The Beacon

Monday, 14 February, 2011

The Beacon - Bart WoodhouseIt used to be an industrial heartland but the Dartford Bridge area became ripe for redevelopment and housing schemes began to spring up on Thames Gateway sites previously dominated by factories and business. The Beacon came into being when the local Methodist Church appointed Bart Woodhouse as lay leader of a new church plant team.

I moved on to the Bridge development in north Dartford with my family while the bulldozers were still very much in evidence in early 2008 so we were among the first five or six people to be here! At first we simply started just to try and meet anyone else who was around so we’d take our children out and about walking, bump into our neighbours and get some conversations going.

The Beacon - housesAs more and more people began to move on site, I was very keen to start a Residents' Association. We put letters through people's doors and organised an informal meeting in one of the new buildings; about 40 or 50 people come along to it.

We made it very clear that we were a church and that we wanted to work to try and build community here, firstly by getting residents together in that Association and giving them a voice.

That was a really effective way of initially getting the community together and being able to listen to what was going on. In new developments there are always issues with houses and how well the windows keep out water and so on - I was able to actually get some movement on those issues. We saw that as part of our role of building Kingdom. Part of our witness here as Christians was to consider how we could make this place a strong, vibrant and healthy place to be - so very early on we did things like holding a community carol service.

The Beacon - building siteWe then stumbled on the national Big Lunch initiative which encourages communities to get together for food and activities. We had a very popular tug of war, a bouncy castle and a barbecue. We also got local people to bring along some home-made food that expressed something of them and their background - a kind of signature dish. As a result of that we had goat curry and many other wonderful things! About 60 or 70 people come which, from the small community that we are at the moment, was quite a big proportion of the people here.

In our desire to help shape community we'll also be working to help create a community garden on a small plot of land on site that couldn't be built on because there's a high pressure oil pipeline underneath it. The youth club will be involved by creating a piece of art or sculpture for the centre of the garden.

The Beacon - threeWe had quite a small group of people with us when we started and now there is about nine and 10 on a core team. They all have a real sense of call to be doing this kind of work but we are learning again what it means to be community and what it means to be church together. We've also got quite a large and growing fringe group and we are using things like the Y Course and other things to encourage that fringe to maybe explore the Christian faith and then hopefully transition into the cell life of the church.

It has been very much about winning trust, listening, forming real relationships and friendships with people and trying to demonstrate something of God's love to them in a practical and real way.

The Beacon - Learning and Community CampusWe meet on a Tuesday evening in cell groups - or Beacon groups - and then on one Sunday in the month we all have a big meal together, maybe with some sort of interactive prayer time. The Dartford Bridge Learning and Community Campus has been built on site and we have a room there which is just the right size for us. We also launched a celebration service at the new school on the Bridge Development in January.

Some people want to try and argue that what we're doing isn't really church, saying that it's just an extended house group or something but I really would want to defend what we're doing here by saying that we are authentically church; we are a worshipping community together. We are also about God's mission, demonstrating the Kingdom in this place, worshipping him and finding ways that are relevant for us to do that. We certainly are creating disciples in what we're doing and encouraging others as to what it might mean to explore being disciples of Christ in this place.

The Beacon - brochureThere are a number of challenges that I think we face in trying to shape a full and healthy Christian community here. One of them is that I'm a lay person in the Methodist Church and so I'm not able to preside at the Eucharist meal. I think there needs to be a real integrity about these new communities we're forming in being able to celebrate that meal - and all that it means – together.

We aim to:

  • Build a strong church that is rooted in the fullness of God's grace and demonstrates the 'Jesus life' to our community and our world;
  • Always strive to foster a strong and real sense of community, one that isn't invasive but supportive;
  • Discover a pattern of Christian life that is 24/7, not limited or detached from the rest of our lives;
  • Follow Jesus, and by his Spirit, demonstrate his message to others.

Our long term vision here is to create a kind of pattern of church that is so integrally part of this new community and yet is authentically a church expressing all the Kingdom values and living out the message of Christ, seeing people discover faith in Jesus and having their lives changed as a result.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Monday, 23 March, 2015

VentureFX pioneer Bart Woodhouse gives the latest news of The Beacon Church at The Bridge housing development, Dartford.

Friday, 25 February, 2011

When the Dartford Bridge area became ripe for redevelopment the local Methodist Church appointed Bart Woodhouse as lay leader of a new church plant team. The result is The Beacon.

Wednesday, 1 December, 2010 On Demand clip

Bart Woodhouse tells us about The Beacon, Dartford Bridge.