I have always had a passion for people outside of the church to have the opportunity to encounter Christ. However, I’ve also been acutely aware that for some the culture of church can be alien and off putting. I first experienced this when I worked in a pub on an estate opposite the Anglican Church I attended with my family when I was 19. When the regulars found out I was a Christian they were keen to tell me about how they expressed their faith, but were incredulous when I suggested they come to church!
At first I thought it was the robes and the books and formality that was the barrier. But having been at an independent charismatic church for a number of years which met in a school, had no formal liturgy and a contemporary worship band, I realised the reasons some felt uncomfortable in church was much more complex and subtle. Then one day in 2004 a friend who would not have described herself as a Christian, rang me to say she’d had “a spiritual experience”. I knew this was my moment to share the Gospel with her, yet I waffled around and felt I didn’t really engage well with what she had reached out to me for. I was angry and frustrated with myself that I had blown my golden opportunity, but it opened my eyes to an interest in spirituality that I discovered was actually all around me.
For a while, it felt like every TV programme I watched, magazine I opened or conversation I had involved visiting a spiritualist, having Tarot cards read or analysing horoscopes. It made me wonder if given so many seemed interested in spirituality, could we do more to help people discover Christian spirituality? I then went to Spring Harvest in April 2005 and heard a woman who was on the ministry team at Coventry Cathedral talk about participating in research entitled ‘Evangelism in a Spiritual Age’. It felt like confirmation I was on to something! She also mentioned a group in Guildford called Eden People who were offering to pray for people at new age type fairs. In that moment I knew this was what God wanted me to do. At that time in Kingston, which is where I live, there was an annual Green Fair and between 20 and 30,000 people would attend each year. So when I got home I rang up the organisers and arranged for us to have presence at the next Green Fair which was in May. At that first fair I was amazed by how open people were to share their spiritual experiences and be willing for us to pray with them.
I have now been engaged in this ministry to the spiritual and not religious for 16 years and 9 years ago started Sacred Space Kingston as a fresh expression of church. About 5 years into this ministry I was startled to learn that I was being called a pioneer! I didn’t really know what that was. Now I understand it as seeing ways of helping people outside of church to find out about Christianity and grow into the likeness of Christ without having to leave the culture and friendship groups of which they are already a part. This could be a culture from another part of the world such as the Japanese community in London, a recognised sub-culture like goths or a friendship group at the school gate. I have pioneer friends who run a community choir at a pub in Deptford, are chaplains in Kingston town centre and put on events for steam punks in Stoneleigh. Out of these activities, relationships grow, an interest in Christianity deepens and church begins to form.
On 30th November 2021 I was licensed as the first Lay Pioneer Minister in the Diocese. I hope I will be the first of many! There are now recognised pathways for both commissioned and licensed pioneer ministry. Training is being developed and provided by the fantastic pioneers we already have in Southwark, both lay and ordained. So if there’s a group of people you’d love to share the Gospel of love and hope with but who you think might struggle to fit into traditional church, then I would encourage you to find out more about lay pioneer ministry. You don’t have to go it alone and make all the mistakes I did. We want to support you and equip you and enable you fulfil the mission of God which has already begun to germinate inside you.
Find out more about Lay Ministries at https://southwark.anglican.org/layministries.