Fresh Ex­pres­sions in Whitby

Leigh Coates re­ports on how a new Mis­sional Com­mu­nity has de­vel­oped in Whitby…

The Church of England - - FRONT PAGE - Fresh Ex­pres­sions: http://www.fresh­ex­pres­sions.org.uk/sto­ries /hope­whitby

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.

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