St Luke's in the High Street - Jan12

Monday, 16 January, 2012

Frances ShoesmithFrances Shoesmith tells Karen Carter about adapting to changing contexts in a pioneering role.

As team vicar of Walthamstow, Frances has pioneer responsibility for a church based at a market stall. After serving her curacy in a rural market town, Frances went on to work in the deprived urban area of Bootle, Merseyside. There she helped to establish a fresh expression called Chill Out which is now being led by indigenous lay leadership.

At the beginning of 2011, she moved to Walthamstow and St Luke's in the High Street. St Luke's doesn't have a church building but runs a café stall at the Sunday morning farmers' market in the high street.

Duration: 4:18   | Download Download mp3


Frances Shoesmith: I'm now based in Walthamstow but there's been a bit of a journey to get to that point. I went through ordination training and got ordained before pioneer ministry had even been invented, before Mission-shaped Church had been published, so I did a very ordinary curacy, actually in a rural market town, but at that point realised that I didn't want to do ordinary parish ministry and ended up via a circuitous route moving to Bootle in Merseyside to work in a very deprived area trying to plant a fresh expression amongst some of the people there. Worked there for five years, established something called Chill Out which is still going but is now being led by indigenous lay leadership and is surviving, but not particularly thriving there. And then God led us, via some fairly miraculous steps, to move to Walthamstow at the beginning of this year and I'm now, my full title is Team Vicar in the Parish of Walthamstow with Pioneer Responsibility for St Luke's in the High Street! And St Luke's is fairly unusual, I wouldn't say unique because it may not be, but we have no church building, we're not unusual in that, but there's a farmers' market on Walthamstow High Street on a Sunday and we run a café stall on the farmers' market. There we nominally do tea, coffee and cake but we also offer a listening ear and prayer if people request it and it's just a place where we can meet people and chat with them. And what I'm hoping is that as we develop that, I've come in to the job really as the second leader, we're into the second season for St Luke's being on the High Street, and I hope that that's going to develop more so that the stall isn't just the place where we operate, but is actually the place where we connect with people and then hopefully invite them on to other places where they can explore faith a bit further with us.

Interviewer: And tell me a little bit about the particular challenge in that context.

Frances Shoesmith: Walthamstow is the United Nations essentially. We are surrounded… I'm white minority and even the white faces that you meet on the High Street are mostly not speaking English, so we have a complete mixture. There's been waves of immigration that have come into that area so initially the Afro-Caribbean immigration and then Asian immigration, more recently the Eastern European so it's quite a mixture, obviously very much multi-faith, very much multicultural and I'm still getting to grips with all of that and trying to understand what all of that means for how we do mission.

Interviewer: And you know for other pioneers, obviously often moving from one type of culture to another type of culture, how can you prepare for that in a way. Is it still just a case of going out, wherever you are, to listen and be and find out what the community and that context is all about?

Frances Shoesmith: I think it is always that, it is always that. The most important thing for us is that we know, almost as certain as we can be, that that is where God wants us. He demonstrated that fairly clearly just in the process of us finding the job. And therefore because of that we are there and we know that we're there to do something and at this stage we're very much at the listening stage. But it's been wonderful to move into a community which has already wrestled with a lot of the issues of moving out of a permanent space and is getting used to being nomadic but then actually starting to try and listen to, you know… we will probably have a space, a venue again at some point, but what shape that takes we simply don't know, because what we want to make sure is that the space follows the development of the church and not the other way round. So there's lots of listening to be done there. There's a lot of listening to be done to see just who is it, which groups within the many cultures that there are around Walthamstow, which are the groups that God wants us to really connect with. There's a lot of need in Walthamstow and it may be that we end up connecting in very much into that and in similar ways to how my husband and I were involved in Bootle – but it may not be, and it's too early days – we're six months in, so it's very early days at the moment.

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