Working the 'Night Shift'

Friday, 24 February, 2012

Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops' Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team, explores the story of Night Shift at Hereford Baptist Church to see how the clientele of a fresh expression of church may change but its core ministry - to reach those unreached by other forms of church - remains the same.

Mair Granthier is one of the organisers of Night Shift, which runs on Saturday evenings from 12 midnight to about 3am when the church's front entrance is opened up so that those in local pubs and clubs can finish their evening with a hot cuppa or coffee and a chat.

As part of the regular Night Shift team since it started just over nine years ago, Mair has seen many changes and met hundreds of young people - and some not so young - during that time.

A small team of volunteers are on duty every week to provide a welcome for anyone who comes through the door. Since Night Shift was featured on expressions: the dvd – 1: stories of church for a changing culture, the process remains the same and what's on offer remains the same but there is a significant drop in the numbers of those coming in.

Mair puts this down to several key things,

The licensing hours have changed so people filter out of the venues at different times and local fast food outlets now have to shut by 1.30am so you no longer have huge queues of people waiting for their fish and chips. However, the fact that fewer people are coming in does offer greater opportunity for us to speak to them. Looking back on those early days it was more like crowd control! Week by week, we continue to feel that there is a reason why we are still around. The clubbers now expect us to be there – though it's not just clubbers we serve. We also have the homeless call in on us and people who would be seen as the misfits of society; they view Night Shift as their 'night out' or at least a place – maybe the only place - where they can feel welcome.

Another thing we've noticed more recently is the increasing call on team members' time, which unfortunately limits their availability. The needs of the people we serve don't change so the availability of sufficient staff is really important to us. We always try to have at least three or four on duty at any one time and there's probably about 10 people involved all together.

We offer hot drinks, toilet facilities, and a safe warm place to sit, wait for a taxi, eat a burger or rest their feet. We've also had people who get thrown out of clubs; they come in to Night Shift and text their friends to tell them that they are 'at the church'.

Some of them we see very regularly, in fact we know most of our visitors by name, but a lot of those we used to see don't tend to go out drinking any more but will occasionally drop in and say hello. We have built up a lot of friendships over the years and it's great to see how people are getting on. We’ve also had parents and grandparents of young people say to us how good it is to know that there is somebody trustworthy there to help their kids or grandkids if they get into trouble on a Saturday night out.

We have come to accept that Night Shift really is church to quite a few people, and even if they only come in for 20 minutes or half an hour they know who we are and why we do it and who we do it for. There was great joy at Christmas when we gave out carol sheets to them and we all sang favourite carols; they really enjoyed that! We pray that Night Shift will be part of people's faith journey; it may be that someone else does the harvesting, but that's fine.

We have a small prayer team of predominantly older people who support our work. We write a prayer request report for every Night Shift that they use to identify prayer needs; the report is also useful because it means that we have a record of who comes in.

Our greatest desire at the moment is to recruit more volunteers – even if it's just to do one stint every couple of months. Our team members are all getting older and so we would like to encourage others to be part of the welcoming team. They could come along to 'taste and see' what it's like; if they do they could well become hooked on it – just like us! We recognise that very elderly people or those with young families couldn’t help us in this way but it would be good to see some new volunteer faces.

The people we meet at Night Shift wouldn't normally consider going through a church door and it's a privilege for us to be there for them. We believe that the church more and more has to be prepared to reach out to where people are, rather than expect them to come to what we call church and 'fit in'.

Bishop Graham comments,

Not all fresh expressions are meant to be sustainable, some are seasonal. They run their course while a door of opportunity is open and come to a natural end when that door closes, without having failed in any way. But many are to be long term sustainable. They are new engagements on the front line of mission, developing into permanent congregations and communities.

The nine years of Night Shift show that the clientele of a fresh expression may change because culture isn't motionless but its core ministry, to reach those unreached by other forms of church, has to continue. The work can be long and hard. It is a persistent challenge to disciple established and newer Christians so that they are willing to serve at inconvenient times and places. Fresh expressions of church are certainly not a quick fix solution to church growth but they are here to stay, a vital part of Christ's missionary call to his Church, for the sake of many for whom he died.

This is a learning point from:

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