Berrywood Church

Tuesday, 25 November, 2014

Andrew Dunlop is the pioneer community vicar at Berrywood Church, Northampton. He tells how the fresh expression of church has developed in the past four years.

We moved to St Crispin's in August 2010. It's a new-build development to the west of Northampton that was mostly finished by the time I, and my family, got here - though there's still work to be done on an old psychiatric hospital in the middle of the estate.

The transformation of this area certainly hasn't been completed yet. In 2012, building started on 80 new houses for a neighbouring development which was then joined onto ours. Those houses were finished about six months ago.

A further site, which also used to house a mental health facility, was levelled just over a year ago and there will eventually be 500 houses there; there are about 150 occupied at the moment. A further 2-2,500 houses will also go up nearby.

When I first arrived I expected to find a community centre in the process of development which would be ready for use within twelve months- but that still hasn't happened! As a result we've been limited in doing any large-scale community ministry because there was nowhere on the estate to hold it.

Berrywood Church - craftAt the start, my wife Sarah and I met with a small group of committed Christians to pray about how we could serve this area. Our focus wasn't on finding a place to worship, but on discerning what was happening in the existing community, become aware of the gaps, look to find a way of serving here and develop a fresh expression.This area has a very high proportion of families with young children and that's what we focused on for quite a while.

As time moved on, we startedmeeting on a Sunday once a month. It was May 2012 and, by then, we had a core team of about seven. When we launched our Sunday worship we were joined by other friends, which included three couples who were unchurched but who wanted to give it a go. Those same three couples continue to be quite regularly involved with one couple becoming particularly committed. Today we have a group of 20 adults who are reasonably regular at Sunday worship, half of whom are unchurched or with not a lot of experience of church. Initially, we launched in our front room, but quickly moved out to a nearby Free Church building, unfortunately not on the estate. After about a year, we outgrew that too and we're now meeting in St Luke's Community Centre in the next village - a great building but in the wrong location.

We are not all at the same stage of faith; there are always challenges but, as people grow in faith, they are hopefully thinking more openly and more regularly about mission. We've got all sorts of activities going on, including Zumba, a Bible discussion group for women called Bible and Bubbles, and a craft group for toddlers and pre-schoolers in a coffee shop on our development. From the beginning we've also put on curry nights and football in order to actively engage with the men –as well as the women and children here.

This year, we introduced a new pattern for our times together on Sundays. On the first Sunday of the month we go and take part in a Messy Church run by Upton Baptist Church which takes place at a local school on the neigbouring development.

Berrywood Church - eating a biscuitOn the second Sunday, we have an all-age family service in the main hall of the St Luke's Community Centre. It's a similar concept to Messy Church, with inclusive, creative crafts based on the theme. We may also have a game and a short talk.

Our existing monthly service - The Gathering - has children's activities run in parallel to the main session, allowing time for more in-depth teaching of the adults. I was concerned that if I was always going to be speaking to the children, I wouldn't have the chance to say something of substance that adults could take away as well. So we decided to do it twice a month and this now takes place on the third and fourth Sundays at the St Luke's Centre. The Gathering includes an interactive time of input, and discussion on a theme, followed by an early evening meal.

If there's a fifth Sunday, we arrange a social activity of one kind or another. Whatever we do, we try to keep it informal and discussion-based with lots of input through videos and other material.

We do have a core team of 8adults, and individuals have started to take some responsibility for different areas of the church's life, but the team's main focus is on ideas and which direction we should be going in. Interestingly, part of the challenge for us is that we have the sort of church where everyone, apart from two people, has children under the age of five. We are thankful for this, but what we actually don't have are people of middle age and upwards.

Don't get me wrong, we are extremely pleased and blessed to have families and kids but, as a result of this demographic, it makes it difficult for people to commit to leading things outright. Thankfully, we now have a children's and families worker, Carol Jeffs. She is employed with us part-time and is able to put together the crafts and children's programme.

Berrywood Church - ChristingleEncouraging leadership, generally, is quite difficult. Even in terms of music I'm the only one who plays an instrument so it was down to me to lead and preach and play the piano; it all got a bit too much. Thankfully we now have volunteers from another churchwho turn up once a month to play for us.

Having attracted a fairly consistent group to the church, during 2014 we decided we needed to focus on discipleship. We ran an Alpha course as part of our Sunday worship, it took six months but it had a particularly big effect on five people; a couple of them made commitments and then we started up a bit of one to one mentoring. When that's finished, I'm hoping to bring the men together in some way.

Funding for my post comes to an end next August (2015) after five years. For me, personally, the Diocese (Peterborough) has been very supportive and we have been thinking for a while how to keep this going. After the end of the funding, we will become part of the local Anglican team in Duston which will, by then, be under new leadership.One thing is for certain, there's still a lot to dohere, with huge opportunities on the new-build developments as well as the more established areas, it is all very exciting and we are not planning to move yet!

Comments

Coming from Northampton I know the estate. I am now in Sussex and have a similar scenario with an old mental hospital and a new estate having been built there. I am 10 weeks in and still struggling to find Christians there in order to meet and pray! I also have the village church and another church to look after so to say I am spread thin is an understatement!

A challenge is to get the existing church/es to see the estate as a mission field. They all seem quite busy just trying to keep their own ships afloat and can't launch out on anything new which doesn't fit their agenda.

Its a deep challenge.

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