The Order of the Black Sheep - Feb13

Monday, 18 February, 2013

Mark Broomhead updates the story of The Order of the Black Sheep and discusses the beginning of a new chapter.

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Mark Broomhead: I feel like the Order of the Black Sheep's come into a new chapter at the moment which is quite exciting and a bit scary in some ways.

Instead of meeting monthly on a Sunday to have communion and to eat together we're now doing it every other week which was something that people asked for, which is great. So it wasn't driven by me it was driven by the community itself. We've had quite a few children start to come which wasn't something we'd planned but just because of the age of people who come there are quite a few young families. And initially I was asking whether maybe we should have a children's group or something like that, but it was really felt quite strongly by the people within the community that we should stay together, that we should make sure that our services work in a way that works for everybody, which makes life fun, but it's working really well. So we're getting about 40 people coming on a Sunday now and probably about 10 to 15 of them that are under the age of 16 which is quite interesting and not what we expected, but brilliant.

I guess we've got quite a split of different people coming to the Order of the Black Sheep. There's a number of people who have experience of going to church, mostly earlier in their lives, for some reason or another have fallen out with church or not felt that it's a place that they're comfortable any more but still searching spiritually for a spiritual home and have found it at the Order of the Black Sheep, which is really nice. There's other people that we've met through our work at the Gates, through the café, that have come in and have no experience of church whatsoever and probably would say that they have no faith as such, no Christian faith, but really feel part of what we're doing and are coming to explore and again that's exciting. So we've got a real mix of people from different backgrounds, different experiences of church or no experience of church at all who are coming which is great.

Male voice 1: Well I used to go to church religiously as a kid and a lot of shit happened, I lost my faith and then talking to Mark and I've slowly coming back, enjoying myself and he doesn't ram it down your throat either, he helps you as much as he can.

Female voice 1: I think it's the community feel that people that aren't interested in church feel that they can come and be part of what's going on and people that do want to do church can enjoy it too and we can all be a community together.

Mark Broomhead: As I said earlier we've got probably about 10, 15 children on a Sunday and then the majority of the rest of the people I would say, nearly all of them are in their 20s really, young families, single people in their 20s, there's a few of us in our 40s, but if you looked at the bell curve of usual church attendance and turned it on its head that's pretty much what the Order of the Black Sheep is.

Through the website and things like Facebook we have people engaging with the Order of the Black Sheep outside of our community, that's something that's slowly becoming part of who we are, people I think in some ways are just observing what's happening from the outside but I think that gives them some kind of membership to it. It's not something we've made particularly formal but it's working quite nicely.

I think this move into this new chapter, it's a place where the community itself is starting to take more responsibility and formally coming together as a leadership to drive where we're going next really. It means that I can kind of take my hands off the reigns a bit and it can genuinely be more community rather than... one of the things that's interesting is that as we gather together and learn more about each other we're coming to a place where we've got the time and energy to start doing things outside to help the wider community. One of the things we're trying to do at the moment is to set up a food bank and that is being driven by our community which is really good - and working alongside other churches. So it's an exciting place and a place where I guess we're still in the unknown because I haven't got a clear idea and plan about where it's going any more and now it's kind of got a life of its own and we'll see what happens.

Part of the challenge of that is I do quite like knowing where things are going, so for me to sit back and watch where things go, which may not be the way that I'd have imagined or maybe guessed, is challenging for me personally, but it's exciting.

One of the main focuses to begin with was that we were setting up a café and that that would be the main focus for what we were doing and that in some ways - commercially that's not worked out as we'd hoped. So financially it's quite scary and the challenges are there and people aren't necessarily able to help too much with that because of being at work or having other demands on their time. So some things that I'd planned and hoped would be the driving things are things that maybe aren't going so well for us at the moment and are challenging to keep going, so... Yeah, so there are difficulties, it's not easy and knowing how we're going to pay certain bills and things like that can be a bit scary, so it's not all a bed of roses, but it's certainly exciting.

I don't feel isolated usually, but when we get to the points where we're worrying about how we're going to pay the next bill and things like that, I do kind of start feeling a bit isolated and that can be quite a big burden to carry. And yeah, I find that quite difficult. I feel secure and vulnerable at the same time. It feels like the community is really coming together and that's really exciting and that's becoming more stable, it's becoming real and tangible, but it feels like some of the things we're doing that are quite high-risk and things like paying bills and keeping premises going and justifying decisions that have been made, feels really kind of vulnerable and quite scary at the moment. So the more the two can come together and encourage one another and inform one another the better, but that's where the future is going and we'll see.

When you come back next time what I'd like to be able to tell you is that we have no financial worries, that we're running a very viable business which is going alongside a wonderfully vibrant community and so that's what I hope to be able to say to you next time I see you, but we'll see!

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