In the first of two articles Simon Morris writes about opening a Mission Church in the parish of St Mary, Tottenham
After Midnight Mass at Christmas, just before the exit genuflection and the final light is switched off, I gaze round St Mary’s, Tottenham and see the glimmer of candles illuming the red brick. A church can look quite wonderful with no people in it, I reflect in true Christmas spirit. Well, imagine a Church with no furniture in it. How do you furnish a Church? I believed there to be a store of furnishings from redundant churches. I made inquiries in this Utopian quest and felt a certain pang of disappointment to discover, at least in the Diocese of London, that such a place does not exist. But the Central Contents Register does.
Thus, I got an altar from Christ Church, Fulham, which wanted something a little more flexible than their rather nice nineteenth-century one. Chairs came from the closing chapel of St Luke’s Hospital for the clergy and from Christ Church, Cockfosters. In true Phoenix style, out of the very sad diminution of the chapel life at Edgeware Abbey, six brass candlesticks, a missal stand, tabernacle and other bits were transported to the Good Shepherd. Most came in exchange for a donation and I am very grateful to all who contributed. I had never really dreamed of such a properly kitted-out Mission Church but with him nothing is impossible.
Confidence in our message
Without wishing to sound like an angst-ridden liberal, there can be difficulty adverti sing our pro duct to the potential customer. This stems from two factors: first, a lack of confidence in the product – i.e. Our Lord and his mysteries of which we have been set as stewards. Will people be put off if we speak about Jesus too much or seem to be too Churchy? Secondly, there still seems to be a culture that believes if we simply invite people to come, they will show up. In answer to the first, do we not follow the Lord, to whom the Prince of Apostles said, ‘You have the message of eternal life’? Brothers and sisters, have confidence in our message because it is not about us!
Need for clear advertising
In answer to the second, ‘They will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher’. There needs to be greater clarity about our advertising; if for no other reason it is honest. If you are inviting people to worship, then say so. Equally, be clear about what you’re going to do before you advertise it (sounds simple but I know examples of it being ignored). When literature is displayed or dropped through letter boxes, you might just have two seconds to catch someone’s attention. It’s important that you’re absolutely clear what you want to be conveyed. Think about the name, for example. Originally, the Good Shepherd was to be the ‘Good Shepherd Mission Hall.’ Who on earth wants to worship in something that sounds like they’re some uncultivated people needing missionary work from the parish church up the road? It is now the ‘Good Shepherd Church.’
Good, local soil
The holiday-making distributor of talents [Matt. 25.14–30] was known as one who reaped where he did not sow. Without wishing to complicate the parable, I like to think that what has happened at the Good Shepherd is not necessarily a case of sowing, let alone church planting, but providing good, local soil.
The basic supposition of much church growth seems to hinge on the notion of taking a crowd and a fat bank account into a redundant Church. As it would seem from the BBC television programme Rev, a smoothie machine is also useful. I was clear that neither of these would be the case at the Good Shepherd: the latter wasn’t possible; the former wasn’t desirable. To a great extent what was true in the Good Shepherd’s early days is true now: in the words of Fr Smith, the first vicar of the parish, ‘undoubtedly those in the neighbourhood who have the sense to value public worship, prefer to come to the church,’ i.e. St Mary’s. They are only half a mile away from each other and so there seemed little point in simply cloning St Mary’s and transferring it down the road.
A great occasion
It also meant that there was a much greater potential for new people to cultivate a sense of possession. So I had to start somewhere and this I did on 12 September 2010. I had decided Mass was to be at 5pm. No special preacher. No visiting clergy. I simply said the Mass of the day pro populo. I knew the vicar and the organist from St Mary’s were coming. In the end another eighty-five came, including eleven people who would not have been to Church had it not been for the Good Shepherd. It was a great occasion combining the two elements I have striven for throughout: firstly, this is something new and an amazing act of God, and secondly, this is what the Church does, nothing more special than that (if that is in fact possible!). ND