morning, we undertook an hours walk round a local woods, at toddler pace, with stops in three places. At each stop we paused to hear or reflect on some part of our theme. I’d picked Isaiah 44 as our reading as we were walking around some firs which were grown and felled in rotation to supply the joinery industry. In the passage, the carpenter takes a piece of wood and with some of it he builds a fire to heat himself, he roasts his meat over some of it, and with the rest, if fashions an and bows down to it and cries out for salvation. So we ended up thinking about what man-made things we rely on to save us in certain situations.

So at the first stop we heard the reading. At the second, a brief reflection on it, and at the third stop we joined in prayer. For the children, there was a wood-based scavenger hunt to keep them busy on the way, and the prayers were visualised by blowing large bubbles. After the walk we all decamped to the coffee area of a nearby Garden Centre.

Numbers were small – a few of our regulars had other commitments that morning and perhaps people didn’t feel confident enough in the format to invite friends along, so there were only four families. I was encouraged that the husband of one church member, who would usually not come near a conventional church service, felt able to cycle round the woods as we were doing our Walking Worship and to join us in the coffee shop afterwards, so he didn’t feel he was entirely excluded.

The route itself was a nice one, but the person who scoped out the walk remarked that a circular rather than linear route would have been better. After the final stopping place we found ourselves at our furthest point from the start, so of course we all had to walk back, but generally it was ok.

The content of each stop was squarely aimed at the adults, and this mean the adults felt they got something out of it. The kids were generally happy running around or following the bubbles, and were all pretty well-behaved, but I wonder if something more for them  during the stops might have made more of an impression on them.

I had also hoped that people would naturally think about and discuss the theme or reflection as they walked, allowing time for people to process it. i don’t think this happened (although people did get a good chance to catch up whilst walking which is also valuable). Perhaps if I’d given a question to ponder on each section of the walk, it might have reinforced the theme a little more.

Overall, I was relatively happy although I still need to get feedback from those that came (and from those who opted to be elsewhere). At Christmas I’ve had the idea of doing a walking ’9 lessons and carols’ around our development, and we’ll have to decide as a core team whether to do another walking church before then.

If anyone else (outside of Wood Green) has done walking church, I’d be interested to hear your experiences.

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New Beginnings in Derby

A couple of friends of mine has just started pioneer mission work in an area of Derby, and this is what they have to say about their new role.

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Northampton Inter-faith study final report

faithFollowing the survey and consultation into the needs of Northampton faith communities, the organisers of the study have released their Final Report which can be read here. My notes on the final consultation meeting can be read here.

As a summary, they agree that there are some faith communities, primarily Muslim and newer Christian groups who have a need for extra provision of places to meet. Most of the requirements are geographically constrained so an all-purpose city-centre location would not suffice.

They recommend the council produce a simplified guide into the planning procedures for places of worship or for adapting existing buildings to meet the need. They also recommend a list of currently available D1 properties – those which are already classed as institutional buildings (in some sense) and would therefore not require the same level of planning regarding change of use and would therefore, in many cases, be more appropriate for ease of conversion.

None of this gets us any closer to the community centre in St. Crispin’s but it may open the way for ease of planning for us in the future.

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The New St Crispin’s Coffee Shop!

IMG_1218Back in January I posted that the coffee shop on St. Crispin’s had closed after two years in business. A few phone calls informed me that there was a long list of people interested in taking the premises to reopen as a cafe. At the top of the list was a business-woman who had made a success of a beauty salon just across the way. She was interested in starting a second business in the same location.

Little Pickle opened on 7th May and there are a number of improvements to the previous coffee shop. The whole store has been refurbished and finished to a high standard in rustic wood. The place is much more suited to children than it used to be, with a selection of toys and games on hand, inside and out. The cakes are from a local supplier giving them a home-made look and taste, and the tea and coffee is of the highest quality. You can follow their latest offerings and specials on the Little Pickle facebook page.

But there is more than this. The owner, Nicola wants to generate business during the low times and also wants to benefit the community. She has said that the 9am-11am slot is a bit quiet, so providing something during this time to pull people in would be ideal for her. We have been looking for a space to do something with toddlers and pre-schoolers for some time, and Nicola has been very agreeable allowing us to use her new cafe.

So, starting in September, we will be launching a drop-in craft group in Little Pickle Coffee shop on Wednesday mornings. The idea is that parents can pop in after dropping their older children at the nearby school, or simply come along and get to know other local mums and dads, and enjoy a coffee and cake whilst their children get to engage in some creative activity. Our current name for this is Sticky Fingers, but we are open to other suggestions. We’re hoping this will be beneficial to the coffee shop, as well as to Berrywood Church as we provide a much-needed group, within walking distance, for toddlers and build more relationships with local parents.

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I just published this on the other blog, but the thoughts are also pertinent here:


IMG_0113I was talking to a local minister who works on a UPA estate the other day, and he was telling me about the make up of his community. In his area, people have very strong social bonds with their extended family group, who, by-and-large, haven’t moved far away from the home they grew up in. A number of such groups exist on the estate, and there is little crossover between them. The result is that if you get to know one or two members of a group you then get access to the whole group. In his case, a couple from one group started coming to his church, and soon enough most of the group were coming. This reminded me of hearing about some historical cultures, and some  tribal cultures today, where the religion of the tribe or group depends on the religion of the chief. Still today, some orthodox Christians in Ukraine date their conversion to 988, the year King Vladimir was baptised in the River Dniepr. As the king goes, so goes the country.

Often Fresh Expressions of church focus on building community, and that is exactly what we are trying to do here. A sense of community is something tangible that new-build developments often lack, and people notice it most when they stop work and have their first child. Their previous social networks are closed to them or more difficult to access so other local and child-friendly networks are needed. But this is a middle-class area, which is different to UPA areas. It seems, as you climb higher up the social ladder, finding a meaningful community which springs out of the locality becomes increasingly difficult.

This is something that Trystan Hughes picks up on his recent book, The Compassion Quest. Isolation is seen as something to be sought:

We are taught from an early age, either consciously or subconsciously, that detachment is something for which we should aim. It may even seem to us that the more successful we are, the more we earn the ‘privilege’ of privacy. We may well begin our adult lives in a terraced house, but then we work hard so that we can ‘upgrade’ to a semi-detached house. Then our dream is to purchase a detached house. If money is no issue, we might then buy a house with a large garden surrounding it, separating us from our neighbours. Worse still, for security reasons we might then erect large fences and gates around our shiny new house , which shut us in and shut the rest of the world out.

There is talk in Christian circles of a return to community living (or at least community principles), and there have been experimentations in ‘New Monasticism’ – a community which lives by a rule of life (and which may or may not live together). But contemporary expectations in housing, and even in the design of our new developments are often at odds with community-building. For instance, how do you live i community when all you have to work with are distinct single-family dwellings? Development design is slightly better than it was twenty years ago, but only marginally. Houses are designed as mini-castles. Now, the front garden, a place where you may have once sat outside saying ‘hello’ to passers-by, or where you may have done the gardening, are commonly replaced by hardstanding parking or removed altogether. (Most of the houses on my development have only a few feet of front garden). Outside space is now only in small, private, back gardens. In many cases, parking is at the back of the house meaning that people don’t use their front doors – another opportunity to bump into your neighbours is gone. In a neighbouring development (20-30 years old), there is no public place to meet besides the play park. At least we have a coffee shop and, hopefully soon, a community centre.

We need to be connected yet in many ways, our current society makes it more difficult than ever to form close communities. It remains a challenge for those in Christian groups to build community and live out our interconnectedness. God is connected to each one of us and we find we share in his riches better together than alone. In fact, the desire for connectedness and relationship is an integral human need. We are hoping that our connection to God demonstrates itself in the way we relate to other people. The first two commandments that Jesus affirms in Mark 12: are actually two sides of the same coin. There can be no love for God without love for one another, as he is Father and Creator of all. It is also He who informs, guides and enables our love for others.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (mark 12:28-34)

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Some More Numbers

numbers on tarmac

It has been suggested to me that I start keeping numbers of who we are in contact with and who comes to our group, so that when I next meet with the steering group who guide my project (and who are responsible for the report which might influence future funding) we have something concrete to go by.

We all know that numbers do not make a church, and even in established churches, Sunday attendance doesn’t give the whole picture. The national church is beginning to use a different measure. However, numbers can help us work out if what we are doing is, at least, connecting with people.

Starting with the overall reach, I estimate that we are in regular or semi-regular contact with 93 adults.

At our Sunday Gatherings, we have had 27 different adults through the door (excluding my daughter’s dedication service when 30 adults were there). Out of those, 16 adults and 12 children are what I would call regulars. Out of the regulars, this gives a theoretical maximum of 28 people including children on Sundays. And here’s a fairly meaningless stat that I like: this means that since we arrived here in 2010, we have had 933% growth(!), or 100% growth since we started the Sunday gathering with the initial core team in May 2012. Those outside our core team who have become regulars at our Sunday Gatherings have come due to an existing friendship with us or a member of our core team.

At the Little Bundles mums group, we have had 16 different mums through the door. Attendees change gradually as kids get older, mums go back to work, and as new babies are born. At the moment we get between 2 and 7 to a session, which is ample for our front room.

Our Friday Mums Bible Study group has a consistent attendance of six mums, whilst our children’s worker and I lead activities for the toddlers.

Book Club is fairly consistent too, with eleven active members and one who used to come.  Monday Night Football has 21 active members (although they don’t all come every week, resulting in games of 6-8 a side). Our Curry and Questions group, which sprung from relationships formed at football, started with four of us and now has six who have come, and two who would have made it last time but for being on holiday.

At rough count, I estimate 30 adults on the development who we have contact with who aren’t members of the above groups. This contact comes through the Northamptonshire Country Centre, the Residents Association, the school, and other friendships which have formed through the community, or mutual friends or something like that.

So, there you go, make of them what you will. I maintain the key to being a part of the community is getting involved in what is going on, and in being friendly, open, hospitable, and welcoming to those around. And undoubtedly this contributes to church growth too. It is important that relationship-building remains something we all do in the community, even as the number of Sunday regulars gets larger.

I’m aware that the above figures give no indication of how many are interested in exploring faith, or of spiritual growth for the regulars. The latter issue is something we hope to be doing week by week and we are looking at ways of helping those new to the faith explore more deeply too. Whilst we are still small and not, by any means established, we are moving in the right direction, which is encouraging. But we are still a long way from being self-sustainable, and perpetual problems such as resourcing the activities we hope to provide, and location, remain.

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