I am not a surfer but I had long heard about a “surfers church” in Polzeth called “the Tubestation” and was interested to check it out.
It was a baking hot day and I parked on the beach amid lots of crowds, looking up I saw people eating, drinking, chatting and laughing around what looked like a funky café, then I saw the word “Tubestation” written across the front of the building, and realised that the building had once been a Methodist chapel. This is where I had come to see.
As I drew closer the sign said: “Art gallery, cafe, church and skate park” -I loved the fact that they were unapologetic about their faith and who they were, sometimes Christian projects ironically seem to downplay the faith in element to the point where they sound embarrassed, apologetic even about being Christians (and I also feel that sometimes people can feel a little bit conned when they discover that there was “a hidden agenda”) but here was comfortable with admitting that faith in Jesus was part of the DNA of the project but also that everyone was welcome (sometimes a difficult balance to strike!)
I was a little early so wandered around their art gallery before wandering around the grounds when a very cool looking guy came up to me, asking “how I was doing?” and began to chat to me with a grin, I smiled and thought about those T.V shows where someone goes in undercover to see what something is like from a “punters perspective” -here they were doing well and being friendly and welcoming (either that or I looked so unsurfy that I stood out!)
I explained who I was and that I had come to see Henry, I met him -and got a free coffee- and he just finished up a couple of job before joining me. I had a look around and the venue was a funky café, with a skate half-pipe at the front of Church, above our heads were surf boards with the disciples’ names on the ceiling (I was sat underneath Judas, maybe not the best seat to sit in!), and tried to log on to the wifi (where their password was written up on an old hymn board and was “Romans 15”).
Why Romans 15, I wondered? I read Romans 15 and wondered why the had chosen it, I was struck by two of Paul’s prayers (I love the way Paul weaves seemlessly between preaching to and praying for in his letters):
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A prayer for Christians to strive to have an attitude like Christ (which causrs us to be fruitful) which takes endurance and we need to be encouraged that we maybe united to have one mind and voice -and that mind and voice be same -be one with- Jesus which brings glory to God. What a great prayer to pray over a Missional project that we are united not just with each other but also with Christ.
The other prayer in Romans 15:
”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.
This is a prayer I believe reminding us of our salvation and what we have in Christ, an evangelistic prayer. We named my little girl Hope. Hope is something our society and world desperately longs for. Peter reminds us that our hope is not a blind optimism but the person of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.
Anyway, I was jolted from my theological ruminations by Henry one of the leaders of the tube station, we wandered outside and say looking at the amazing view. I wondered how can people look at a view like this and believe in a creator God?
He was an interesting fella this Henry, the was telling me about the Cornish Christian heritage with the Celtic Saints who are often ignored (the previous evening where I was staying I had found a book on their book case and had a bit of a ‘crash course’ reading up on many wonderful heroes of the faith who had served God here in Cornwall). He was a bit of a New Monastic (which excited me, as myself and my friend Mark are trying to establish a new Monastic Community in Poole based around Activism and Contemplation, with exploring shared values and a rule of life). Someone on my wavelength when I was not expecting them to necessarily be on the same page as me!
The conversation sparked around all sorts of things, including how did the Church in the book of Acts (especially Acts 2 and 4) were people shared their lives together as an interdependent transformative community has somehow been reduced to passive attendance of a service in a building that lasts for just over an hour. “The problem of the Roman influence which over-took the Celtic Saints” was Henry’s reply (or it might have been mine!). Laughing, Henry said, “I guess you want to know about the Tubestation!”
The Tubestation may have a fantastic venue, in an amazing location, but is primarily about being a community of blessing (but being very grateful to God and the Methodist Church for their prime-site and facilities).
The Tubestation is something if oasis and centre for people to come and encounter Christ and is a welcoming community where people can just hang out and “BE”. I thought about the importance of somewhere that people can be, feel welcomed and feel a part of something positive and productive.
Henry continued saying that too often people come to the Tubestation and just want to ask questions about their Sunday worship, which over-looks and undermines who they are and what they do from Monday to Saturday.
Too often we have this weird “spiritual secular divide” where we prioritise the bit that is most familiar with our understanding of Church, yet a “Spiritual Secular divide cannot exist in a Christian world view which ceased to exist when God took on flesh and become one of us in what Christians call the incarnation, this idea was ripped apart when the Holy Spirit tour the temple curtain in half, declaring to the world that Jesus had cleared away every barrier between us and God).
Instead, the whole project is seeking to reach out to the communities of Polzeth with love and friendship. The whole project is Church, God is at work through and in people through the whole week rather than just on the Sunday morning.
Henry spoke of the place being upheld with a rhythm of prayer and how there are times when people are chatting about faith informally or perhaps gathered around exploring the Bible together. The Tubestation is more than just a load of social stuff spread around a Sunday morning service, but rather is a blessed community sharing blessing all the time.
Once again, I resonated with our current obsession with Sunday morning congregations, where “going to Church” in the form of a service is prized over authentically learning what it means to be the Church.
Henry began to also share how they get fed up with being called “a surfers church” (I did a quick check of what I had said earlier and was relieved to have once not put my foot in it!). Although many people who are part of the community enjoy the surf, there are lots who have never surfed (or skated) but instead it is a community seeking to bless Polzeth (“we are not some homogeneous unit, but a quite diverse community”) He spoke of blessing Polzeth, this means blessing a very transient groups of summer surfers who live elsewhere (and where you might not ever see the fruit that has done through their work and witness). Also, within Polzeth there people who have either holiday homes or come regularly and even though they are not here all the time a relationship can be built with them.
Henry also was keen to stress how they also want to bless the local residents, and talked about the life in Cornwall that is often unseen and hidden from the Tourists eyes, and how to minister to different groups and how the place changes during different seasons (and even different weather) requires them to be very reactive to what happens.
The work of the Tubestation changes to respond to the various seasons and rhythms of the year seeking to be a blessing and a witness, so it is a community in constant state of flux and transition, trying to follow the leading of the Spirit.
This I found refreshing too often Churches do their own thing no matter what else is happening around them “this is what we have always done” they say regardless of how ineffective or irrelevant is now is to the community and context they exist within.
Their building, is a versatile space, used by the community for all sorts of things (in fact it is hosting a wedding the next day) it is a physical space but one used as a resource around which a core community uses as a base around which they use to do life together and many people join with them sometimes briefly or for a season (alongside this the Tubestation also has workers who commit to coming and serving here for a year often from abroad again adding to the diversity of the community).
I shook hands with Henry and wandered off to meet the Street Angels of Newquay, my mind buzzing afresh about Church being a 24-7 missional community reacting, changing and responding to the ebb and flow of its context rather than a static unchanging edifice which people have to learn to accommodate and navigate which can at times be our experience of Church.
The challenge to dream afresh what the original divine dream of God was with his Church and to see it restored again in our time, and in our generation.