A source of updates, stories, lessons, examples and peer news / resources from Building Bridges of Hope - a 'living laboratory for changing churches' sponsored by the Churches' Commission on Mission of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (an official ecumenical body for Christian denominations in England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland). Updated regularly.

Saturday, December 06, 2003


Building Bridges of Hope has, over the years, established a number of links throughout the continent of Europe. Indeed, its origins were with missionary congregational research initiated in Germany and supported through the World Council of Churches. This led to consultations among church mission enablers in Britain and Ireland, and eventually to this shared project as a way forward in our four nations. (See John Roxborogh's helpful summary of Gerhardt Linn, Hear What The Spirit Says To The Churches: Towards Missionary Congregations in Europe (WCC, 1994). John is a missiologist in New Zealand.

The mutual interest and support continues, for example in Norway. On 29 November 2003 the magazine of Den Norsk Kirke published a short piece about BBH.

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Friday, December 05, 2003


Desmond Bain from the Methodist Church in Ireland has been involved in Building Bridges of Hope for some time. He describes it as "a programme enabling congregations to seek to tip the balance from maintenance towards mission." Earlier this year the Methodists in Ireland (MMSI) held a Global Vision 2003 event. BBH was featured as one of the impressive range of seminars on offer. The conference was held at Wallace High School, Lisburn.

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Thursday, December 04, 2003


From Dr Helen Cameron, who was a 'reflector' at the 2003 Future Church Conference. She is a visiting professor at the LSE and a member of the Salvation Army:

‘Glory to God in the High St and on earth, peace and goodwill to all people.’

I used to think of this as a cheesy wayside pulpit displayed at Christmas time but now it has come alive through meeting a BBH pilot team with their companion over lunch at the conference. An ecumenical team of eight trustees has bought and refurbished a redundant chapel on their High Street and turned it into a place of welcome for the whole community.

Our conversation flowed in a number of directions: liturgy, incarnation, evangelism and finished with them asking me what they could read about their attempts to communicate the gospel in through ‘secular’ actions. As a teacher I pride myself on not failing with this sort of request but I was stumped for an immediate answer so I thought, I’ll put some of my reflections on the discussion on the web log and see if it will trigger ideas from others on reading that will meet this situation.

The motivation of this group arose from their shared Christian belief but they expressed anxieties that running a café, an after school club and a facility that other agencies could use to contact the community was ‘not Christian enough’. Other BBH projects had a liturgy, where was theirs?

Liturgy is often described as ‘the work of the people of God’ a good description of this project. Liturgy involves movement, words and symbols that are designed to convey grace to the participant. We identified the way in which customers were greeted personally by name, the way in which food was presented and served, help with taking a tray to a table, making eye contact, shaking hands…these could all be graceful encounters in a world that often makes people feel lonely and anonymous.

For most Christian traditions, the Eucharist is a symbol of Christ feeding his people – a deeply meaningful symbol for those accustomed to it. I speculated that in our secular society, the retail transaction is a key symbol. It represents the power of the individual to interact with society on their own terms, to make choices and to create their identity through what they consume. This group were taking a symbol that people were willing to access and adding onto it layers of Christian meaning…being called by name, being served because you are worthy, being accepted for who you are.

This for me carried strong echoes of the incarnation: the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us so that in as much as we serve those on our High Street we serve Christ himself.

The conversation moved on to evangelism – the trustees came from different denominations and so brought different understandings of the purpose and methods of evangelism. Rather like the grain that goes to make the broken bread, they had had to die to their own understandings of evangelism and learn from those they served, the ways in which they were willing to be engaged. They had become aware of a gulf between their much loved liturgy of a Sunday and the ability of those they served on a Monday to engage with it.

How could they create a bridge without losing the respect of those they served and making them feel they only valued them as a means of restocking the pews? The companion felt there was a gap between the relationships built in the High Street Centre and something like Alpha or Emmaus. How best to bridge that gap was the topic left on the table. The Centre had recently been refurbished and a quiet room added – maybe there was a staring point…

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003


This BBH report is from Independent Catholic News. ICN is the first daily Catholic on-line news service in the UK. The site is run by Catholic journalists based in London, England. There are also more than a dozen regular contributors around the world.

"We set up on a voluntary basis in May 2000 in response to Tertio Millennio Adveniente, which called for lay people to play a more active role in the work of the Church. As journalists, we felt this project was one way we could make a contribution. Our aim is to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. We also have a Saint of the Day, Sunday Reflection, Listings Section, Archives and Links pages."

If you would like daily news updates e-mailed directly to your mailbox, contact: subs@indcatholicnews.com

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003


The perceptive Scottish writer, critic and historian William Dalrymple (whose latest book is White Mughals) has recently written an interesting piece on the contradictions of religious life in modern Britain. Some of his data seems to have been drawn from Callum Brown's challenging book, The Death of Christian Britain, but his judgements are more measured. Not that they constitute grounds for complacency among firstline British church leaders, some of whom seem not to have recognized that the kind of faith that persists amidst the secularity of public life is not a likely antechamber for the return of historic Christianity. If we wish to stand still, or even move forward, we have a lot of change to negotiate, and a re-energization of hope. This too is what Building Bridges of Hope is about.

Of the situation we are in Dalrymple observes:

"It is usually assumed that Christianity in Britain was in decline from the mid-19th century on. In fact, church attendance figures reached an all-time high at the end of the 19th century, and dramatically revived again in the 1950s: this was the period, for example, when Billy Graham, the American evangelist, was able to draw crowds of more than 2 million to his open air services.

"The decline has taken place, at a quite startling rate, only since the mid-1960s. As late as the 1950s, nearly half the adult population went to church on a Sunday. By the 1990s the figure was down to 10%. During the 1960s, the decline was initially limited to the Anglican church, and both Roman Catholic and Jewish attendance figures held up well. But even there, decline set in towards the end of the 1970s and accelerated fast, so that by the late 1980s Catholicism and Judaism found themselves haemorrhaging faithful as Protestants had 20 years earlier.

"Today the decline is at its most severe in urban areas, and most severe of all in London: fewer than 3% of Londoners now attend church on Sundays. This is clearly a major change in the landscape, but it does not represent a universal decline. For while organised religion is ceasing to play a major role in the life of the white majority, there is no comparable decline in the religious life of Britain's ethnic minorities. Today in London, white Christians are already outnumbered by black ones. Black Pentecostal churches are flourishing and 51% of regular London churchgoers are now non-white.

"Likewise, the number of mosque-going Muslims is fast catching up with the number of church-going Christians, and Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras are also flourishing. Nor is there any obvious drop-off in the faith of second- or third-generation British Indians. The outlook remains uncertain, especially as regards mainstream white Christianity, but reports of the death of religion in these islands are premature."

See the full piece (‘God in Peckham Rye') here.

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Monday, December 01, 2003


From St Gall’s Church, Parish of Carnalea, Diocese of Down & Dromore in the Church of Ireland:

"A key element of the mission of the church is the building of bridges of understanding and trust in our community today. To that end within the life of St Gall’s four people are presently serving as “Parish Bridge Builders”. They head up our involvement in a range of projects run within the diocese under the “Think Again” initiative and laise with the Rev Charlie Leeke, the reconciliation officer.

"Breaking down barriers that divide our community here in Northern Ireland can be the toughest of our callings as the church of Christ. Bold and imaginative ways have to be found to help people address the prejudices that we all hold by virtue of our culture. What is our understanding of those of a different community than our own? Often, if we are honest, it is limited and sometimes negative."

BBH is working with "Think Again" to help create new paths forward.

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Sunday, November 30, 2003


From a review of the first BBH book, Changing Churches (CTBI, 2002), from Brian Newsom:

"We normally think of changing churches as referring to those people who move from congregation to congregation looking for the perfect church, where they can feel happy and fulfilled. And of course they never find it. This book is about churches that are responding to changes in society and seeking to meet the needs of the people in their locality.

"This is amply demonstrated in the heart-warming story of the development of the ecumenical Forthspring Inter-Community Group (named after the local river Forth) in the strife-torn, Springfield Road area of West Belfast, where the Protestant and Catholic communities meet.

"In Leyland, the Catholic church of St Mary’s became the catalyst for a coming together of ten different churches from the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and URC denominations. This has resulted in the town becoming more open to God, and a spreading pool of goodwill generally.

"There are also stories of churches arising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of urban deprivation, like that of the Furnival pub in north east Sheffield which has become an ecumenical, multi-cultural, Christian community. Café 2000 is another, similar initiative which has blossomed in the wilderness of the Marsh Farm estate in Luton. Here a body of dedicated volunteers offer spiritual, practical and psychological help to people living on the edge of society.

"In Glasgow the Late Late Service is run by an ecumenical Christian community with strong links to the mainstream churches, to minister to young adults who find traditional forms of church service out-moded, or even incomprehensible.

"This book should be read by all Christians who have a concern for reaching out to the un-churched in their immediate vicinity; for there are examples of faith in action which will inspire you all."

The full article is here. From Anglican Renewal Ministries Wales (AdnewYddiad Eglwyswyr Cymru)

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