Zac's Place - update Oct09

Thursday, 1 October, 2009

Sean Stillman chats with Alicia Baker about Zac's Place, a church for ragamuffins in Swansea, South Wales.

Duration: 7:40   | Download Download mp3


Interviewer: Now you've been in ministry for a long time, can you say what motivates you to do what you do?

Sean Stillman: OK yeah, well I've had a good example with parents that have been in ministry, and what keeps me going I think is the continuing inspiration of a Jesus on the road that seemed to enjoy spending an awful lot of his time on the margins of society.

Interviewer: Can you say a little bit about Zac's Place?

Sean Stillman: I think for me Zac's Place, or the origins of it began probably as far back as the late eighties, when in my own ministry particularly amongst bikers but many others on the fringes of society and artists as well, there became increased frustration where people were showing a lot of interest in following Jesus – and some having I would say genuine conversion experiences, but really struggling to settle and be discipled within mainstream church. And then some years later I find myself in South Wales and with the mission field I was working among the same groups of people, actually asking questions how could they understand more – and they wanted to know more about the Christian faith but there's no way they were going to go to church. So that was the origins really of how Zac's Place, a church in a pub, came into being. It was sort of trying to meet a demand from the mission field.

Interviewer: I've spoken to some of the people that come along on a Tuesday evening and they've described this as their church. Could you say anything more about that?

Sean Stillman: Originally it was Zac's Place, church in a pub, question mark. And the question mark was always very important, because we didn't really know. And here we are, ten, eleven years on, we no longer meet in a pub because most of the people, many of the people who are involved have issues of addiction that they're dealing with – but we meet in our own venue now and it's called a church for ragamuffins, particularly motivated from Brennan Manning's book the ragamuffin gospel. And I think the fact that people see it as their church has become good enough for me and those of us that are involved here. They see it as their community of faith, a place where they feel at home, a place where they feel they can make a connection with God and each other and certainly people are growing and maturing in their walk with following Jesus. So I guess to all intents and purposes that means it's emerging into being a church. But we really didn't know at the beginning what it was going to turn into.

Interviewer: So you are clearly a natural evangelist Sean, can you say something about how you've managed to include pastoral responsibilities as well?

Sean Stillman: Yeah, it's been an interesting shift, because I certainly didn't set out to be involved in a pastoral ministry, but inevitably… I guess that came out of frustration as well, because there are people who you end up being involved with and you get frustrated that they're not being cared for elsewhere, so ultimately you have to care for them yourself and those that are with you. So it's been a big challenge, but it's… that continues to be my inspiration in many ways as well, even from the point of view of being an evangelist, because where you see the outworking of sometimes very simple faith in people's life, it continues to challenge you and inspire you to keep relaying that message to even what seems to be the most desperately lost and isolated people within the community.

Interviewer: Could you tell us something of the difficulties that you have faced in your ministry and how you have overcome them?

Sean Stillman: Ooh goodness, all in a few seconds. It's… sometimes it can be a desperately lonely place and I think when you're trying to do something new, something a little bit different, there's always those who hold back a little bit to see how things are going before they throw their whole weight of support behind you, and that can be difficult, it can be lonely. But it can also be very draining with this kind of work because we tend to attract fairly dysfunctional people and there's never a textbook you can just look at for easy answers to resolve a particular scenario or situation and invariably it involves spending an awful lot of quality time with people with some very deep issues. And it's tired and it's raining. And I think the biggest challenge that we face at the moment is actually developing new leaders amongst those that have become involved with the Zac's Place community of faith. And some people are semi-psychotic, some are fairly dysfunctional, some are battling with ongoing issues of addiction, but their faith is real, they love Jesus, they want to walk the way of Jesus, how do you develop leaders out of a fairly chaotic community? I haven't got a simple answer to that, you might have to come back in another ten years' time to see whether we've succeeded at that or not.

Interviewer: Do you see yourself in this  ministry in ten years' time, or what do you think will happen?

Sean Stillman: Well I continue to be amazed at what's happened in the first ten years, considering we really didn't know what it would grow into if anything. I think… I would hope to think that Zac's Place is still here as a community of faith, I would hope to think it's still on the margins of society, still on the side of the poor and the oppressed particularly, I'd like to think by then I've managed to train up some people to share some of the burden and the responsibility. I'm a 'first one over the trenches' person, I don't think I'm probably a very good maintainer in the long term, so I think that's the important thing to see that it does last another decade. But I'm certainly in it for the long haul with all its pitfalls and its rewards as well.

Interviewer: What are the priorities for you as a church?

Sean Stillman: Continuing the theme of Emmanuel – God with us – God in a body, in Jesus, I think it has to be about relationship, it has to be about communication, so I think for us it's important that we encourage communication and relationship between the individual and God, I think it's important that we encourage the relationship amongst ourselves within the church, and I think it's important that we encourage the relationship and communication with the wider community. So if for any of the gatherings, meetings, events that we have, I'd like to think they fulfil one of those three functions, or if at all possible then all three.

Interviewer: Would you say that's true for all churches?

Sean Stillman: In theory I think it should be, in practice I know the reality isn't like that, so for me that's my benchmark if I'm wondering whether a meeting or gathering is worthwhile I ask myself which one of these areas of relationship is being encouraged as a result of this even or gathering. And if it doesn't measure up then I have to ask the question well what's the point in doing it?

Interviewer: And you've mentioned baptism already, could you say something about the role of holy communion within your gatherings?

Sean Stillman: It's becoming more important. I firmly believe in the importance of the sacraments and it's been interesting to find different ways of celebrating communion in this kind of community of people. So we tend to make it available for those that want it, rather than people being embarrassed if they don't want to take it, so it's usually about once a month we make it available for people, just on the counter if they want to come up and receive it they can, and just for the record it's actually all non-alcoholic juice that we use because we've got so many people in recovery – I'd be devastated if somebody ended up drinking again because they'd taken communion.

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