and next there was lego …

The busy weekend continued after Saturday as we hosted our second making@church service at HTGP on Sunday.
lego july pic
I think the postcard is pretty self explanatory as to what this is about. I got this amazing idea from a colleague, Peter O’Connell, and it seems to work amazingly well in this community.

making@church is our response at HTGP to the changing demographic on the Peninsula. Until quite recently the village looked like it was overwhelmingly populated by young professionals … certainly the people waiting at bus stops indicated that.
Recently, in the last four or so months, we are seeing many more young families at the bus stop and doing school runs.
Making@church is our relevant response to what we observe happening around us.

The format is simple and non labour intensive … sing a couple of worship songs, tell the particular bible story in two different ways, e.g. lego video and Godly play style and then give each family unit a box of lego with the simple instruction to ‘build something that you are inspired to build after hearing that story’ … after around 20 minutes we then show our models, pray using lego, eat pizza, receive a blessing and go home.

I love this format of service …. not just because it is simple … but because this is one of the few things I have seen church done worship wise that really DOES bring the family unit together. There is no child / adult divide. We have whole families building a model and helping each other … it’s simply beautiful to see.

A great comment on Sunday afternoon was ‘this is better then other church!’ …. I’ll take that as an indictor that we may have hit on something here on the peninsula.

On Sunday, we looked at the Parable of the Good Samaritan …. below are some lego interpretations of the story …. note the ‘Police Donkey’

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gpcu pt 3 : building change

This is more of a recent catch up post … no one said there was going to be any chronology here did they!

I spoke before of the ever changing nature of life on the peninsula. Buildings change, buildings appear, people move in, people move out (in my block there are 15 apartments … I am the 3rd longest resident now as lots of people have moved out!)

As an observer of people … I believe you need to be good at observing the community if church is to remain relevant …. my apartment is in a great spot above the main bus stops for residents. As little as 3/4 months ago the majority of people waiting at the bus stop were young professionals. Now, this morning, as I look out the majority of those waiting for a bus are children in school uniform.

It would seem a lot of the people who have moved onto the peninsula in the last 3/4 months into the new builds have been young families … and this has changed the sound and flavour of GMV … and I would say for the better. The weekends feel a little busier and noise … when a few months ago it was very much like a ghost town  with many going way at the weekend. Most still do … but this is slowly changing.

As a response to this, a few weeks back, we launched a service from 3-4.30pm called making@church. We wanted to advertise it as a ‘well known band of building bricks’ church but apparently they do not like that particular name being used. So we have making@church.

We advertised this church service through the local school, thorough concierge and via our website and social media platforms.

The format was advertised as being simple … some singing, listening to a story, building something out of lego inspired by the bible story, show off creations, pray using lego, eat pizza and go home. The story we told was the parable the wise and foolish builders. Seemed an obvious one to launch with really!

The format was simple, it was fun and on the day 34 people attended … and looking at the service record book … baring two visits from bishops to licence people (one being me) … 34 is by far the biggest congregation HTGP has ever had …. so we are encouraged and we will look to build on this.

We are trying not to get too excited … but we are hopeful that we have stumbled upon something that will connect and engage with people here in a meaningful and relevant and helpful way.

Sometimes a lot of pioneering work involved trying things, observing, changing and trying things again. This can result in a lot of hard work with no fruit … and when the happens those with a ‘pioneering spirit’ keep going believing that God has a plan and that something , in God’s timing, will spark into life …. after 19 months I am hoping this is the spark that we have been waiting for …. but if it is not …. we will keep trying, keep following, and keep waiting for the Spirit to do what the Spirt alone can do!

So … like the idea?
Then come along to the next one
The next event is on Sunday July 16th …..
lego july pic

gpcu pt2: pop up buns,chocs & clothes

Another way we, HTGP, have attempted to engage with the people here is through various pop up activities in the precinct or village square.

During Advent and on Good Friday we set up our gazebo where we offered various things like dekhomai prayer cords and psalm blessings (which you can read more about here). On these two days we also gave away 60 Real Advent calendars and 120 Hot Cross Buns.

On another Sunday afternoon we organised a clothes collection for Syrian Refugees which resulted in over a car load of clothes being donated to be taken to GRACE to then be taken to Syria.

 

Throughout these three events we have spoken to a couple of hundred people. Most of them were not aware that there was a Church of England church meeting on the Peninsula. Interestingly even those that had lived here for 5 or 6 years were not aware that HTGP existed …. which throws up interesting questions as my predecessor used to organise the delivering of Christmas cards to all residents from HTGP and I have continued that ‘tradition’ … but it seems the cards do not ‘register’ with people in a meaningful way.

In some of the conversations people have taken away postcards … a couple came to a Christingle service after the Advent Calendar giveaway. Mostly in the conversations people have shared parts of their lives with us. Some of these conversations have amazed me as more than a few people shared some quite deep and confidential stuff and it has been a massive privilege to listen. Its seems that although people do not come to the church … they still see ‘church’ as a place they could trust with their story.

In some way … sometimes small, maybe other times quite significantly, we have engaged effectively with a good number of people who live on the peninsula. I am convinced we have made quite an impact on the lives of the people who have shared with us … sometimes by answering a question, sometimes by posing a question, and other times just by challenging stereotypes by being ‘out there’ for no other reason than to bless our neighbours with friendship and connection.

Isn’t that pretty exciting …. !?

Greenwich Peninsula catch up (gpcu) pt. 1: Resurrection

The blog has been quiet for farrrrrr too long.
And the result of my quietness is that you, my good friends and colleagues that have walked with me over the last decade or even more have been deprived of the exciting and challenging stuff that makes up life and ministry here with Holy Trinity on the Greenwich Peninsula.

So …. readers new and old … I thought it about time I start to write again to bring you up to speed. As ever I would welcome your prayer as we grapple with the challenge of building and growing church in a new location that changes daily and has not yet found it’s own identity as to what sort of community it is. That may seem a strange thing to say … but from my window I can see 17 new apartment block buildings that were not built when I moved here back in September 2015. Most of those are being inhabited. There are nearly as many new other buildings on other parts of the peninsula that I walk past regularly and can’t see from my apartment. Each week people are moving into these new homes. It is ‘never ending’.

This place changes a lot and our response as church needs  to reflect the community  to remain relevant. One example …. as little as four months ago if I observed the bus stop outside my apartment in the morning I saw lots of, mainly young, adults waiting for a bus to take them to work. Now, a few month later, the bus stops are dominated by children and young people in school uniform. So … in just 4/5 months the demographic here has changed significantly …. and it will continue to change as more and more people move into their new homes. AND … we are still a building site as more new buildings are being started! Community starts to develop, the demographic massively changes, so community building re-starts with new ‘rules’ and then the demographic changes again … it’s like choosing ‘repeat song’ in iTunes!

But … that is background … so what have we been trying to do, how have we connected with the fledgling community here, what do we do next …. and what am I going to share now?

IMG_1645Resurrection …..
The first of these updates is a report from experiencing the resurrection on IMG_1641Easter Sunday on the Peninsula. For our Easter Day service this year we at HTGP decided to share Eucharist on the ‘beach’ next to the river as we watched the sun rise.

At 4.45am on Easter Sunday I got up and crawled to the river, a 200m trek from my apartment, and lit a couple of disposable bbq’s and I waited.

That time of the morning its incredibly quiet and it was not long before I could make out exciting anticipatory noises as the congregation of around 20 came and joined with me around the BBQ fire.

We huddled together to say some prayers, those that could stepped down on to the beach by the Thames, those that couldn’t stayed on the slip way.  For our confession time people held a pebble and asked Jesus for forgiveness … I then invited people to throw their pebble into the water as an acknowledgment that Jesus forgives and ‘as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our sins from us’ (Psalm 103:12)

As the darkness faded we heard the words of the Easter morning stories … Mary finding the empty tomb and the disciples seeing Jesus bbq fish on the beach. We tried to hear the stories as  if it was the first time we had heard them … and we chatted in our groups and asked ‘what on earth is going on’. The discussions and the sense of awe were amazing as the sun continued to rise and the beach, and so us, took on different appearances and views.

As the sun rose we shared bread and wine … and as I looked around I was excited by the diversity of the people sharing together, marking resurrection here in the HT bit of the parish. We sang ‘Thine be the Glory’ as the sun appeared over the river before concluding the service and continuing the worship with Bucks Fizz and bacon rolls (which is obviously what Jesus served on that resurrection bbq!)

This was a great celebration … and a great witness to other residents on the Peninsula.
People hung around and we chatted more on the beach as the sun rose more in the sky. One of the more senior ladies grabbed my hand and thanked me … she told me she had never worshipped that early before, she had never worshipped next to the river before, and she had never experienced the resurrection of Jesus in that deep way before …. the morning was incredible anyway … but that last comment … well that was the icing on the cake of an already amazing experience!

Progress … ?

The last few days have been quite exciting on the Greenwich Peninsula.
I don’t think we have cracked it yet, but this week we had some amazingly positive signs.

Following on from the encouragement of the Mindful meditation ….

agapaiLast night we had the largest ever attendance at Agapai with new faces. We had a great conversation around Jesus washing feet and how we use power and authority (based on Archbishops Justin’s book). We also had time to share our stories and pray for each other … it was a very cool time.

 

I hope this continues.
I pray this continues.
But … regardless … we will carry on!

Pioneer hardships

c3efdf0cb15ed169b5be8b53271d8cd9Sometimes ministry can be hard work.
Being in a place of lots of new building in a fledgling community where the landscape and the makeup are constantly changing , can present a massive challenge to the church and how she works.

As a pioneer, someone that is fairly passionate about mission, people and, yes loves the good old CofE, I am rooted in the belief that we are called to serve. In plain English that means I believe I am called here to serve the people of this Greenwich Peninsula. I am yo be here and be ‘good news’ to those that I come across.

To be able to serve and be such good news means I need to have the ability and the space to listen. I have done a lot of listening and responding over the last 18 or so months. As I listen I respond and make myself available, but that is not the pioneering bit as such … that is, I believe, good old fashioned parish ministry often depicted in those lovey old black and white movies.

The pioneering bit, which I am here to do , is to listen to what the community is saying the issues are, noticing the gaps or potential places to develop, and then creating something with others to meet that real and obvious need.

But we have a bit of an issue here and my model of creating sustainable Christian community is not flourishing as much as I would like it to be. The make up of this community is massively transient with a lot of people moving on fairly quickly to other communities in London after staying for 6-12 months. This means that what we hear as being relevant today can become irrelevant pretty quickly.

This means we need to act quickly on ‘stuff’ … but as we are a very small group of people all massively involved in our jobs … available time at short notice is pretty sparse. So, sometimes, pioneer ministry can feel like you are going round and round in ever decreasing circles. Ever decreasing because the ideas bank is getting smaller and smaller.

So … what do we do … that is the question … and one we continue to contemplate. As we contemplate we become aware of a massive and true fact …. the fact that this is GOD’S ministry and not OURS!

Why do I write this and why today?
Today I got an email from a research person from the diocese asking about fresh expressions in my part of the diocese. One of the things that I think Fresh Expressions has been good at is raising the good news stories … while that is good as it encourages and inspires others …. I do believe that just the good news stories can often give people the impression that pioneering and fresh expressions can be all great fun and is the ‘sexy’ side of ministry.

I believe we don’t tell the hard stories enough … the stories of people not turning up or people cancelling last minute, the stories of idea after idea after idea that seem good but, for some reason, don’t seem to be meeting the need of those in the area. The stories of being shouted out and told you are not wanted. The stories of prayer walking in wind, rain, ice, snow and occasional sunshine.

Sometimes all ministry is hard …. but being totally convinced and enshrouded in the knowledge that God has called you, is with you and is working through you (maybe even despite you) is all you need to keep going.

This is a raw and unrefined post … its a bit of a think aloud post … so feel free to comment … I miss my blog community friends ….

 

noticing God

img_1413Tonight was Agapai.
Each week we get together at 8pm as the christian community that we are and we eat together.
This evening there were 4 of us.
Eating together and spending time together and listening to each other is the main purpose of Agapai.

We always ask two questions  while we eat …

What has God been doing with you recently?
and
What can we pray for?

In the past some have seen the God questions as a bit of a threat and not wanted to engage with that with challenges like:
‘What if God is doing nothing?’
‘What if I can’t see God doing anything?’
“What if I don’t want to think about that question?’
or observations of:
‘God never does anything because God is not that interested!’

Of course those views and observations are ok to point.
Before you challenge me the fact I say they are ‘ok’ does not mean I agree with them!
I certainly don’t believe in a disinterested God! Exactly the opposite!
Sometimes, though,  we do feel that God is distant and doing nothing … but I do believe if we never ask the question and consider what God might be doing, then we are never going to notice what God does.

If we take space, even if it is a little short pause as we eat, I believe we end up noticing a lot more of the stuff that is happening around us, and then we can wonder where God was in it … because it is pretty certain if we believe in a present God then God is there. Some would say somewhere … I think more in terms of everywhere!

A few years ago as part of IME training I remember Jean Kerr sent us out into a local high street and look for evidence of God’s love working. It was an amazing experience as all these young curares returned with unique observation after unique observation ranging from couples holding hands to people sitting with homeless and distressed individuals.

Tonights Agapai was a night of noticing God … every body could see an element of God somewhere in their past week or so ….. so tonights Agapai was pretty cool …. pretty inspiring …. and community building ….. why not think about joining us next week!