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 firstname.lastname@example.org ( 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.