Revd Chris Lane shares an insight into the most recent part of his journey around Walsall(1)
When I started my curacy over three years ago now, there was an expectation that, at the end of my time with St Peter’s church, Walsall, I would lead a church plant into another part of Walsall or even beyond. St Peter’s itself had been on the verge of closure until a team, led by the Revd Gav Burnage, came from Aldridge Parish Church to help revitalise the mission and ministry of the church(2). Several years later St Peter’s is a vibrant church once again which is serving the local community in which it is situated. The vision had always been to seek to do what had happened at St Peter’s somewhere else too. So, as soon as I started my curacy, the conversation around where this might happen also began.
After speaking to Bishop Clive about our ideas, he suggested that we take a look at Beacon Church on Pheasey, an estate on the edge of Walsall and Birmingham. Like St Peter’s, the future of Beacon Church has been very uncertain for some time, with the Anglican/Methodist LEP in seemingly terminal decline and the church in vacancy. However, after taking the final year of my curacy to explore with the church what a revitalisation might look like we discovered that embracing change would allow us to become more missionally focused. The church congregation courageously allowed us to explore changing the shape of the way that we worshipped on Sundays(3). We also spent time updating some of the infrastructure of the building and engaging in the local community with an eye on growing Fresh Expressions of church in the future. In the space of that year, Sunday attendance has doubled and the church is already thinking about how it might plant a Fresh Expression of church in the local community. A vote of the whole church resulted in 96% of the congregation deciding that they wanted to make the dramatic changes to the church community’s life permanent, with a vision to be ‘Christ’s Light in the community of Pheasey and Park Farm’. A recent relaunch party saw over 600 people, largely members of the local community, coming into the building one Saturday evening to celebrate the future of their local church!
I truly believe that the desire of the people of Beacon Church to see young people and families welcomed into the church community, equally matched with their willingness to embrace the change needed to make that happen, is what is driving this revitalisation. However, the congregation were running out of energy and ideas. When the church plant revitalisation provided the energy the triangle was completed and a renewed vigour to pursue the mission of God in the local community was found. As a result, we are seeing the prayers of many people who have gone before coming to fruit. Local families are once again starting to engage with their local church to explore questions of faith and God and coming to a place where the Holy Spirit is given space to move in their lives. Christ has lit something for the future on the edge of Walsall and Birmingham.
(1)Chris shared some of his journey towards ordination from the congregation of St Matthew's church in Walsall in a 2019 video.
(2)The story of St Peter's replanting is told from the perspective of the incoming vicar, the church wardens and youth workers in this series of videos.
(3) A similar tale of a courageous congregation was shared at the recent Shropshire Churches Conference.