Mission through partnership in East Bristol

First published 5th February 2011

Revd Trevor Denley, an Ordained Local Minister in the East Bristol Partnership, gives an account of an Anglican and a Methodist Church working together in mission.

Summerhill Methodist and St Aidans, East Bristol, have had a good relationship for many years. As members of the East Bristol Council of Churches (now defunct) we shared in worship and other activities with our ecumenical friends in the area.

Given our close proximity to one another it makes sense to try and undertake mission work in tandem rather than in isolation.

Three years ago we started sharing Lent and Advent courses together, inviting other church communities to join with us as they wished. This enabled friendships to be cemented and the vision to share in mission together to grow.

Both church communities were struggling to maintain Sunday School attendance as a result of the calling of football, shopping and other alternative Sunday activities. Both church communities were wanting to minister to school age children.

It was decided to start a "Messy Church" activity in the area to cater for primary school children that would be jointly staffed and funded by the two churches.

The head teacher of Air Balloon School was approached for permission to locate the Messy Church within the school, and for it to be held immediately after school finished on a Wednesday evening. This permission was granted and we are now in our second full year.

The average attendance is 15 children per week, but perhaps most pleasing is to see a growing number of parents and grandparents staying with the children and helping, or sitting back and chatting with others. The weekly sessions have led, by demand, to school holiday Messy Week and Messy Day sessions, sharing church facilities to stage these.

Although it would have been possible for one church to have run Messy Church independently, it has been more successful because it has been done jointly, simply because there is a good feeling of working together. It matters not where the children and their families choose to go as church members because the aim is to give them a start and a lot of fun!

It is not just the young to whom we try and minister together. We have implemented a regime of communion services in two of our local Elderly Peoples Homes and one Nursing Home. These are conducted on a rota basis with alternating leadership. Church members often join in with these services and stay and chat with the residents.

We have also begun to share the advertising of seasonal worship by producing a leaflet for distribution that advertises both the churches' services.

At Christmas we jointly organised an event called "Carols in the Precinct", open air carol singing for the community in the shopping precinct at the end of the Kingsway in St. George. This is supported by all the local shops. Farrows fish and chip shop even supplied sausage and chips for everyone after! Given the very inclement weather, freezing cold, with snow and ice covered pavements the crowd of 85 (more than last year) thoroughly enjoyed themselves and requests were made for it to become a permanent feature.

This year, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the two churches swapped ministers for the Sunday morning worship. Whereas we have had "Pulpit Swaps" in the past, this was the first time that the entire service was led by the visiting minister, each conducting a Communion Service in their own tradition.

St. Aidans holds a Community Fayre during March each year, where local community groups, clubs etc are invited to showcase their activities. Both Summerhill and Wesley Memorial are again participating in this and will have displays at the event.

We are considering plenty more ideas for further mission work that not only can be, but are also best done in conjunction with others, so watch this space...

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