Urban Hope - Greg Bartlem on pioneering

Monday, 15 September, 2014

Greg Bartlem updates the story of Urban Hope in Coventry.

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Greg Bartlem, Leader, Urban Hope: Urban Hope is birthed out of two Christian projects, one of which is Bardsley House which is a youth centre that I set up about 10 years ago with a guy called Keith Parr and originally it worked with a lot of the sort of 'Goth-y' young people but it's much more mixed now. And the other project that we're involved with is Coffee Tots, which is a parenting project –again in the city centre – which works with a lot of single parents; you don't have to be a single parent but there are a lot of them there.

Both projects work with people from a lot of poorer backgrounds and the church has really grown out of that so we're a church aimed at people with often quite young reading ages.

So we were set up just over three years ago and I was originally involved with both of the projects; the youth centre I'd say about nine or 10 years ago when I was in a previous job and I saw a large group of young people gathering in the city centre and gave them somewhere to meet and we tried to have different ways of engaging them with God talk. And we tried the Soul Survivor thing and I felt that we were not really hitting it, and we also tried Youth Alpha and I felt that we were answering questions that they weren't ready to ask at that point. And so we started to engage them in sort of times of Compline at the end of our sessions and grew a conversation.

We started the café four years ago, recognising that also alongside young people, parents of young children were also feeling quite unwanted in the city centre. There was nowhere really to meet; nowhere where you could spend some quality time because the cafes need their tables, they need those tables to work for you so they need you in and out quick.

So we developed Coffee Tots, which is in the city arcade, and – again – Christian conversation that wasn't really heading anywhere so Urban Hope was birthed with the idea of a development of a church from the café and the youth centre. We've got around 60-70 people who are part of Urban Hope; we have three main gatherings – one in the youth centre where we break bread together once a week; one in the café on a Thursday and one on a Sunday where all the groups meet together.

The thing that unifies all that we do is food. Food is a big bit of Urban Hope; I think probably because it's an equaliser because where you've come from, whether you are a church person or whether you're a single parent or whether you're a teenager, we all need to eat and we can share in preparing those meals together. So, around those meal tables we engage in God talk; I usually do a little bit of a speech but much of it is discussion; people are allowed to have their own opinions and so, together, we're gradually learning about what does it look like to be a Christian community and he's gradually shaping us a little bit.

What we're doing can feel quite fragile and one of the things that has been really fragile has been the funding. So we were set up with funding for, initially three years during my curacy, and the youth centre and the café are funded separately but my own post was always going to fall off the end of a cliff.  

And so what I've been encouraged to do by my line manager, our Archdeacon, has been to tell the story. So we've been talking around, with permission, telling the stories about some of those families whose lives have been quite chaotic who've met Jesus (with their permission) and I've gone anywhere that's been welcoming so we've been and spoken to diocesan synods, we've spoken to deaneries, we've spoken to individual churches, Mothers' Union – basically anyone who'd have me. But, fantastically, the diocese has decided – probably due to the storytelling – that it's going to continue our funding so we're being put on something called Common Tenure and that's attached to a Bishop's Mission Order and so for initially five years, my post is going to be funded and then both of them are renewable together.

And, as I said, that has really come about because we put the work into telling people about what we're doing and being really honest about the ups and downs too. So I'm thrilled that we've got some stability, certainly within our own funding as a family. I wouldn't have a job now if it wasn't for Morris Rodham, who's our Archdeacon, who's given us so much backing and our Bishop; Bishop Christopher who visits Coffee Tots, visits Bardsley House, is grilled by our young people and has come and joined our church at times. But I think telling stories, sharing what's been happening and being really honest is the key to our long-term survival.

I wouldn't want another job, I love what I'm doing and – on the good day – it's the best job in the world. And I'm really grateful that the Church of England and Fresh Expressions and pioneer ministry; that actually we're asking questions about church and here in Coventry, and maybe elsewhere in the country too, that we're engaging with people who would otherwise never dream of walking into a church.

This story is an update to:


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