Boring Wells - update Feb14 (WOW)

Tuesday, 4 February, 2014

Adrian and Ruth McCartney update the story of Boring Wells in Belfast and explain why teenagers with special needs are shouting WOW!

Duration: 13:16   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Adrian McCartney, Church leader: Boring Wells has existed now for over 10 years. We started with the notion that we would bore Wells, being places of life and fresh water, in communities and with people who are maybe finding it difficult to be part of church as we have known it.

We grew as a group of people and, because of the imagination and creativity of those people, we quickly discovered that just doing Boring Wells in one place or in one community didn't, wasn't, enough.  So we encouraged people to feel that if there were a group of people or their own friends, or something to do with their work or some other part of the city, where they felt they could bore a Well - that could be anything from something that looks like church planting right through to just a group of people who discuss things or share their lives together. We encouraged people to do that and, without a great strategy for it, Boring Wells became a little network of groups of people; little teams of missionaries or individuals or twos or threes who decided they would try things.

One of the people in Boring Wells felt a sense of wanting to do something that was based around her workplace; she's a speech and language therapist working in a school for special needs for teenagers with profound and severe learning difficulties. She, along with one other staff member and some of the other folks from Boring Wells, decided that they would try to start something specifically to become a community of faith for those teenagers from that school.

The children are asked, 'What does Jesus say when He comes in here and sees you here?' And Jesus says, and the children all shout out, 'Wow!'

Ruth McCartney, co-founder of WOW: I started working in the area of learning disability in 2007 and I suppose in the first couple of months, coming from a fresh expression of church like Boring Wells, we are always thinking about people that are finding it difficult to access church in the state that it is at the minute. So within a couple of months of working in that setting I could see that these were kids and families that probably found it really difficult to fit in to what church looks like in terms of a Sunday service but also just into the rest of what that community looks like. So, on a month to month basis, we meet every Saturday at the start – the first Saturday of a month. So we gather together, we do welcomes and we say hello and we try to catch up on news, what kids have been doing in school, what's going on at home at the weekend; if there's anything big going on.  And try to create a bit of natural community there. And then we usually just gather for some singing and lots of actions and try and incorporate some Maketon sign there so that the kids know what we're talking about, and using our visuals as well to try and put the key information that we are singing about, and just trying to worship God in a way that is all about them - and they lead us quite a lot in dancing and singing and making up their own actions sometimes; they just give it their all! So we do that and then we tend to think about a story or a theme next so, today, we were looking at 'In the beginning' and the creation story and then we always finish by getting together to pray, just to ponder upon what we've learnt and usually try to finish with some quiet time together which the kids have really started to enjoy – and put some music on and just have a bit of time letting God do what we can't do which is one of the biggest things I've had to come to realise in this work is that we are not going to be able to communicate everything that we want to to these children because their disabilities are so severe but that God can and God can meet them where they're at and every single one of those kids is just so different and so unique and He knows them so well. So we just like to allow some time for them to spend on their own with God and we pray, a lot, for them – even when we're not here – that God would be engaging with them in a really individual way as well.

One of my worries to begin with was that this was something that was bringing children with disabilities out to something separate actually and that was something I was concerned about – and I do think that there is a place for church to consider how they can include these children and these families. I think with this particular group of young people, they have severe and profound learning difficulties and I do realise that that is a very difficult to include and I think the behaviour especially that you might find, making loud noises and moving around quite a lot is really difficult to adapt to. We realise that that is a difficult question, I think the inclusion versus doing things like this that are a bit separate, and I am still I suppose trying to figure some of that out and I would love to be part of helping churches think about how they can include these children and these families more. I would be really willing to do that in the future.

 Is this church? I think it probably is because I think that where two or more are gathered, there God is. I think He is absolutely a part of what we're doing. We're worshipping Him together, we're learning about Him together, we are trying to be community and support one another when things are difficult and a couple of our teenagers have moved on to the adult world of learning disability and we've prayed for them and tried to support them through that transition and we do everything that I can see the church doing.

A lot of our children would have quite challenging behaviours and physical disabilities and, of course, that brings a whole different dynamic to family life and a lot of our families really do have a lot of difficulties and it's not easy looking after these children and one of the things that we really hope to be able to do is to get alongside the mums and the dads and the grandparents and include them in our worship and our gathering times but also, 'Is there a way that we can support them in their family lives as well?' And just looking at serving them in some way and that's what the Kingdom of God should look like; that people are getting alongside those who don't, maybe don't yet know God and yet know His love for them. But we would really love to kind of expand on our worship and our expression of faith here by also reaching out and showing God's love to the family in much more practical ways as well and then hoping that that message of just His heart for them would be communicated through that as well.

Adrian McCartney: One of our Wells was in a little commuter village called Moneyrea and we'd been there seven or eight years and it had grown and developed in a way but wasn't making the impact in the local community that we had hoped for. And again, well we had a prophetic word one day of someone said, 'I think God is telling us to put the wheels back on the wagons' so we had had a feeling of wanting to do some inner city work as well and we were looking for an opportunity and when we approached the Rector of what was now an enormous parish because three parishes had been united together; he – without any hesitation at all – offered us the use of these buildings.

One of the things we were told from the beginning because these buildings have been deconsecrated was that we weren't allowed to use them for Sunday morning Anglican liturgical worship which suited us fine because, having tried before to begin a well with church services and realising that if you start with the end product you very often don't get the start, so we decided that we wouldn't have Sunday morning church services. Although our team meets on a Sunday morning in the church hall next door, we meet together, we pray together and support each other and read God's Word and so on but we decided to use the church building as a base for missional activity. Being inner city, the needs aren't hard to find, they are all around us, so we started what we called The Larder which are these shelves of food behind us, emergency food for people in need for whatever reason; clothes started to appear, people started to bring things like that – furniture appeared, we now cook food in here and do coffee and people have started to actually gather in this place and the amount of wisdom in that group in terms of how benefits work and what you do when you're not getting this or when you run out of this and they began to share this wonderful wisdom with one another. And they headed off together. I know one group of them headed off to go to any agency in the area that helps with finding jobs and they were beginning to help each other - and it was just a wonderful thing to watch and to see God at work among them.

Female interviewee: On a Friday morning, one of the other members was actually holding a wee craft morning. I started coming to that with her and then, closer to Christmastime, we came in here one week to see The Larder and how it was developing so every week since then I've been coming in here two days a week to help out with The Larder.

Male interviewee: This church is just completely different and the fact that whenever you come in and everyone's so welcoming and so warming and you just feel part of the church – no matter if it's where you're getting involved in the activities or you're coming to a church service, everyone just makes you feel more welcome in it.

Female interviewee 2: Just a few months ago I was, well, I had a lot of problems. I've changed my whole life around now and I prefer to live the lifestyle like I am now because I love a lot more people better and they love better the new me so I'm a completely different person and I just love spending time with people at The Larder, helping out with the community, love doing the Messy Church and all the wee fun days, and Summer Madness. Love all that.

Adrian McCartney: The Boring Wells idea really comes from the story of Abraham because as he travelled on that journey, not knowing where he was going as it tells us in Hebrews, he continued to journey and he built altars and dug wells. And they were part of the learning experiences for Abraham and his family around those places and then when Isaac came along, after Abraham had gone, Isaac was told to re-open those wells and he went on a similar journey. And that would be our experience of this is that we open a Well and we see what grows around it and sometimes some people need to stay with that Well and others move on to another one. And sometimes a Well, just as in Abraham's day, went dry or the Philistines blocked it up or, for some reason, it stopped working. And that has been our experience as well that they don't all work all the time but they have seasons. They do something that lasts for five years and really help people but it feels like it comes to an end and, as long as we encourage those folks who have been involved and help them find the next thing to do, we're quite happy to do that – partly because we view Boring Wells as an expression of church, as a missional expression of church and therefore something on the move, something that literally can move. But even if it doesn't move geographically, it still has a sense of not wanting to root itself in concrete and but wants to be able to respond to need, change its shape, change its emphasis and move along – even though we continue with the same set of values, the same idea running through it all.

A great thing has happened in our diocese, we have accepted the idea of fresh expressions of church to the extent that our diocese – about 18 months ago adopted the idea of a Diocesan Mission Order; we're hoping to be one of those. Literally in the next two or three weeks we will become one of those and we find that very exciting. We have felt at times that we're sort of at the edge of things and it's wonderful to realise that the family of God, as expressed through the Diocese, has also had to learn and is beginning to grow in openness to this sort of thinking and we're going to be officially part of the family which is wonderful.

So the next 10 years... we're hoping that the idea of fresh expressions of church, working alongside parishes, in parishes, with parish churches, with their blessing, hopefully with even some of their resources, will continue to spring up and we're going to see something of new life and of new hope growing up in places all around us and hopefully even more so in these inner city parts of Belfast where the need at the minute is great.

This story is an update to:


Good to hear how things are going. Our Northern Ireland Prayer group in Sheffield will continue praying for you - always glad to get fresh updates. Our next meeting to pray is Thursday 24th July.

Hi, Im afraid I don't think I know you but I saw your note at the bottom of the Wells article and noticed that you are praying corporately on the 24th july.
I am a part of Wells and over the next few weeks we will have to make some decisions about funding I would appreciate it if you could ask God to let us know what he has planned with regard funding and grants so that we might join in and celebrate His involvement.

Any questions drop me a line.

Grace and Peace
Paul Rowden

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