Church Planting sometimes only speaks to us of one particular type of initiative. Rosie Nixson, curate of St. Andrew’s, Hartcliffe in Bristol tells us the story of something God brought about which may not fit with our picture of what a church plant looks like:
“I arrived at St. Andrew’s which is at the centre of a 1950’s housing estate of 12,000 or so population, in the June of 1994. A few weeks later, Brenda, a member of the congregation, felt God telling her to invite me up to her home one evening with my guitar, and that she should invite some of her neighbours and a few church members round to sing a few hymns and songs. In this way “The Lighthouse” started, as 2 hours’ worship, with tea and cake in the middle, every 3 or 4 weeks.
Brenda takes in sowing repairs, so half the estate beats a path to her home anyway, and it feels more like a ‘community house’, which makes it easier for people to feel comfortable about going there. Numbers are usually around 11-12, they are mostly women, and middle aged to elderly, the majority widows. We lack people who can take a lead, but with patient encouragement several members are discovering they can lead prayers, or a simple Bible study. We have had one communion service.
Perhaps the most distinctive features are the predominance of lively worship songs, and the very ad hoc arrangement of our meetings – usually Mondays, but also occasionally Wednesdays. We soon started to incorporate 20-30 minutes of Bible study/discussion, and a short prayer time, and people often stay well beyond the official end at 9pm, to share, and ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask.
People come because they enjoy it: the Lighthouse provides an opportunity for a style of worship not found in the main church, for informal learning, and for a good chat, and it aims also to be a beacon of light in the neighbourhood. There are about half a dozen non-Christians who are being drawn to real faith, while the Christians are growing in knowledge of God, and feel supported by the prayer and fellowship.
In the ‘village’ community of this kind of housing estate, the church can benefit by working through existing networks and friendships. If you want to give the plant a label, I suppose it is a mini version of the strawberry runner. It will never be autonomous, but it reaches one part of the parish which is furthest from the church and which feels quite distant from the centre:
there may be potential for similar groups in other parts.
It is also an experimental way of ‘being church’. Looking back, I wish I had known something about church planting when the group started: it just happened, and I had to try and discern what God was doing. But it seems it is just one small example of a new flower blooming, and we are trying to be open to God to see where he may take us in the future.”
This article was originally produced for an ACPI circular called “News From”. This paper publication was published and distributed between 1997 and 2001. Please bear in mind that the articles were written several years ago, and circumstances may have changed and people may have moved on.