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Friday, 26 November 2010

The Art Experiment at Totterdown

The Front Room Art Trail has been running each November in the Totterdown area of South Bristol for ten years. It's enormously popular; people open their homes and display work that is either their own or by the hundreds of artists who apply to take part each year. I used to love looking round these houses, enjoying the spirit of trust and community the event engendered, and wish that my church, Totterdown Baptist, could somehow be part of it. I think I thought that the church, with its focus on evangelism through words, wouldn't be interested, and that the Front Room committee, being rather arty, would look down on the church.

This changed very quickly when the trail decided to expand its borders and ask us to take part.. I don't get to look round many houses now, because for the last four years the church has hosted an exhibition of  between 15 and 20 artists each year. Every year I manage a waiting list of those trying to reserve a space. Every year the church serves teas, coffees, and lots of homemade cakes and chats to the wider community as they stream through on Saturday and Sunday. Front Room has become our front room, where the neighbours come in and have a chat. Some of them have become friends.Who knows how many of them see us very differently - or notice us at all - as a result.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Reaching Out with No Limits

This article appears in the Winter edition of WEBA News, our quarterly printed newsletter. Thanks to all those who spent time on the phone to me, enthusing about working and worshipping with people with learning disabilities - and to those I didn't even get round to speaking to. Please add comments about your own church's experiences!
It’s Sunday morning in the Crown Inn in Minchinhampton. Rose, the landlady, serves regulars on one side of the bar, some of them watching a group from the local Baptist Church on the other side, who are just finishing a Bible Study. This group now head to the function room at the back of the pub, ‘the barn’, where another group of adults have been busy with a hands-on activity. Now everyone moves to separate tables for prayer. After this, there’ll be a cooked lunch, and Rose, who provides the room for free, will also do all the washing up, simply because she thinks that “it’s wonderful what you’re doing in there.”

This is Specially 4 U, a group run by Minchinhampton Baptist Church in Gloucestershire, and it is only one of many similar groups around WEBA. They are responding to the social and spiritual needs of one of the largest unreached people groups in our country—those with learning disabilities. The group leaders I have spoken to all agree on one thing— serving this particular group of people  brings benefits to a much wider circle, both within the church family and outside.

Specially 4 U began as part of a fresh expressions initiative at Minchinhampton Baptist Church, and it has continued at the pub, running alongside the usual Sunday morning service. John Barnard, who has always fought for his own daughter to be recognised as an ‘ordinary’ person, is one of the organisers. He explains that the Bible Study in the bar came about was included for those not involved with the activities.

“We’ve had people from church come along who are obviously in a bad place—people feel more comfortable here.”
Many participants come with carers, often from residential homes. “The carers used to sit and read newspapers”, says John. “Now they join in.”

While the Crown is a fantastic venue for these services, its size means the group’s outreach is restricted—they can’t go out and actively invite more people living in the community. John feels that they will need to move back to the church building eventually, and would like the church to make this a more integral part of what they do.

John admits there can be a tendency for churches to be more comfortable isolating these groups from the congregation— “people think something is going to happen they can’t cope with” - whereas actually those with ‘learning disabilities’ can help us overcome some of the inhibitions that limit our services. Group members at Specially for You often interact with the Bible story by contributing stories of their own. When the music group sings, others tend to come to the front and sing with them. After this, he says, “you know that ‘ordinary’ church will be less of a spiritual experience for you.”

Jacky Newman’s son Tim has Downs Syndrome, and when she wondered what to do about the fact that he just didn’t fit in to the youth group at Southwick Baptist Church, she realised that here was a vast group of unreached people. She has now been leading their No Limits group for about thirteen years. The group meets three times a month on a Tuesday— two of those are social evenings, and one is a time of worship and sharing. There are about 16 group members, six of whom are active church members, and several have been baptised.

Jacky, too, remarks on the spiritual benefits of worshipping and learning with those with learning disabilities— “they come up with things you’d never thought about” - and that this kind of mission reaches a wide circle of people outside of the church: “The group has attracted more people into the church, and for some people it gives them a role within the church—something they can do.”
Gordon Cloud, who runs the Build Club at Clarence Park Baptist Church in Weston-super-Mare, agrees with this:
“I think what we do with Build is probably the best outreach thing we do in the church. It’s the fringe people—carers, houses, families—they’re seeing that the church is a caring place to be.” This group has also been running for about 13 years, and has the same format of two social events and one Bible Class every month. The group puts on its own outreach events—a concert with cream teas, a Christmas party. They are a well integrated part of the church family and take part in services, running two or three songs and doing readings.

Gordon is convinced that many churches are missing this opportunity to serve Christ and their communities. While many people with learning disabilities enjoy church and see it as an accepting place, they could be catered for more specifically:
“I think there’s a place in every church for a group of this sort, the way you have a group for children. Churches cater a lot for children but they don’t always cater for people with disabilities.”

Getting Started

  • The Build Club at Clarence Park is named after the support organisation of that name—the Baptist Union Initiative with People with Learning Disabilities. They offer  conferences, a twice yearly newsletter, resources, and support and advice. We’ve enclosed a BUild flyer with this newsletter, or you can contact David Buckingham on 01782 618966  to find out about joining.
  • Causeway Prospects  is an ecumenical organisation dedicated to providing “advice, training and resource materials to equip churches for effective ministry and outreach among people dearly loved by God and often marginalised by society” Their website is www.prospects.org.uk or you can contact them on 0118 951 6978.
  • Several of the people who we interviewed for this article are more than happy to chat about what you might be able to do at your church:
  • · Gordon Cloud can be contacted by email at gordon.cloud@googlemail.com or on 01934 628312. He would be willing to undertake informal training with people from local churches.
  • · Sue Wright also worked with the Clarence Park Build Group and now serves on the Build Committee. “We need the churches to know there are people with a wealth of experience they can come to” she says. You can contact Sue at  davidsue@headland1.plus.com or on 01934 420719
  • · If you’re starting with very few group members and want to find more, it’s possible to get the group listed with Social Services. People with learning disabilities and their carers put together a care plan which includes ‘spiritual development’ - social services may be grateful for a group they can refer people to.

  • · If you’re in Bristol, and your church needs a cleaner, you could offer a local person with Learning Disabilities the dignity and satisfaction that comes with work. A Clean Sweep is a co-operative owned and run by people with Learning Disabilities, and supported by Mencap. Contact them on 0117 9653492,  or see the WEBA website opportunities page for more contact details.

Toddler Time for Dads

For a number of years Fishponds Baptist Church has run a very popular “Toddler Time” group on a Monday and Friday morning.    There are forty places available at each session, and there is usually a waiting list.

In March of this year, the Associate Minister, Darren Smith, and one of the leaders of the toddler group, attended a seminar at Baptist House in Didcot, when a number of issues relating to toddlers was discussed.   One of the speakers was from an organisation called “Who Let the Dads Out”.    It was subsequently agreed that the church would start up a group for the dads, and so “Toddler Time for Dads” commenced in September.  

  The group meets on a Saturday morning once a month, and the format is very similar to the week day groups, except that bacon butties are served, and newspapers are provided.   The idea behind this initiative is that it is men organising the group for dads (and granddads), so there are two men from the catering team in the kitchen providing the refreshments, and Darren welcomes dads at the door and reads the story.   A few church dads come along with their small children and help to host the morning.   The plan in future is to organise a craft table, and finish the session with a time of singing.

After three sessions there are 28 children on the register, which has been a great encouragement.   All the dads say how much they enjoy bringing their children along, as they find it hard to join in a regular toddler group where they are often in the minority.

“Toddler Time” has been a great outreach opportunity, and good links are being made with people in the community – there are now eight families coming along from the road adjacent to the church, and they have all welcomed the opportunity to get to know each other.

A Christmas carol service for toddlers and their parents is to be held in December in the church, and this will provide an opportunity for families to hear more about the real meaning of Christmas.    This event was held for the first time last year, when more than 100 people attended.

If anyone would like to know more about running a toddler group for dads, then please get in touch with Darren, who will be more than happy to share his newly discovered gifts with the smallest people in the church.

Contact details:
Rev Darren J Smith
Tel:  0117 9651491

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Small churches...changes in culture

If you’re old enough (?) you’ll no doubt have noticed the catalogue of changes in our UK culture during the past 30 or so years.   (Just think back to the ‘flares’ you wore in the 70’s!).   Mission-shaped Church (a report by the C of E’s Mission & Public Affairs Council, 2004) highlights various social, cultural and spiritual changes in the UK since the 1970’s.  More recently, the charity, Tearfund, produced some sobering statistics on Church attendance in the UK (2007), which showed that 60% of the population of the UK are now ‘closed’ to the idea of attending church.  In other words, they don’t intend coming to your church or mine - no matter how good the music, preaching, coffee or ‘fellowship’ is.

This poses a challenge for many of us – as often our main model of church is an ‘attractional’ one.  That is we try to attract people to our services on the basis of our ‘worship’ (usually meaning our musical style and the songs we sing and tend not to sing) and the programmes we offer (such as children’s and youth work).  When we operate in a purely ‘attractional’ way, we overlook the 60% who report that they are ‘closed’ to coming to church.  Not only this, but those churches who are ‘challenged’ in terms of personnel and finance find that they can’t ‘compete’ in the attractional marketplace.

Recently, we held the first of our WEBA Mobilising Small Churches events.  The Regional Team are inviting our churches with fewer than 40 members to reflect with us on how such cultural changes have made an impact upon our smaller churches and how we might wisely respond to this situation.  We have already asked the question, ‘Whose church is it, anyway?’  And as we make our way on this journey we’ll reflect upon and ask, ‘If those 60% of people won’t come to us – how can we ‘go!’ (remember that Jesus word!) to them?’  What might it look like to explore a different model of being church – one that is more incarnational (living among the people)?  How can we learn to do life alongside those people Jesus calls us to love (our ‘neighbours’)?  And what does it look like in 2010 to love our neighbours and to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ where you live/work/socialise and where I live/work/socialise?  In Matthew 5 (The Message) Jesus says to his disciples, "Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth… You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world.”

What might that look like for our smaller churches as they move towards 2011?  And what might it look like for your church…and your life…and my life?
By the way…the invitation is still open for leaders of our smaller churches to join us on this important journey.

Alisdair Longwill, Regional Minister

Friday, 12 November 2010


 Adrian Duignan from Tring in Hertfordshire has sent us this report, which may be something some churches in WEBA have thought of trying:
Since 2008 High Street Baptist Church in Tring, Hertfordshire, has been opening on Friday nights between 11:30pm and 1:30am. Known as ‘Tea and Toast’, a small, glass undergallery area offers hot drinks, snacks and a place to sit. The rest of the church is open if visitors want to pray, sit quietly or use a toilet.

Churches in many larger places provide similar night drop-ins (e.g. Portsmouth and Stoke), but Tring has a population of only 13,000. Most nights see between 20 to 40 people come in; some have become Friday night ‘regulars’. Most are aged between 14 to 24 years old. Hundreds of questions about Christianity have been asked. Some visitors pray; others have taken the literature offered. At least one visitor has invited God into her life; at least one has joined an Alpha course. Some have attended our Sunday services and our Saturday morning drop-in. We’ve served on-duty emergency services staff and a doorman. Local R.E. teachers have been approached by pupils keen to discuss this outreach. Some visitors have offered to volunteer in the church.    

Tring hasn’t had enough volunteers to open a church and provide Street Angels / Pastors at the same time. But because of the many mutual benefits in having a church  open alongside street ministers, Tring’s volunteers do provide a limited street presence every Friday: 2 of the 5 volunteers stand outside and talk with curious passers-by, and provide help to those in need along a short stretch of the high street. By being patient and forgiving, these volunteers are building bridges with passers-by who are too cynical or afraid to go into a church. Recently some of our most abusive critics have started coming in for a coffee, having a polite chat and thanking us.

Even though this undergallery is mostly glass, there has been no damage. There has been no fighting inside or outside the church despite Tring usually not having a late night police presence, two pubs needing doorstaff, and one licensee resigning because of fights and drug use. Aggression and anti-social behaviour are common in the town centre but as we’ve earned our visitors’ trust we’ve tried to encourage personal responsibility among them, with some success e.g. several have acted as peacemakers when there have been confrontations outside, and some help us to encourage their friends not to shout (which is vital as the church is ringed by residential flats).

Volunteers come from 4 local churches, and most are over 60 years old. Our Lord has always provided the workers: on 2 nights when volunteers fell ill shortly before we opened, other volunteers felt called to come, without us needing to contact them. We don’t mention our faith unless visitors ask us to discuss it, but we pray that God will draw them to Him. Cards on the tables explain why we open, and notices explain we’re happy to pray for/ with people, whilst another invites people to take the books.              
We’re happy to share the many lessons we’ve learnt, and welcome any questions.
Contact:    Adrian Duignan  (project coordinator)
                  Tel.  01442 822536          adrian_duignan@live.co.uk   ( Please persevere )   
This project has been very difficult: many barriers have had to be overcome with prayer. Our mighty God has sustained and protected this work, in a small glass room in a town of just 13,000 with hardly any overnight police presence. He has calmed the storms. He has provided the workers. He has made many thirst for Him.   

Grange chooses Halloween to make a big splash for Jesus!

While many young people in Gloucester were dressing up to party or go out ‘trick or treating’ for Halloween. Two young ladies from Grange Baptist Church in Tuffley, Gloucester, were dressing down to be baptised and celebrate the day for Jesus. Jordan Smithson and Tracy Twomey were baptised by its new minister Rev, Tony Minter and assisted by Rachael Pryor the church secretary and Jordan’s Father Phil Smithson also on the church leadership team.

Rev Minter said afterwards. ‘Today was one of those special moving days that resonate with anyone who has been through the waters of baptism when we are reminded of God’s amazing grace, and for me one of the greatest privileges to witness and participate in the new life of faith with Tracy and Jordan.’
Grange deliberately wanted to mark the whole day as a thanksgiving to God and so  celebrations continued into the evening with a ‘Freinds and Family Party’ with games, food, song and a lot of fun!
If you would like more information about Grange Baptist Church
contact Rev Tony Minter; Tel: 01452 387583
e-mail: Revtony@rocketmail.com