Sunday Sanctuary - update Sep10

Wednesday, 1 September, 2010

We talk to Mark Rodel about Sunday Sanctuary, church in a tower block in Portsmouth.

Duration: 5:53   | Download Download mp3


Introducer: Now, when Mark Rodel went to a parish in Portsmouth, he realised there was a lot to be done. There were only seven regular members and a large building which needed a great deal of money spending on it. Instead of trying to return to the good old days and fill the pews again, a decision was made to do something brand new, taking church to the community, rather than trying to get people to come to church. Karen Carter asked Mark, now city centre pioneer minister, where on earth he started.

Mark Rodel: In a sense that was through the connections that we had already. Two of our members lived in the tower block here, Wilmcote House, and I'd already met one of the people who was a member of the concierge team in this block and he was saying that this was a central location. As time has gone on and I've got to know the area better, it really is at the heart of this particular part of Somerstown, which is a housing estate in the centre of Portsmouth. And the housing office itself is here, so there's lots of toing and froing, and there's lots of families here – and given my experience, my wife's experience and the experience of some others who've joined us since, connecting with families was going to be a good place to start.

Interviewer: Obviously looking around in this area it has lots of difficulties, lots of challenges in this area, what have you found as Sunday Sanctuary got under way – it's been going nearly a couple of months now –how have you found people have responded to it?

Mark Rodel: The people who've come have responded really amazingly well, they've been very open. I mean we opened it as a drop-in, couple of hours on a Sunday morning, thinking that people would come, have a bite of breakfast, stay for half an hour and then go after a chat. But actually we has people waiting at half past nine, before the doors opened, and staying until the very end. And so we've kind of had to develop a lot more activities to keep the thing moving along in the morning and make sure that had some really good content that engaged and enlivened people spiritually. But yes, they've been enormously open. And what's been terrific to see is that those people who've begun to come regularly have expressed I think the beginnings of some sense of ownership, that this isn't just something that we're putting on for them and they're coming to, but actually this is something that they might be, might become. And the little sign is that, you know, on Sunday mornings without begin asked or any suggestion in any way they've started just stacking the chairs up. And it's just a tiny thing but it's just a clue that people are feeling that this is their thing and not just the thing that they come to.

Interviewer: How do you hope and pray that it will develop in future as a fresh expression of church?

Mark Rodel: Well it's enormously challenging, this is an area where people live that have lots of issues, social issues, and it's a very transient population – people move through here often on their way to other parts of the city and outside the city where there's better quality housing. But our hope is that in time a community might grow here, and there are plans at the city council to redevelop this area and so we hope that the church might be at the core here of building a sustainable and sustained community of people that feel that they belong. This is an area that's a byword for everything that's failed in the city and we don't want people to believe that message about themselves, but to believe in themselves and to believe in each other and that this might be the start of a little network of indigenous churches, of people who meet together and are finding out what it means to follow Christ, to become a Christian in this area.

Interviewer: Obviously you're involved in many things in this area, in terms of discerning what's right for you and where to go next and how to channel your energies, what do you find is the best way forward. Is there any way in which you can say right, this is the way I should go in it? I mean particularly maybe here, at the tower block, when you're beginning to think about development and discipleship and people wanting more, you know in terms of community and worship.

Mark Rodel: Well I think as actually discernment is the topic of an MA dissertation I'm just writing and it's a subject I'm reading around and developing more for my own understanding, is certainly that discernment is something that's communal, it can't be something that's just left to 'the leader', but actually we as a community – and at the moment that has been we as the established Christian community, but as it grows we as the community are those people who've started stacking chairs and feel themselves part of it – that we would explore with them where we go. And we have emerging ideas ourselves but I hope we're flexible enough and open enough to hold those conversations. But I think that's also very much in the context of prayer, and that's something that some of us at the core of that community are familiar with but something that will be new to others. And I think the church – the tradition of the church, the Christian tradition – is steeped in ways of approaching this question of discernment. But it's not in terms of a toolbox that you can just pick and choose from, it's actually a way of life. And I think that's a way of life that I want to encourage all of us to take on and value as an exciting way forward.

Introducer: Mark Rodel. And you can find out more about Mark's work in the stories section of our website.

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