Changing the Landscape 2011 - safespace and the Warrington Circuit

Friday, 6 May, 2011

Mark Berry and Loraine Mellor discuss safespace, Telford and the Warrington Circuit with Karen Carter.

Duration: 10:12   | Download Download mp3


Introducer: The interview which follows was recorded at the Fresh Expressions 'Changing the Landscape' conference at Oxford on the 6th May 2011. Those attending had just watched a video sequence about safespace, a fresh expression of church in Telford, taken from a Fresh Expressions DVD entitled 'expressions: making a difference'. It's available from our online shop. So here's Karen Carter talking to pioneer leader Mark Berry, and Loraine Mellor, Chair of the Methodist Notts & Derby District and previously Superintendent Minister of the Warrington Circuit.

Interviewer: Mark, first of all I think when we're looking at building relationships with various organisations, including the diocese, I also have to ask about building relationships with Telford United and to explain why on earth you were standing in that football ground on that clip.

Mark Berry: It relates very much to what I was saying in the video. One of the things we started was, as has already been said we didn't want to take a model off the shelf, that wasn't really what we were interested in doing, so we started with looking at Scripture and what some of the organisational strategies, some of the things that were being said and done and we, like others, came across Luke 10. And so I'm a football fan, I love football, I live football, and so I thought I'll go down to the football club, it's a community-owned – it's a fan-owned football club – and I rang up the chairman and said can I come and have a chat, and we sat in the control tower overlooking the pitch and I told him the story of Luke 10. I said you know, Jesus sent out the 72 and said go lightly, go with no baggage and offer peace, and if peace is returned go in and stay there. So I said look, this is what we want to do, but I haven't got a clue what peace would look like for Telford United football club, so would you mind telling me? And about an hour later he stopped talking, and I said well you know I can't promise to do any of that really, we'll just try – you know, if you're willing to let us in – we'll do what we can to be peacemakers in the community. And I'm now on the… I'm a trustee of the football club now, five years later, and on the board, and we're currently in the middle of a very tense playoff tie, so please think and pray for us on Sunday when we play the second leg.

Interviewer: And you've got good relations with the bishop and rural dean and everybody else?

Mark Berry: Yeah, I think it's important to have relationships that are about sharing of stories and accountability. We often say we don't know what we're doing, and we're quite – almost proud of that – but a willingness to go and just to take risks. St Brendan is our patron saint, so the idea of just setting sail and taking risks is very attractive to us. But in that we need people who are critical friends, who can help us process and think. But it isn't always easy because language is often challenging.

Interviewer: How about your new monastic visitor? I like the sound of that! Abbot Stuart Burns.

Mark Berry: Yeah, as the community has shaped over the last five years, and began to be described and to describe itself using language about monasticism, about intentional vocational intimacy and community, about rhythms of life, about a real sense of calling to our place as agents of transformation I guess, you know and part of our struggle about language was how do we learn, who are the people who we can ask to help to be those critical friends, we don't want to be reinventing the wheel. And Stuart I got to know through a conversation, Stuart's the Abbot of the New Mucknell Abbey, and we just asked him and said look, we want to know as much about what monastic life is like and we want to be told off when we're being stupid and making jumps and leaps, so please would you be willing to be a visitor and to help to sort of parent us. So we have the ecclesiastical and we have the monastic and you know, all of that helps to challenge and to shape us.

Interviewer: And just a little bit on the DVD clip we saw there, safespace – and how we measure these things is a big question – relatively small in numbers some people might say, some might see it as a glorified house group, what do you think about that?

Mark Berry: I take that on the chin, I think. We say we're intentionally small, when people ask us how big we want to grow as a core community – and remember we see ourselves very much as a vocational community, people who are called to share the vision of being agents of change and transformation in the town – the size that we can be is the number of people we can get around the table, because I think there's something really important about eating together, about sharing in making and eating a meal, in the bread and the wine at the heart of the meal table as the lifeblood or the mother's milk of mission. So for us that's ok. I don't mind what people call us, you know, if we're a glorified house group then I want to say thank you for that, could you please describe what glorified means because I take that as compliment.

Interviewer: Fantastic, follow that Loraine! Just looking back to your work with Warrington Circuit, a lot of fresh expressions going on there, a lot of things, was it sort of intentional circuit policy to develop that, or was it something that… they just grew organically?

Loraine Mellor: It was a both-and situation. I was working with a very young team in terms of age, I was the oldest and everybody else was under 40, and they had this need, particularly the presbyters, to do something different. And alongside that a lay team who were quite engaged in a lot of different activities within the life of the circuit. So we had a lot of different things going on, what we would call under the widest understanding of fresh expressions, both worship and church. And alongside that we decided that we would, when the opportunity came to replace a presbyter, what should we do? What sort of person do we need to help the circuit to develop and to grow? And so what we did were, we looked at having a probationer presbyter, but we wrote a specific job description that meant that that person had as part of their role fresh expressions and some pastoral responsibility, so that from the very outset, we knew that person would be rooted in a community, in a church, but would also be able to support and encourage other work in fresh expressions across the circuit. And God was good, that's what we got.

Interviewer: Fantastic, and what about your vision for Notts & Derby District?

Loraine Mellor: Oh gosh, there's people here! Close your ears… In a sense God's not given me a vision yet, I'm still sort of – I've only been there since September – I'm still praying, I'm still talking to people, I'm still listening. But it's about, for me, it's about being a permission-giver, it's about encouraging, it's about supporting, it's about helping people to take risks. Because in Warrington we took an awful lot of risks, some of which paid off, some of which went spectacularly wrong, some of which were absolutely brilliant and God did an amazing work in people's lives. So it's about helping people in Nottingham and Derby now to see that there is a big world out there and there are things that traditional church can do with the gifts and skills that God's given to us in our people.

Interviewer: What's been done, or could be done on the more radical edge would you say?

Loraine Mellor: We haven't used the word I don't think today, chaplaincy, but what we've got to do I think is do some real theological thinking about what that word actually means. And we have talked today about the world of work and of leisure, and we really need to grasp that much more than we have done already, and to look at this model of chaplaincy that we've had for so long within the life of traditional church and to get people into places where they can have conversations about God, however that might manifest itself. So to do some theological thinking about what does it mean to be a chaplain in a football club or the fire service or the health service or wherever it is that you work in your office, and to equip our people to be disciples so that they can share their faith in those sorts of places, alongside somebody perhaps who's working in there in a more formal role. I think that's something that we need to do some work on.

Interviewer: How long do you think that will take?

Loraine Mellor: It's going to take a lot longer than we think, these things always do. And we've talked today about funding, we've got this idea in our mind that three years is a good time, no it isn't. We need to think much wider, much broader and much longer than that and think that… the last speaker was talking about six months, you know, that's a good time but also some communities need to think much longer term about that, so think about the first twelve months of being in a situation and looking and finding out what's going on, you know listening to the communities, listening… talking to the directors of these places, and then sort of thinking about what is it that God's talking to us about, what is the vision, where are the skills coming from, where are the people, where's the money coming from. And so taking a much more long term view, I think we take too short a view. And if we do take too short a view then that's when we struggle, we need to take a much longer view. So I think five, six, seven years is just an inkling really of the amount of time that we need in some instances.

Interviewer: That's great, I'm sure that's going to stimulate a lot of conversation, thank you very much.