Kairos - one step at a time

Friday, 30 July, 2010

The shape and ministry of a fresh expression of church tends to unfold one step at a time. It is much more a question of discernment in context, than long term strategic planning. Listening to God and then joining in what God has prepared is the key each step of the way.

The vision of Grange Park Church in Northampton is to follow the call of Jesus to be the good news to Grange Park and beyond.

Grange Park - Charlie and clockIn 2001 Charlie Nobbs was completing his curacy at St Giles Northampton when it was suggested he do a church plant in the Grange Park new housing area. He discovered that the local Baptist church had the same vision, to plant a cell church. They joined forces, and Grange Park Church is a local ecumenical partnership.

Ministry in new housing areas is easier to get off the ground if a Christian presence can be established at an early stage. Just a few hundred houses had been built when Charlie joined the parish council, while his Baptist colleague helped to set up Neighbourhood Watch in the area and got involved when the primary school was being built.

Initially the strategy was attractional: with a traditional Sunday service plus small groups. But the team were keen to connect with those who might not attend traditional church and focused on young families in particular. To make contact with young families a children's holiday club called Kidzone was held. The assumption was that attendance at Kidzone would lead directly to church attendance; which didn’t happen.

But the team noticed that groups of parents would be chatting together while waiting for their children and a typical conversation went. 'Where do you live?', 'Oh I'm just round the corner from here, come and have a coffee.' Community building was to be the means of being good news and bringing the good news to Grange Park. It is easy to plan the right events but to misunderstand their long term significance.

New housing areas run the risk of becoming soulless dormitory estates. The church is working hard to build community and combat isolation. They learned from a health visitor that the doctors' surgeries were over-run with depressed new mums. Charlie and his wife Charlotte suggested she use their home for appointments with the mums and so Talking Point was started on Thursday mornings. Visitors are offered tea, coffee, cake and a warm welcome. They meet and chat in the lounge, comparing birth experiences and sleep patterns. The health visitors love it because they can see eight or more at a time; the mums love it because they make friends and realise they are not alone. There aren't many babies born in Grange Park that haven't been through Charlie and Charlotte’s house!

The Health Visitors believe Talking Point has significantly improved the mental health of struggling mums. The church now runs various Talking Point groups in and around Grange Park. They use cell principles and organise a social night for the parents without their kids; it welds them together as a cohesive group. Midwives in the area have also picked up on Talking Point, telling mums-to-be about it as a place to go after the birth.

Grange park - clockThings shifted again when one of the people coming along to the sessions asked about getting their baby baptised; another wanted to do an Alpha course. The upshot is Stepping Stones which now runs fortnightly on Tuesday mornings in the Community Centre, offering breakfast for carers, mums and children, telling Bible stories in creative ways, and providing a craft activity. It has been going for nearly four years with about 50 mums and their children attending.

That in turn has developed because several mums said they wanted to find out more; their children were asking questions they didn't know the answer to and the parents also thought of the Bible stories as being a 'good thing' to teach the little ones. To meet that need, a five-week introduction to Christianity course is offered through a DVD series called Journeys. A number of people have come to faith.

The most recent development is the opening of the Kairos Centre, a central place where people can get together from all walks of the community, for all sorts of reasons, at the same time. The church worked with South Northamptonshire Council, to transform an empty shell of a building into a much-needed facility. The vision is for a place that provides facilities and a home for the existing church family, provides services and relationships with the wider community and ultimately will be home to future fresh expressions of church. A café style evening service is being relaunched and they hope to develop an after-school club fresh expression and maybe even a film church.

At least that is the plan – but the key will be to follow Jesus one more step at a time.

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