Thirst Too - update Mar14

Monday, 17 March, 2014

Ordained Pioneer Minister Sue Butler updates the story of Thirst Too in Cambridge.

Duration: 11:29   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Sue Butler: Cambridge is a place really of two halves. Most people when they think of Cambridge think of the leafy suburbs and the colleges and people who come to university there but actually it's a place of two halves – there are people that have lived here for many years and there are people that have moved into the area, including those who come from fairly challenged backgrounds. Whether it's just they've come from families that are struggling financially or families who have gone through difficulties in their life.

Romsey Town is an area of Cambridge that is well known, it's often called Mill Road which is an area that's very well known in Cambridge – quite a diverse place, including people from different ethnic backgrounds as well. There are a wide variety of families that live here, because the accommodation can sometimes be a little cheaper to buy – although not so cheap – you can find that there are young families who are just starting out who move into this area. There are also, sometimes you can find living next door to them, a household that has people with PhD students who are not only studying for PhD but get paid while they're doing it and then next door to them you might find another family that's struggling with some kind of dysfunctionality, could be to do with living as a single family and trying to cope with that; it could be families that are struggling in other areas of their life – a lot of public and social housing is also in this area.

We started Thirst in about 2007. It came out of breakfasts that a number of us had had together where we were praying parents and prayed for the school and the good of the area. We then started to think how we could reach out to those that perhaps didn't have a faith and how we could engage them. Many people had said to us, 'Well, why don't these people just come to church?' And we already knew the answer because we discussed this with people and had conversations with them and we knew that they went to football, their boys played soccer maybe, and also they would go shopping on a Sunday and that Sunday was a family time and not really a time that they found convenient. Quite often, some of these families if they were working, would work six days a week and so the seventh day to go to church was just not in their culture.

So, we started to think about what they might like to do and how they could engage with faith and engage with spirituality – and so we started Thirst which we started on a Friday in the school. We served good coffee; we decided that we wanted people to know that the church was a place of hospitality and welcome, of love and acceptance, non-judgmentalism, and where they could find support and care. After a period of time, it became apparent from conversations with people that they wanted something for the whole family. People would actually say to us, 'Why? This is great for us on a Friday morning but we want our partners to come and our children to come, could you not do something else?' And we took a long time to think about it and pray about it again because we knew that once we committed to it, it was a big thing; we didn't just want to start something and leave it. And we knew that it would be a big effort that we would need to do, that we would need people to support us in this, that we couldn't do this alone because we were only a few people and also because we wanted to encourage people that they could come to something and continue coming. So we started Thirst Too which we started on a Saturday and we started that at Romsey Mill which is where we are meeting today.

We meet on a Saturday at 5o'clock, although people aren't always on time. Everybody brings enough cooked pizza for them and their family; we also bring chips from the chippy down the road. We eat food and then we have a short programme which consists of DVDs and video clips, it consists of people's stories, sometimes we have interactive stories, we have a prayer usually and they're done in different ways – it can be all kinds of interactive prayers that people like to be involved with. So we do that and then we split off into different areas; we have football that's going on in the gym, we have an art/craft area which usually consists of some kind of good quality art which adults also like to do as well as something the children get involved with. And there are also toys and activities there for the younger ones to play with.

And then, usually at about 6.30pm, we offer Eucharist to people that want to come and get involved and take part – and they do. You'll see some of the people that would now call themselves followers of Jesus who have become followers of Jesus through Thirst and through being involved over a period of time and they will tell you it's been because they've seen it happen in other people and because they see Thirst as a non-judgemental, accepting and supportive place.

Male voice: I decided to come really because my wife's been coming for a few weeks now and the change in her has been immense, at home, just in her daily life. So really, that was my main reason for coming tonight and I'm glad I have; I will be back. But it's something I've noticed with Tracey, what she's found, and for Tracey that's a big thing and for all of us.

Female voice 1: Thirst is important to me because at a time when I was really struggling financially, emotionally, they were there for me; they helped me, they made me see things in a different light.

Female voice 2: What is special about this church is the amount of welcome you get and how people make you feel. When I come in, I didn't know anyone. I've been living in England for 10 years and I was quite lonely actually and I've tried a few churches in the community locally but what's actually shocked me was that when (I came here) there was queue of people, queuing to shake my hand and welcome me and that was really, really special. It made me feel like I want to stay here. This is where I want to be.

Sue Butler: We have a team of people that are involved with us. They've been friends, some of them have said, 'If ever you start something up with a group of people and families, we'd like to be involved.' Also, we are very blessed to have Ridley close by, which is a theological college and part of the Federation here in Cambridge. And so some of the students have come to help us, those that we've become friends with and who want to be involved with a fresh expression have good experience I would think; being involved with what we do.

The way we work it out is that we have a planning meeting about two or three weeks before we start. When we have our planning meeting, we'll talk about what happened before, discuss it, talk about what went wrong, what wasn't good, what didn't work, where people didn't seem engaged and we'll change it. We're not afraid to change, we're quite happy to change things that we need to change and we're not rigid in how we do things and it's been very interesting to see how we've progressed in the time that we've been doing this.

I think the way that we're doing church here is very – perhaps the way that Jesus might have done it we would like to think, that we're with the people we engage with, we eat with them – always eat, we enjoy relationship with them, we talk about everyday life. And, as Jesus talked in parables and told stories, we tell stories, we tell each other our stories and they tell us their stories. As we share our stories together, quite often out of that we see people begin to grow and ask more questions, they want us to pray with them. There's also some involvement with Scripture which of course is very important to us. It might only be small snippets that will come up on the screen but it will also be a Bible verse which we try and engage people with and get them to remember. We always have a session with Bible verses which has worked really well and people want you to know about Scripture.

They asked us, 'So what is this book, the Bible? What's it about?' And so we have one on one with them, we do Bible studies with them. Most of them have now had a copy of the Bible bought for them if they show an interest and they want the Bible, we'll get hold of a Bible for them or they find the Bibles that their children had when they were at school and were given as a leaving gift. So they do read the Bible as well.

We also offer Eucharist which is really important to us as part of a Eucharistic community but I suppose the most important thing they would say is their church because they belong together as a group of people that are a worshipping community now. They may not call it a worshipping community but they would call it a community of people that have and follow Jesus as their centrepiece and, if you like, their central figure. There's no apologies. When we have Thirst, and Thirst here, there's always some engagement with something that is spiritual and it's not just a nice airy fairy idea about spirituality; it always involves Jesus Christ as being in the centre and they know that we always suggest to them and talk to them about Jesus being in charge of their life and that's the only way really that transformation can take place, true transformation.

I would like to see local people become more involved, indigenous leaders come forth and there are people who are beginning to show signs that they would like to lead. What tends to happen is people move away. As an ordained person we obviously like to offer Eucharist. In the Church of England we recognise that want ordained people to offer, to preside at Eucharist but there are people that are coming up and I have every faith that these people as they grow in their faith - albeit at a very, very slow pace – maybe some of them might be the people to come forward.

In terms of me leading it, continuing to lead it, I think our next move forward for us is to begin perhaps to develop another congregation that will be a much more Eucharistic congregation, that might look a bit more like church but will probably be a lot more sacramental, quiet, contemplative, and a place where people might feel they can just come and bring friends to engage again in a deeper way with faith. And we would hope that over a period of time, people might come to know God and move even deeper into their relationship with God.

I know from my own experiences people are hungry and thirsty to know God; they want to be baptised, we have had people here in our congregation here at Thirst who are looking to be baptised, who are looking to be confirmed. It's part of something of who we are, we are part of a wider church but we really long for the church to see what God is doing in our midst. This is not just about us being church, this is about what God and his Holy Spirit and Jesus is doing in the midst of people here and transforming lives.

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