I was brought up in a Christian home where we had family prayers every night, but it was only when I went to a Scripture Union camp at the age of 13 that I began to have a personal faith in Jesus. I really began to grow as a Christian at university and I went as a leader on the same camp where I had first got to know Jesus as my friend and Lord. Here I was given great training in giving Bible based talks in a way that related to everyday life.
Years later, having been an RE teacher for many years, my school closed down in 2011 and I had a very difficult year when I had 10 interviews with no job offers. I remember being greatly inspired by Bible passages - particularly from the book of Isaiah, which gave me hope that the Lord had good plans for me when I was feeling very discouraged.
At the time we were attending Elmsett Methodist Church as a family, and I heard there was a job opportunity to work part-time as a Methodist Outreach Worker in Elmsett and Holbrook. This would entail setting up and leading Messy Church and toddler groups in both places, as well as taking school assemblies. I realised that it would suit me really well. I’d always been an ideas person who loved building relationships, being part of a community and being hospitable. It was a great opportunity to learn how to welcome new people to church in new ways. When I got the job, I didn’t think about it in terms of pioneering - but actually that was exactly what I was doing.
I went on the Mission Shaped Ministry course which introduced me to the ‘missional journey’ and taught me how to start new worshipping communities or Fresh Expressions of church. In those days it was run ecumenically, and I learnt so much from the teaching and from other participants. It was great to meet like-minded people and to discover how to help new people to discover that God is relevant to their lives.
The missional journey involves listening to the needs of the community, finding out what God is doing and joining in. I discovered how loving and serving people and then building community with them can lead to them becoming interested in Jesus and finding faith in Him for themselves. The missional journey continues by forming church in ways that people without a church background can find relatable and relevant to their everyday lives. This often involves meeting together at a time which suits the participants. For instance, Messy Church often works well after school on a Friday when families are out and about and are keen to have fun and have a hot meal together.
At the same time as our family breadwinner, I needed to work full-time and felt led by God to apply to be Chaplain at Norwood residential home in Ipswich. This job was such a privilege and I loved getting to know the residents, their relatives and the staff. It was great to build good relationships and to help those with no church background to discover that there is a God who cares for them in the tough times as well as in the good times of life.
One day I was chatting to the managers and there was a crisis so I suggested we could pray about it. To them this was an extraordinary idea and one of them said, “How do we do that then?” I explained that we don’t need to use any special language or anything we can just come to God and tell him how we are feeling and ask him for his help. Over the next few years, we experienced some wonderful answers to prayer and God led the managers on a wonderful journey of faith. While I was working as an Outreach Worker and Chaplain, I trained to become a Methodist Lay Preacher (similar to becoming a Reader in the Anglican Church). I took many funerals and had the privilege of praying with people who were experiencing loss in many forms which led to my interest in enhancing well-being.
In 2019 I saw the job of Pioneer Developer with Inspiring Ipswich advertised on Facebook and immediately felt excited about the possibilities of the role. Here was an opportunity to pioneer two new worshipping communities and to enable others to do the same across Ipswich Deanery.
As well as leading Fresh Expressions of church, I would be involved in training people to join in with God’s mission in Ipswich. It would also entail teaching people how to grow as Christian leaders and helping them to learn how to pioneer and develop new worshipping communities which would reach new people in new ways. It seemed as though this was a God-given opportunity to combine my skills and experience of teaching and pioneering. However, I felt daunted and wondered why I was putting myself through another application and interview process when I had had such difficult experiences of this seven years before. Somehow though God gave me the assurance that this was the right thing to do.
I was thrilled when I got the job.
After a process of missional listening I felt led by God to set up a Messy Church as well as a well-being worshipping community which met online for a year. This then became Wellsprings Well-being Café which meets every Thursday at St Peter’s Stoke Park.
Both of these Fresh Expressions of church offer accessible worship to new people in new ways which are specifically designed to help those without a church background to get to know the God who made them and who loves them.
As a result of listening to the needs of our area we also set up a Top-Up Shop with the offer of an optional interactive prayer time, this has been a great gateway to welcome those who are interested in finding out more about faith to other worship opportunities at St Peter’s including Messy Church, Wellsprings, Wellsprings Pilates and Sunday church.
As a Pioneer Developer, I have the privilege of working with my colleague Bob Hamilton to lead training and get to know people who are interested in pioneering in their various contexts across Ipswich. Our aim is to help the new worshipping communities multiply over the coming years and I can’t wait to see what God is going to do next.
It is so encouraging to see the impact that new worshipping communities can have on the lives of individuals as they discover the joy and peace of getting to know God for themselves and journeying with Him through the ups and downs of life.
We have had so many amazing answers to prayer and I am so grateful that God has invited us to join in with what He is doing in Ipswich. For me, it has been wonderfully exciting to experience working with the other members of the Inspiring Ipswich team (who are all inspirational individuals) and to be part of what God is doing in creating flourishing congregations and new worshipping communities across Ipswich.
If you are interested in finding out more about pioneering there will be a six session course offered this autumn for those discerning whether they are being called to be a Licensed Lay Pioneer.
For more information about Inspiring Ipswich please click here.