SOURCE

Monday, 6 June, 2011

As a Christian community based in the Hythe area of Colchester, members of SOURCE spend a lot of their time in the area's pubs, bars, coffee shops and cafes – says Church Army evangelist Nikki Foster-Kruczek.

Thirteen years ago the parish of New Town and the Hythe began to pray for God to show them how to respond to a part of the parish undergoing a massive regeneration. The Hythe, the old port area of Colchester, is still being redeveloped but it already looks very different to the way it was when work first got underway.

It was decided that a worker should be appointed, dedicated to living and working in the Hythe. The money was raised, interviews were held and I took on the post in May last year. I'm funded jointly by the Church Commissioners (Mission in New Housing Developments) and the Church Army. The local parish also gives to the work. I am on a fixed-term five year contract with Church Army acting as my employer but the expectation is that eventually the post will become self sustaining.

SOURCE - networkWithin a few weeks of me arriving, a small group of people from the local church had offered to help with the 'mission to the Hythe'. But the question was - how do we mission such a place?

The Hythe is now a marina and the boats moored at the quays are homes rather than commercial vessels. Hundreds of new houses and flats have been built and many people have moved into the area. The old pockets of heavy industry have almost gone to be replaced by call centres and offices. For us, a picture began to form an octopus, a central resourcing core with tentacles that reached out to the different parts of the Hythe.

There are few connections between the various small estates – thanks to a couple of main roads and the River Colne cutting across the area. A few muddy footpaths are used as short cuts but people generally live in their own small estates and rarely visit another part of the Hythe unless it is to go to a large supermarket or DIY store.

People commute to work in different parts of Colchester and Chelmsford, Ipswich and London. The Hythe has no parks, very little green space, no rubbish bins, no GP surgery and no school. Not every residential area has a play space for children and where such spaces are included they have very limited appeal to any child above the age of six. On the edge of the Hythe is the main campus for the University of Essex and many students live in the Hythe itself.

SOURCE - litter pickA small group began to prayer walk around the area regularly and 'notice' things. We saw the two pubs trying to attract more customers, a newly-opened wine bar, local businesses struggling to stay afloat and the coffee shops, cafes and benches where people ate their lunch. We also saw rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish. All over the Hythe, people had just dropped their litter.

So our first attempt at something 'missional' was to begin to take care of our local environment by organising a litter pick and clearing up one area of the Hythe. We also began to gather together to share food in someone's home once twice each month, to eat and pray and talk and see where God might lead us. This was a vital time in our formation as a small Christian community.

SOURCE - bin bagsWe felt that God was asking us to be visible and present in the Hythe, so we started to go to the different places and just 'hang out'. The coffee shops, cafes and pubs became places where we met to eat, drink, chat and above all listen to other people. Simply by being present in these places and willing to listen, we discovered that people had a lot to say and through those conversations God spoke loudly to us about caring for the area and being willing to walk with its people.

One day we saw a poster for a quiz night to be held at the local wine bar, a place we had heard was aimed at a gay clientele. In all honesty, we had mixed emotions about going there but when we went in, we were made welcome and have been going to the bar regularly ever since. We are known as people who like to have fun but are deeply spiritual.

Our decision to formally become the SOURCE community happened gradually. We talked about how we could function in the Hythe on a much more effective basis if we committed to being there full time. People began to pray about their calling to be part of what was emerging. Our name came from our meditations on the image of the river, our physical river and the image of water used throughout the Bible. God has become for us our 'source' of sustaining as we depend on Him to lead us in all we do.

SOURCE - commissioning

SOURCE was launched on January 30 this year at St Stephen's Church in Colchester. We wanted to make it a clear moment when we ceased to be members of St Stephen's and formally became committed members of SOURCE with a call to the Hythe. It was in the context of the weekly communion service and we wrote a special liturgy. There was a time of listening to God and people shared pictures, bits of Scripture and thoughts, we were anointed with oil and prayed with. We had a party afterwards, sharing lunch and fun together and the next evening SOURCE met for our first worship space, known as CENTRE.

Since then we have continued to love and serve God and our area and we are learning to love and serve one another in community together. We meet weekly on Monday evenings for CENTRE and we continue to pick up the litter, run a clothes swap and do lots of other things – such as bake cakes and give them to local businesses as a gift for the staff.

SOURCE - altarCENTRE is held in the home of one of our members who lives in the Hythe. We start by offering a simple meal at 7pm as some folk come straight from work and they need some food. It also helps to break the ice a bit. CENTRE keeps us focussed on God in the midst of life. We often sing, anything from ancient hymns to Hillsong, we focus ourselves on God, there is a time of reflection and sharing where the question 'Where have we seen God at work?' is asked. We usually look at the Bible together and then talk about it. Recently we read about the Sabbath and had a conversation about how we find our rest. We often hold some period of silence for people to just be with God. We bring intercessions in different ways and usually end with the Grace or the SOURCE community prayer. People usually leave by 9.30pm.

We would see SOURCE very much as an ecclesial community in its own right and are working with the Parish Church to keep that message clear. This is not always easy. SOURCE is learning together what it means to 'track God' both outwardly in mission and inwardly in our own spiritual journey. We still have more questions than answers and have no idea where God will take us next, but we're still praying and walking and hoping... and we're still looking for ways to engage with the people in the Hythe with a particular emphasis on those with little or no connection to church.