St Luke's in the High Street - Nov14

Monday, 17 November, 2014

St Luke's in the High Street is a ground breaking mission initiative, which is reaching out as a transforming presence for the people of Walthamstow. Over the seven years it has been ministering on the High Stit has become a popular draw and support to both the stall holders and passers-by at the weekly Sunday Farmers' Markets. The prayerful down to earth, practical and innovative approach of its leadership team mean it now sustains not only an effective presence for Christ in the midst of the community, but also a way into Christian faith and discipleship for a number of local people. It is a pioneering model that could easily be taken up and adapted to other similar contexts nationwide.
Bishop Peter Hill, Area Bishop of Barking

Frances Shoesmith updates the story of St Luke's in the High Street and shares how church in a farmers' market is changing people's lives in Walthamstow.

Duration: 8:41   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Male voice 1: Sometimes it's difficult to explain when people ask where our church is. Well, it's here; it's this stall. We have breakfast together, we do a short Bible study and often we pray for one another. It varies a bit depending on circumstances and depending on who's there.

Frances Shoesmith, Team Vicar: London Farmers' Markets, who run 20 or so farmers' markets around London in different parts of the city, they were wanting to set up a market out here in Walthamstow. So, St Luke's have been part of the market since the very beginning and what we've always done is, we've always provided free teas and coffees to the stallholders. So we are there providing a service to the stallholders because they're there for six/seven hours and for them to have a hot drink, particularly in the winter, is really, really important. But it's also about we are a family now. When I'm not at the market for a couple of weeks you kind of, you miss them and they say, 'O where have you been?' and we're this family that gathers every Sunday.

The people that we engage with are those who are shopping on the high street on a Sunday, those who are hanging around on the high street on a Sunday, those who are working on the high street on a Sunday and for many of them church is something either completely irrelevant to them, something they've never had anything to do with, something that was part of their childhood but since then they've never had anything to do with it. And they come across us and then they discover that we're a church, and some of us don't realise we're a church until after they've already had quite long conversations with us actually and that's interesting so we are there to be there for people, to provide them with maybe just a cup of tea, maybe a place to sit down, maybe a bit of very nice cake and just answers to questions. Or, if they want to chat with us and then if that leads to us praying for them, then we will do that as well.

I came to be Team Vicar of St Luke's but being Team Vicar of St Luke's also includes being involved in running the market because I'm managing every other week and by me being there it means that I'm involved in welcoming new stallholders, dealing with any issues. We can be there, helping to just keep relationships good and I think they appreciate that presence that we provide.

Female voice 1: We'd been prayer walking up and down the high street for quite some time and the opportunity came up to actually spend some time on the farmers' market, just to be church in this place. And when that opportunity came up, we took it.

Frances Shoesmith: The breakfast in the café is one of the bits of our ministry that was a bit accidental. When we arrived, three and a half years ago, there were about maybe eight people – between six and 10 – on a Sunday just doing some Bible study, all people who were already members of St Luke's. And then, probably getting on for three years ago now, one of the guys who hangs around on the town square came over, was helping us set up the stall, said he hadn't had any food for a while, he's street homeless, and I said, 'Well, if you hang around until my husband comes, then when they go down the café, he'll buy you breakfast.' And that was the start!

And as the numbers grew, the people who just didn't understand what on earth we were talking about; as those numbers grew, we had to find a new way of doing our Bible study in the café. So each week we have a look at maybe 10 verses of Scripture and we just ask questions. And it's as much about getting people to talk about themselves so that they can find their place in what we're talking about rather than it being something which is disconnected from them.

Male voice 2: We just go in the café and have a chat about the Bible and do some faith study. I read the Bible a lot more than I did before now so that's one thing it's done for me. It is an unusual type of church but I like it, I enjoy it.

Female voice 2: You haven't got a priest, right, and you can talk about it. We go, sit at the tables and we discuss it amongst ourselves and that's good in a way.

Frances Shoesmith: I've not come across a church yet which has completely sussed how to do discipleship because discipleship has to be tailored to every single, individual congregation so what we try to do by having a very, very simple format is enable the conversations to happen that need to happen. And then hopefully the person who's on the table is then able to link that in to something of the gospel so that we are both evangelising and discipling at the same time.

Because of the way we do St Luke's I think community building is actually quite easy and it just happens. We are very small and that means that you can't just wander in to St Luke's and wander out again not having talked to anybody which is, I think, an issue that many churches have. Everybody who is part of St Luke's knows they are part of St Luke's. I collect phone numbers from everybody and we now have all those in the St Luke's phone; we send out a text every week that says, 'This is what's happening this week'. And on the second Saturday of every month we have breakfast, that's been going quite a few years now, so we just meet in someone's home, we have breakfast together and then on the last Wednesday we have 'last supper' and that is supper on the last Wednesday of the month - and that's another way in which people who aren't even coming to the Bible study, who wouldn't even consider themselves Christians or even exploring; they just come and they are part of the family.

Female voice 3: I had nothing, I had no beliefs, anything, and St Luke's took me under their shoulder and just said, 'You know what? There is hope, there is hope'.

Male voice 3: When I first came here I was using; I went into rehab and had all the support from St Luke's. I've come out of rehab, been out of rehab for three months. I haven't used, my partner still has issues but we're slowly getting to grips with that and they're helping my partner and supporting my partner a lot.

Frances Shoesmith: I delegate as much as I possibly can because I know that in the long term it may well be that St Luke's won't have a stipendiary, full-time leader. That's how it is at the moment but that might not always be the case.

We created something called Time Team which was our attempt to try and devolve even more some of the leadership that needs to happen and we meet about every four to six weeks and we just discuss the issues that are going on.

Male voice 4: I joined St Luke's I don't know how many years ago now but I was literally just turning up to Sunday morning meetings and just taking part in that Bible study. Since then, and since we started the ministry to the wider range of people that we deal with with the addictions etc, I've got more heavily involved in that, I've been sort of pastoring, I've joined the leadership team – the Time Team as we call it – which is kind of like the strategic leadership team. So it's got me more involved and more involved on a personal level.

Frances Shoesmith: We don't know what the future holds but what we do know is that as we keep moving forward, God opens doors and creates new opportunities so the future really is to just keep doing more of that. And just as we couldn't tell that we were going to be here from 18 months ago I don't think any of us know really where we're going to be in another 18 months and I think we just keep moving forward.

We have a big idea to establish various expressions of God's love in the high street area so that we might all grow in God's abundant life together. That's our big idea. And we have our values which are Welcoming, Generous, Responsive and Transforming and we try and keep those at the centre of everything we do so we kind of know the direction we're going in but the particularities are up to either just circumstance, the people that God brings along, and the other things that he leads us into.

This story is an update to:


You cant help but be inspired by Frances Shoesmith's down to earth methods of mission and discipleship. She has a love and passion for the Market and the folks around the area regardless of their background.

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