View from a Liverpool lifeboat (Keith Hitchman)

Monday, 21 June, 2010

Keith HitchmanKeith Hitchman surveys the view from a Liverpool lifeboat.

Liverpool is a city with a long Christian history and a healthy distrust of institutionalism - religious and otherwise. This makes it, in every sense, a challenging place to pioneer new forms of church.

But as newly-appointed Pioneer Minister for the River in the City initiative, based in Liverpool city centre, I consider it a great privilege to be called by God to serve here at this time in the city's history.

Liverpool was a shipbuilding city for over 200 years. J Bruce Ismay, whose White Star Line company built the ill-fated Titanic cruise liner in Belfast Lough, came originally from Liverpool, as did many of the Titanic's crew, making the sinking of the great ship one of many tragedies suffered by the people and city over the years. Interestingly, Liverpool was also well known as a place where lifeboats were built, most notably the 'Liverpool Class Lifeboat', now a museum piece.

It is no accident that here in the Diocese of Liverpool we have adopted the imagery of 'Lake and River' to help us understand and communicate the relationship between inherited and emergent forms of church.

Lakes tend to form in settled places, where they become an oasis to the life around them. In the same way, our parish churches offer an oasis and source of life to the community around. Rivers are often still connected to lakes but are free to flow wherever the ground gives way into many more and different places. Very often new forms of church flow beyond the neighbourhood and into various networks, from workplaces to schools and hobby-based groups.

According to the 'Lake and River' approach to being church, someone could be part of their local parish church as well as network-based expression. In this way then, rivers flow in and out of lakes, enabling a mutual interflow of resources between the two.

The church of today needs to abandon the 'cruise liner' and take to the sea of our society in 'lifeboats'

At River in the City our aim is to plant and build a cell-based missional community, focused primarily on the workplace setting, in and around Liverpool city centre. The model for this initiative has been the Riverforce initiative in Merseyside Police.

Our intention is to facilitate a small community network of followers, seekers and enquirers in being and expressing 'church' within the four employment sectors of city centre Liverpool: retail, commerce, leisure and service. This would also include the increasing number of people choosing to live in the city centre. To this end we are seeking to work prayerfully and in active partnership with Christians and churches of all flavours and streams across the city.

A few years back I heard a sermon by Mark Stibbe in which he said that the church of today needed to abandon the 'cruise liner' and take to the sea of our society in 'lifeboats'. As a result I was jolted out of my comfort zone to where I am today, to Liverpool and to 'lifeboat church' of River in the City, reaching out with the love of God to those who are struggling to stay afloat in the turbulent waters of 21st century life.

About the author: 

Revd Keith Hitchman is Pioneer Minister with River in the City.


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