The Order of the Black Sheep - Apr12

Monday, 23 April, 2012

Mark Broomhead updates the story of The Order of the Black Sheep in the first of a series of quarterly updates.

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Transcript

Mark Broomhead: The Gates is.. it's a café through the day, a kind of alternative café - you're in our little 1950s-style dining room here at the moment and we've got more of a gothic-style room through there and our bar area. Also we've got our chapel as well so it's a place of worship as well as being a café.

The Archbishop of Canterbury came along at the end of September when we were just sticking the last few nails in the wall and I think most of the paint was still wet when he walked through the door, but he came and had a look round and opened it for us which was nice.

I think sometimes there's a perception that the church isn't welcoming to all groups and I think it's a little bit tongue in cheek but I think we wanted to create a name that made people feel that if they felt like a black sheep, that this was a place for them, that they could come and there wasn't any barriers in that kind of way to stop them coming into church.

We've a mixture really but quite a lot of college students and people who would probably call themselves part of what is called the alternative culture, so people who are a bit gothy, skaters, all that sort of thing. People of all ages as well. People know what we're about, not all wanting to get involved in the religious side of it as they probably call it but building a lot of relationships and lots of partnerships with other agencies such as the local college, there's people working with learning difficulties locally that we're pairing up with, we're doing some work with a project called Church on the Bus that you may have come across - they're doing some of their mentoring with people who are homeless who want to move out of that, they come here and use our facilities and we try and work together on stuff, so all sorts of stuff going on really.

I think most of the people that we're working with haven't got a clue what church is in the first place. People who haven't had contact with church in the past, but actually are searching, so this is a place where they can come and kind of see what's going on. But it's very slow and very early days, so we'll see how it goes.

I guess we're sat here as any other church in the diocese really, I've got good relationships with people in the deanery and everyone's very interested in what's going on, not everyone particularly understands - probably including me because I haven't got a clue what I'm doing - but I think that's part of the charm of it perhaps.

We can exist as a church that doesn't work within the parish, so we exist... well we do exist within somebody else's parish but not as part of that structure in the same way I guess. So it allows us to be established as part of the Church of England rather than just floating out there all on our own which is really nice to have that support and structure around us and for us to be able to give back into that community as well.

Throughout the day it acts as a café, we're... at the moment we're trying to work on things as well - I've got someone visiting in a minute actually from the college, they want to do an exhibition and use the space to do their end of term exhibition for a graphics thing, we've got... as I said we've got people from the Church on the Bus coming in, we've got a group of people who support people with learning difficulties who want to come in and use the place so hopefully we'll be able to work out some sort of church with them as well here. We have our monthly, what you'd call a eucharistic service if you want to describe it that way, where we meet in the chapel and we have some communion liturgy and then we come and eat here together and spend a day together really as a community. Every morning before we open up we meet for morning prayer as well in our own kind of way. But yeah, I know it's interesting and the community kind of exists on a wider scale as well, we've got a dispersed Order as well which kind of interacts on the internet mostly, so we're trying to... it's very slow but we're trying to build up those resources as time allows. Unfortunately a lot of my time is spent filling in paperwork and writing to the Council and filling their forms in and sorting out all the background stuff, but I'm hopeful that slowly, as things drop into place, that'll get easier and more time can be ploughed into the interesting stuff.

I've got a long background in church and I come all packaged up with all my prejudices and preconceptions of what church should be, so when we came and say we're going to really try and listen to a community and try and do church for that community, I find it quite hard. So I want to have something that's quantifiable and nicely boxed that I can sit here and show you statistics. And unfortunately life doesn't work that way. So at the moment we're at a time of listening and working out what works - trying things and when they don't work they don't work, and if they do work then we try and build on them, but mostly I'm building honest relationships so that we've got some sort of integrity in what we're doing I guess.

The diocese have been really supportive, we've got a mission fund which has been really generous towards what we're doing and I'm spending time applying to different grant giving bodies to help us through the first stage of this, because our community is so small our giving isn't a huge thing and we don't want to turn this purely into a commercial business really. That takes a lot of the time already so if we were spending all our time trying to make it pay in that way I think we'd lose out on the spiritual side of things. So yeah, we're just... we're working out on that and yeah, our projections for next year are looking OK but not quite there yet - we'll see!

When you've gone through a stage of establishing something, in a way that's quite easy, you can just throw it all together. Now it's down to the how do we go from gathering people to the whole discipleship and what is worship going to look like for this community - how is it going to grow in that way. So just that that continues to grow within us and around us and that things just continue in an organic way as they've started.

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