Fresh Expressions in Whitby
Leigh Coates reports on how a new Missional Community has developed in Whitby…
About five years ago, a group of us wanted to start something new in Whitby - where we all live - so we launched a small cell group and began to explore the idea of missional communities.
Whitby is only 18 miles from Scarborough and 30 miles from Middlesbrough but it’s a very, very different sort of place; popular with Goths and alternative cultures because of its links with Dracula author Bram Stoker.
We organised a couple of Christian worship events as outreaches; they were called Restore and we did have a couple of people come to faith as a result. That’s great of course, but we felt that overall it wasn’t a great success. We wanted to do more and that’s when we had a vision of being involved in a regular café-style ‘thing’.
My wife, Rebecca, and I approached the owner of what we reckon is the best café in Whitby, Sanders Yard, and they said yes to us doing a pilot Hope Hub event involving music - both mainstream and Christian - and short testimony or talk. The café seats around 50 people but the event was packed and about 70 people came along.
That was in May 2012 and we agreed with the café owner to do the Hope Hubs for a couple of months to see how things worked out; they didn’t charge us a penny to do that which was amazing. We tried different things, it petered out a bit, we tried something else; it was all trial and error but the numbers of people who wanted to be at this event started to build.
We then had another conversation with the owner and said that we’d like to do this long term and she said, ‘As long as you make £100 behind the bar, you carry on as you are.’ Since then, we have never had to pay a penny for the use of the venue.
Hope Hubs now take place there on Friday evenings twice a month and we usually get around 40-60 people; with an age range from 14 to much, much older...! It’s not a service; we describe it as ‘Raw, Real, Relevant’ because we are working through tough questions about Christianity in a way that’s accessible to people of faith – or of no faith at all. I hate Christian things that are cheesy or naff so we do our best to avoid that!
It’s our sixth year and we have learned lots of things along the way. The crowd we now have coming along are about one third Christian, one third on the fringes or who have been hurt by church in the past but still call themselves Christians, and one third non-Christians. What started off as five people meeting together has now grown to four different cell groups, huddles, Hope Hub, Hope Rocks, a new youth project called Hyp and many other things.
I am the Deacon for Mission at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Scarborough, but I don’t promote particular churches to those who want to explore their faith in a more traditional setting. I’m always keen just to promote ‘church’ – wherever that may be or whatever it looks like.
Again that’s changed because when we started, as a core team in Whitby, our aim was to put people into churches. Now we’re very keen on discipleship, which is the one thing I think many churches have really missed out on.
Hope Whitby is a Missional Community that aims to show Christianity in a way that can be understood by everyone. Hope Rocks events are one way in which we are reaching out, and from that we have seen three baptisms in the sea in a year.
Ebenezer Baptist Church has been amazing because it commissioned me to go and do what we are doing and I can go there for accountability; the pastor and elders have been great. The Re-Fuel band has also been a blessing, performing at many of our events and supporting us to reach out, showing how good and Christian music can be.
As you can imagine, doing something new and different, all of the Whitby team - including me - have come up against some hard times and Ebenezer have been there to help me grow and guide me through some difficult situations. They challenge me but, because our accountability is so high, they never get involved in the day-to-day stuff. They are happy to leave that to the Whitby core team.
We have a leadership of five, including Rebecca and me, but there’s no hierarchy. We work together on everything, particularly to ensure that we are not replicating something that is already being done by other churches here. We have no interest in reinventing the wheel!
Thanks to Ebenezer, I have just started to ‘officially’ work part-time for Hope Whitby but the church at Scarborough is not looking to put a denominational ‘sticker’ on the Missional Community here. They have been very gracious and open to seeing what God has in store.
Some people may have been disappointed that the community is not intended to become a Baptist Church in Whitby. Hopes were expressed in some areas that it would happen but I said no, it’s not about that. It’s also not about me going to college to become a minister. What’s the point in a pioneer sitting behind a desk? I also work as a tanker driver, and I want to continue in that, because I don’t want to lose the ‘edge’ in what I’m doing.
Some churches may have felt threatened when we first came along but we have made it clear that we’re not a Sunday church; this is all about Kingdom building. Hope Whitby Missional Community operates from Monday to Friday with Saturday as a day of rest. Our Missional Community is drawn from different churches so, on Sundays, we return to them.
We do, however, have some who do not or won’t go to church for different reasons; we just love them and try to meet them where they are. At the moment, it’s enough that they are being disciples with the cells and seeing outreach in its natural form at the Hope Hub.
In the future, we are exploring the possibility of doing many new things but we are still in prayer about it. It would be easy to get caught up in lots of plans; that’s not the way it should be. It’s being sensitive to what’s developing around you and listening to what God is saying.