authentic (?) - update Oct13

Monday, 21 October, 2013

Five years ago, a small team was formed to work in Glasgow Harbour, a new development just outside the city centre. Five years on, the team leading authentic(?) have made the difficult decision to leave, and reflect on their experience.

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Alex Smeed: We began in authentic(?) by doing some deep listening to the culture of the area so we filled out a mission audit which we undertook over a year and the things that came out of that were a lot of information about the kind of culture, the type of people who live in Glasgow Harbour and they really showed us that there was no gathering places in Glasgow Harbour and so we decided, 'How can we meet that need? How can we gather people together?' So we did some initial steps, like we started an authentic curry house, we looked into doing some blessing ministry by offering free coffees, we looked into just doing a whole bunch of leaflet dropping, micromailing we called it, where we went round the blocks and were able to put things in people's letterboxes just to alert them to our presence here in the area.

One of the things we found was that recruiting a team has been difficult. We envisioned having maybe eight or 10 people as part of a team to give us energy and drive for taking things forward in Glasgow Harbour and the difficulty has been – because we had such a high bar for the team - we had such a sense of, 'We want to work with people who share values, who want to buy into the area and move in, spend their hours when they’re out of work helping to make the authentic thing real'. It's meant that a lot of people have backed off from actually committing to that team so even though we’ve engaged with 15 to 20 - maybe even 30 people - over the years, none of those have actually eventually joined the team.

At the beginning of this year we began to engage with the question of where was authentic(?) going to? Our team members were going to work with an overseas mission agency and so the reality was we were facing it just being Sally and myself taking the ministry forward in Glasgow Harbour. And we had to ask the hard questions like, 'Have we achieved what we wanted to achieve?' All of us as a team know that we have done what we set out to do which was to live out the values of God's Kingdom in Glasgow Harbour but the problem is it's not blossomed and flourished as we maybe expected it to. And so there was a recognition that maybe if we had a bigger team that we would be staying and we'd be taking those forward but there was also the hard reality that maybe it wasn't quite what we expected.

One of the things that we have learned is how important it is to recognise the limits of your own energy and of your own time. Even just doing one event; you've got so many legislative and administrative barriers or things, red tape that you have to cut through, that it's almost like the iceberg vision. You know, you've got all the work that goes on behind, you've got the creative energy into thinking what this event's going to be like; you've got all the permissions that you've got; you've got insurances; you've got everything sorted and then you've got this one event that might only last for an hour or two – and you might never run it again. And so there's something about recognising the deep reserves of energy that a team needs to have to actually take things forward in a fresh expression. I think when you have a team of four people who are engaging with people in the area of work that you're working in suddenly, if you had a team that was double that size, or maybe even triple that size, you would have three times the relationships; you would have three times the number of people to engage with, to invite to events and there would be a further sense of actually making headway in the ministry that you're doing. So there is something key about team; there is something key about the size of that team and the energy that that gathers around the values of the project.

Sally and I, as part of the team, live about 500 metres away from the development up the hill in an older part of Glasgow and two of the other team members, Debbie and Paul, actually live in the Harbour and a lot of the success that we've had has been because Debbie and Paul live on floor 10 of their building. A lot of the relationships have been because they've met their neighbours, they've blessed them with cookies, they've invited them to charity meals they've had in their flat, they've invited them to brunch, which is our kind of spiritual discussion group, and so a lot of the success that we've had and the relationships have been built because of people actually living in the development itself.

We were in a situation where we were having to buy our own property and, because of the expense of living in Glasgow Harbour, we weren't able to buy a flat in the area in which we were going to be working. And so we bought one as close as we could but even with that there's a barrier, there's a main road, a dual carriageway, between us and Glasgow Harbour and there is that sense of almost two different cultures between where we live and the Harbour itself.

I think when it comes to supporting churches and denominations, I think there's something about making sure that folks are part of the community that they're reaching out to – some of that means that there's going to be expense and there's going to be a sense of investment in the area and that probably comes even before you start thinking about salaries and whether people are supported financially, there is something about actually having a presence in the area. In Glasgow Harbour there's very little gathering places, there's no pubs or cafes, there's the BP garage down the road and so there's nowhere for us to actually have been a presence in the area - other than having a flat in the development itself.

One of the things that we've come across in our work in authentic(?) has been how we deal with how overt we are with the fact that we're Christians. In the past we've had issues about things that we've done where we've tried to flow with the culture, so much so that people didn't necessarily know that we were Christians and so we had to change our practice. It was about two-and-a-half years ago where we discovered it was much better to be more overt about who we are. Other churches and fresh expressions, who might be more overtly Christian, might not have this problem but it's one of the thing that we've really learned is how to be obvious about who we are so that there's no sense of confusion and there's no sense of people wanting to stand back from finding out who we are.

I suppose, culturally, when we think about barriers there has been a lot that we found out in the mission audit about the type of people who live here, the hyper individualism, the sense of people being on their own, in their own flats, behind a locked door, behind the security entrances. There has been something really important about us engaging with that and trying to break through that barrier and yet time and time again, we've come across that sense of individualism that separates people a little bit from their neighbours and from that sense of wanting community with them.

In other developments that we have visited, there has been a clear identification between people starting families and fresh expressions really blossoming. So there's something about the way in which Glasgow Harbour has really been a difficult place in which to minister because there's so few families here. A lot of people are private, they're individualised in terms of their worldview, and it's been hard to actually commune with them, to have that community, to have that sense of all being together in Glasgow Harbour. So there is something about the area in and of itself which has acted, in some ways, as a barrier to creating community.

I think there is something about looking at whether - alongside doing community work and living out kingdom values - there is a need to have a gathering, a regular gathering. I think that's one of the key things about fresh expressions and about the whole movement is seeing that it's not about starting with a church service but there is an innate momentum and energy that is gathered in that place when you do have a service that we've maybe missed out on a little bit. And so maybe we would not start with a service but, maybe a year in, maybe two years in, we would have started thinking about, 'What does a regular gathering look like?' And maybe had some tentative steps at starting them.

This story is an update to:


Hi Alex,

Maybe you could do a Pop-Up Restaurant / Supper Club event to bring the people of Glasgow Harbour. I would imagine that those who live alone would enjoy the occasional meal with other people- their neighbours? Some links to websites:- and

Regards, Nigel

Hi Alex,

I see that your other article mentions that you already run Authentic? Curry House.

Regards, Nigel

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