The OUT dimension of church: Eden

Monday, 1 June, 2009

This story illustrates the principles of The OUT dimension of church in the Guide.

EdenIt was the vision of a youth worker turned bishop that saw the appointment of Derek Spencer to Deanery Youth Missioner in the largely rural Horsham area of Sussex.

In 2001, Derek was given the simple remit to 'invest time in the hotspots'. For Derek and Bishop Lindsay Urwin that meant the largest school in the Diocese of Chichester.

Right from the start, Derek hoped that what emerged would become a deanery-wide venture. He began to talk to local churches and found that there was next to nothing happening for young people in their parishes.

It took five months to get something going,

he says. He began two groups for the young people already connected with church, each fortnightly at different ends of the deanery to enable everyone who could to attend.

I emphasised the social aspect: bowling; pizzas,

Derek says. Around twelve young people came from the 20 surrounding village churches, to either a local grammar school or a Methodist village hall, depending on which venue was nearest to their own home.

As time passed, Derek found that the new groups were so popular, members would come weekly regardless of the distance. Around 35 teenagers were meeting to socialise and ask questions.

This youth worker gave them a place to belong, provided them with a means to become church and enabled them to demonstrate church to the wider community.

In the meantime, Derek had been taking lessons and assemblies in local schools. He began to think of holding a regular service in the drama hall of one: the largest, Steyning Grammar. By now more familiar with the people of the deanery, he approached a number of deanery members, including some parents, to pray and plan. The result was Eden, a multimedia service held on Sunday evenings once month.

The pilot in 2003 attracted 130 people, 30 per cent of whom were interested adults. Three months later Eden established itself as a regular event with its own blog and website. It now meets fortnightly with a regular gathering of about 75-100, while the original groups also continue.

For a good number of the young people, Eden is their church,

Derek says. He hopes it will eventually meet every week.

Eden's influence is felt beyond the deanery, across the whole diocese.

It is seen as a big thing so people bring their youth groups. It's great for resourcing other groups,

Derek says. A service at which Matt Redman (who lives locally) led worship attracted 400 people.

Derek believes that Eden's ability to break the boundaries of its locality is due to its strong connection with its roots.

Other deaneries tried but failed, because they didn't involve the whole deanery,

he says.

Starting with a vision to seek out local young people, this youth worker gave them a place to belong, provided them with a means to become church and enabled them to demonstrate church to the wider community.

This is a learning point from: