Connect - Jul14

Monday, 7 July, 2014

Peter Grant updates the story of Connect, a fresh expression of church which grew from an Alpha course led by ex-offenders in the North East.

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Transcript

Peter Grant: I work for Junction 42; it's a charity working in prisons in the North East. About three years ago, we started a group to help men re-settle from prison and including volunteers from local churches and it was a very small community and that just grew gradually over about a year. And then, after a year, we decided we wanted to look at growing so we ran an Alpha course and the community really grew from there; people got baptised and we were amazed really that it just seemed to be meeting a need that was there. You know, people bring people and the guys who were there had encountered God and their passion, they had a passion to bring other people along.

In prison there's like a surprising openness to faith and an honesty about struggle, personal struggles and things that you've done wrong in your life and it's just a sort of candid honesty. And I think in church; church tends to be very middle class and I think the cultural gap is too big. The way people speak; culturally it's like a chasm really between the two.

One of the first things that was really important to us was about ownership. The Alpha course was run by a mix of people who had grown up in church but people who had come to faith in prison and one of the most important things was that ownership was as much with everybody - so this was an Alpha course being put on as much by guys who had come to faith in prison as by those of us who had worked with them or supported them in their faith when they got out.

Male voice 1: It's the first church I've ever been to really and it's just so warm and the people in there are so friendly. It's just a lovable church and I'm just pleased to be there, you know. It has brought me a lot closer to God just seeing other people get blessed all the time; I've seen that many people come to God in this church, it's just been absolutely mind-blowing, you know.

Peter Grant: People have brought people so it's become more diverse as it's grown and that's been a real strength because it hasn't lost that kind of real-ness and earthiness and rawness that people come with but it hasn't become a ghetto either; it hasn't become somewhere that's labelled as an ex-offenders' church and we resisted it being described as such. And as it's grown, it became obvious that it wasn't going to be a springboard to church but it was a new expression of church. And one of the most important things is the transformation for those who've come from established church to be involved as much as those who come from prison or the community from maybe a background of crime and drugs. There is as much learning and transformation has taken place in Christians who've grown up in church or been Christians for maybe a long time.

Some of the key people who've come along are Christians who've come from a background of being in prison and they've been Christians for maybe a number of years but they've never felt they fitted in church. And they were the key individuals in the growth of Connect because of very strong evangelists, a lot of passion for God but really never felt they found a place in church and I think that one of the things that Connect has provided is somewhere where they've been able to grow and they've been able to bring people that they couldn't bring to church.

Male voice 2: It's amazing, it's totally amazing you know to see people from the same culture with the same kind of fire because I feel as though  mainstream churches, they haven't got what this has got. You know they are not equipped but this place seemed to be equipped for people like me and people from like a background of crime; the same people, the same culture, the same people who wouldn't fit in mainstream church are, actually, like, loving it here. I've been on the same road as the young 'uns that come here; I know the score, I know where they've been; they're just so awesome and I just want to show them what God's got for them. It's unbelievable; he's just got so much for them. And for them to find out that and understand it and get it is awesome because then you can see how they grow.

Male voice 3: At the age of 12 I was smoking cannabis with my mates and taking drugs, and drinking every weekend without fail, and I used to steal to fund it and then one day I got remanded and then I got sentenced so I was thinking, there must be something else other than the life that I'm living. Then my uncle, Tommy, came out evangelising to us about Jesus Christ and I was like keep on questioning him about who's Jesus, what does he do for you? And then he just said, 'well, come to the group on Tuesday'. And I went , and I thought it would have been a bunch of old people but it was full of people from my background and that's what made us go more because I wouldn't have keep on coming if I was just loads of good people who just judge you. If Connect didn't exist, I would just go back to my old life and I would keep on robbing, I would keep on taking drugs. It's only through Connect that I'm starting to search for God, like I felt that God has found me and this is the only reason 'cos I want to change my life. And I know Jesus Christ is the only way forward.

Female voice: When I left school I kind of went off the rails, just decided to make my own way in life and I started drinking a lot of alcohol and going into town a lot and just it was crazy. And then I went on a four day bender on my 19th birthday and I came here on the Tuesday and I never left. If I hadn't found Connect and came to Connect on that night, I probably wouldn't be here today. I used to like walk home at 4, 5 o’clock in the morning with near enough no clothes on and walk down alleyways and stuff like that and anything could have happened at any given time and, to be honest, if I hadn't found Connect and I hadn't found God and the people I've got around us today, I definitely wouldn't be here.

Peter Grant: Making disciples is our main goal to be honest and the issues that we face in discipling people are just more in your face maybe than you get in church; the issues of drugs and difficult relationships, sometimes social services being involved in people's lives, but it's really discipleship's about going on a journey with people and being real and not over-reacting when things go wrong in people's lives but just letting them know that the support and the community is there constantly and we have been through our ups and downs with some people but what we've seen is that this is a community that people come back to even when they relapse on drugs or things go wrong in their life.

From my point of view, church is about the gathering of people and where God fills that with his Spirit and that's definitely what's happening at Connect and you know it has developed its own kind of character and, right from the start, and I think that's something that God has done. And I think it's about God in that DNA and seeing that God is doing something that is about building people together but in the power of the Holy Spirit. We're involved in support and development of Connect communities in Sunderland and Durham as well and one of the things is that we want to make sure that the DNA that God has produced here is going to be produced there as well. And one of the things is that people who become Christians here are now serving in those other communities and bringing that passion that we've found here so we are not trying to create a new denomination but it definitely is a new expression of church.

This story is an update to:

Comments

What an amazing story, the Saturday Gathering story is similar I just think it amazing what God is doing amongst those who are at the margins, of course He always had. Praying for you guys in Connect. Maybe we should meet up sometime

Another fascinating account of what can happen when some of God's people (they are called Christians!) take notice of the Holy Spirit speaking to them and pointing them to opportunities.
In the past when I was speaking to groups in churches about evangelism people found it difficult to understand or accept if it did not conform to their past experience. They needed Billy Graham yet did not realise that God could speak to people through their own lives.
I was prone to say "It is about being infectious...........with Jesus."
So in this prison there are people who have been infectious and this is what the Spirit has led them and others to.

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