Monday, 24 September 2012

Resurrection!


Sept 2012 (written by Ifor)
In the last few weeks our ministry in Breconshire has taken an exciting and completely unexpected direction. It began when Glasbury Baptist Church started talking about selling their building because it was in a bad state and had a big hole in the roof.  I was on hand as Superintendent to help and advise. Glasbury have only four members and  for a long time had just one Sunday service a month. The Church Secretary and her husband have had to cope with a serious family illness for some time, and as a result the church hadn't met for worship for the best part of a year. The building was deteriorating, and closure looked inevitable.
The chapel is a large building, with a small house and garden adjoining and belonging to the chapel, and together the property was expected to make a good price. A neighbouring business was interested in acquiring the chapel , and they made a reasonable offer. Before accepting the offer it made sense to explore the possibility of amalgamating with a nearby Baptist Church. This was simply to ensure that any assets from the sale of the chapel could be kept and used for God's work in the locality, instead of disappearing to some Baptist fund in London, which is what often happens when a church closes and the Trust deed is invoked. The two churches were only a few miles apart and had worked together in the past and knew each other well. It made sense to amalgamate, as it meant that the other church would have some new members, as well as benefiting from the sale of the chapel.
And then things started going wrong. Or so it seemed. Quite unexpectedly, the other church said a unanimous 'No'  to the amalgamation. When I heard the news I had an immediate sense that this was a 'God thing'.  I prayed and asked God what he was saying through this, and I began to sense quite strongly that he wanted us involved in Glasbury. In the middle of the night I found myself wide awake thinking about the possibilities. I got dressed and went downstairs, and got out a local map. I discovered that if you draw a circle with a 4 miles radius around Glasbury, it includes 12 separate villages, including the small towns of Hay and Talgarth, with a combined population of over 5,000 people, but little effective Christian witness. What if we sold the house and garden and used that money to repair the roof and modernise the whole chapel? What if I became the minister of the church, and the chapel building became the centre for a new form of church to serve the whole area?  It was an exciting possibility and seemed to make a lot of sense. I shared the idea with Penny the next morning and she responded positively. Then we spoke to the Church Secretary and her husband, and they too were very positive.

Then we went to look inside the chapel. It was dire. As I looked around inside the deteriorating building, my heart sank as I thought about the time, effort and money it would take to refurbish it to an acceptable standard. And what then?To make all that effort worthwhile we would need to ensure the building was used on a regular basis, not just on a Sunday. This wasn't what we were called to when we came to Brecon. We were called to make disciples in small groups meeting in people's homes across the County, not to get caught up in a building centred church. And yet I had felt so certain that God was leading us to get involved with Glasbury......

After a few weeks I had to go back to the Church Secretary and tell her that I had got it wrong. We were back to square one, so I arranged to meet the members of the other church to find out why they had rejected the idea  of amalgamation. Their reasoning both surprised  and delighted me. Their argument was that their own chapel was in an isolated position up in the hills, and if we were going to have any chance of reaching people in the village, then Glasbury chapel needed to stay open. I was impressed by their positive reasoning, but I couldn't see how it could happen. "It would cost too much to repair the chapel." I said. "Then they could meet in the village hall." came the reply. "But that would be like starting a church plant. They just don't have the energy or resources." I said.  And that's when God spoke to me loud and clear. One of the ladies looked me right in the eye and said, "Well you're a minister. You do it!"
I knew that God had spoken, and that night as Penny and I prayed it through, it all became clear. God didn't want us to get bogged down with a building project. He wanted us to restart the church, but in a completely different form. A church based on small groups where people could grow as disciples.
God made it clear to us both that he wanted me to become minister of Glasbury Baptist Church. To become minister of a church with no building, no Sunday service, and precious little congregation. Why? So that I would have the credibility of being minister of the local chapel. That may not mean much in some places, but here in rural mid Wales, in a very conservative and traditional society, it means a lot. People may not go to church or chapel, but they still value the whole concept. They may not attend the Sunday service, but they respect what it stands for. If a stranger started a new church in the village, the locals would be suspicious and even negative, but if I become the new minister of the old chapel, then I immediately have credibility.

And that's what's happened. I met with the members and trustees of Glasbury chapel, and proposed that I become their minister, that we sell the chapel, that we begin meeting in each others homes in order to grow as disciples, and that we  look to organise occasional outreach events in the village hall or appropriate venues. At the same time I would begin to visit people in the area, introducing myself as the new minister and take it from there. They agreed unanimously, the offer for the chapel has been accepted, and we have started to meet together in different homes, already attracting two new people to join us. The small group of six people is already delighted with what they are experiencing in bible study and prayer.

If you are surprised to read this, it's even more surprising for me. In our call to start church from scratch, the last thing I expected to do was to get involved with churches that were about to close. And yet biblically it makes a lot of sense. It's resurrection. You can't have resurrection without a death, and when a church has come this close to closing, then the church can be resurrected in a completely different form. It's also very practical. One of the things I have been hoping to do is to start Alpha courses. For all sorts of reasons, it's a lot easier to start an Alpha course when you're the minister of the local chapel. And if we can start an Alpha course, that's a great way to initiate and establish small groups of disciples.

So there we are. We are planning a 'closing service' for the old chapel, and perhaps combining it with some form of induction. Or that may happen later. Someone suggested that 'Pioneer minister' might be an appropriate title for this rather unique situation. And if this proves to be an effective way of working out our vision, then I can already see the possibility of repeating this scenario in other parts of Breconshire. There are a number of chapels that are virtually but not technically closed, and which are ripe for 'resurrection'. If I became pioneer minister to three or four different churches in different parts of the County, then I would have distinct bases to work from. I could, for instance, spend a day a week in each place, look to gather a small group in someone's home, and perhaps have some sort of outreach service in each place once a month. Watch this space..........