The last 18 months haven't been easy for any of our churches. We've faced new challenges and learnt new skills, and now many of us are far more adept at Zoom or taking church online than we'd ever have thought we would be. Most of us have found that it's been hard enough to sustain what already exists, so imagine what it must be like to try and launch a brand new church during a pandemic. That's what The Beacon in Hinckley have done.
A team from St John's Hinckley, one of our diocesan Resourcing Churches who are tasked to "plant churches that plant churches" led by Jon Berry (a church planting Curate) and his wife Amy (Associate Minister and an ordinand in training) felt God calling them to plant on the Middlefield Lane Estate in the next door parish. Thanks to the generosity and support of St Mary's Church (whose parish the estate sits in) the team were able to use the St Francis Centre as a base. Lockdown and covid restrictions presented a major challenge to the planting team of 25. (whose ages range from one year old to those in what Jon politely described as "their middle years")
The restrictions didn't stop the team prayer walking individually or with a friend around the area, contacts were made locally, online church happened, and when restrictions permitted occasional open air services (including a Christmas morning Carol service) took place outside the Centre. The gardens outside the Centre (which is used throughout the week by the local community) were tidied up by the team and on one occasion every member of the planting team was given a £20 with the instruction to find a way to use it to bless someone who lives in the area.
There are a number of families on the estate who are reliant on help to enable them to feed their families, and the Beacon congregation, some of whose members have experience of establishing Make Lunch initiatives in local churches, were able to set one up at the centre using their links with local charities including Feed the Hungry.
Last Sunday (12 September) the Beacon Church had their first weekly service in the Centre. Their services always start with food, feature sung worship and a Bible based talk, before breaking into activity groups with a "chill out" room in which people can continue to reflect on the day's theme, craft activities (for adults as well as children) and a discussion room.
It's an exciting story, and one that will hopefully be repeated around the diocese as we seek to grow new Christian communities, churches, and Fresh Expressions and to reach out with the love of God to the 93% of our population who currently have no meaningful contact with church. When a building on the site of the St Francis Centre was first erected it was as a small Mission Hall from the parish church - how exciting many years later to see it returning to that vision and, as the name "The Beacon" suggests, looking to shine the love of Christ into people's everyday lives.