I can’t believe it was 4 years ago that we launched All Souls.
I remember our first meeting we had (we got delayed due to unforseen circumstances) so four of us wandered around this estate prayerfully before coming back together and shared communion together in a car park on a pasting table, as a sign of prophetically ‘claiming’ the area for Christ.
It was funny as I remembered having done something similar in the first couple of weeks of having started in the post, I wanted to start by praying around the local area with the congregations. The first Saturday I went to Hanham Mount (where John Wesley preached his first sermon to the Kingswood Miners, 16’000 of them!) but only 6 people came and (one was under sufferance as his nan made him!). The next week we went to Southey Park, the part of the Parish without a Church on it. One lady turned up and a friendly vicar from the next door parish came to support us.
As we wandered around the area we came to a ‘vantage point’ where I could see roughly a third(ish) of the parish, row upon row of windows stared back at me. How will these people hear about Jesus I remember thinking? The weight of the promises I had under taken earlier that month came flashing back at me making me feel somewhat sick with the fear of it all.
The apathy the Church showed towards prayer and the lost was heartbreaking (someone once said of the parish “they’re not very good at the God stuff”).
I remember going home afterwards just feeling utterly crushed by the size of the mountain to climb in this area, “God if you don’t show up I don’t know what I’m going to do” I remember whispering as Allana (my wife and I prayed together).
Yet slowly doors had opened up, I had got involved with a great community project called the Kingsmeadow Community flat, and had enjoyed getting to know this community that had been largely overlooked by the local Churches (yet interestingly when you see the statistics for this area it is clearly the area where the Church is needed the most, highest or lowest for the things you don’t want to be high or low for, in fact even the life expectancy in this area is lower than the rest of Kingswood.
One day several months later I was doing a fun day at the flat, with a friend of mine singing Ronan Keating covers, and I felt a prophetic tug to take the mike… “SING, SING, SING” a couple of folk shouted out (trust me no one wants that!)… I got up and said “I’m Andy, I’m one of your local vicars, and I just want to say a massive sorry that we as the local Church haven’t been here as much as we should have been, and we want to try our best to serve you better in the future”. -Probably if members of my congregation heard this they would have got stroppy, but sometimes you have to take spiritual responsibility for stuff and make a public pledge.
Here we were a few years later about to plant a Church here in a small pre-school building, with ivy growing up the inside walls, in this local area.
There was a skate park behind us, we had given out millions of flyers, and had had a women share with me how she had lost her faith when her baby had died, this was going to be tough many people here carry much hurt and brokenness.
I looked around at Sam, Rachel, Rob and Mandy, a Gideon’s army, a wonderful couple in their twenties and people from the larger Church that lived this side of the parish and were Kingswood born and bred.
I was painfully aware this was a tiny team, and that we had little or no money.
Another local Vicar had told me he thought I was crazy doing this, yet I had chosen to ignore his “friendly” advice. -I have learned there is nothing spiritually mature about jadedness, cynicism or defeatism-.
Yet God had provided us (rather miraculously) with enough rent to cover the first couple of months, and enough to cover our publicity too, even though the other Churches in our team hadn’t/wouldn’t be giving any. Yet I have discovered that even when the Church has lacked generosity, God has been so wonderfully faithful, and proved himself time and again to be Jehoviah Jiriah (our God who provides).
Anyway our launch was big and noisy, with archdeacons and other important people coming along, but I knew the next week once the launch was over was anyone going to come?
Yet amazingly, God has been very faithful and we did grow into a small congregation and even had the immense joy of baptising a couple of people that had made re-commitments.
Although, we also discovered the painful jealousies of the other Churches, you hear stories of older children biting and hitting their baby brother or sister because they feel jealous, and for a season one Church in particular went out of their way to be really mean, which was really difficult and painful at the time.
Sometimes understanding why people are being mean does not stop it hurting.
I have learned that to succeed in the job of Church leadership one has to have to hide of a rhino, but I wonder if one ends up like that whether we cease to be any use on the ground with broken and hurting people?
It was great to be able to push on deeper into worship, to learn together about spiritual gifts and normalise their use, wonderful to be much more relaxed and informal.
We were joined by a number of other Christians, which was lovely, but I did begin to worry were we just having a lovely self indulgent worship time with Church as we’d like it rather than being the transformative community we longed to see.
Yet over the last 18 months it does feel as though as a community we have been pruned, to the point which feels very vulnerable and scary. Yet as I have reflected on this I’m not sure it is altogether a bad thing, we as broken and sinful human beings long to be comfortable, and yet the spirit longs for us to seeking God and knowing our dependence on him.
I also dreamed that starting a new community would mean leaving all the pain of churchy politics and stuff behind, yet sadly although our worship style had changed, people are still people and brokenness is still a reality in us, those we serve and those we journey with, and sadly being a small group this somehow manages to intensify pain rather than diminish it, and at the end of four years, we definitely feel that we are still standing because God is faithful but have picked up a few scars along the way.
In many ways it feels as we approach today the 4th Birthday that we aren’t that far away from that small group of us gathering around that pasting table, where we have been pruned, cut right back, but yet still standing and still hopeful for what God is going to do through us for the future.