The Story of Faith in the Village
Early in 2011 the superb new development called West End Village (an extra-care village with just over 100 apartments) welcomed it’s first residents. Where once had been a derelict pottery factory there was now an attractive complex of around 100 flats, with a large and airy lounge, café and restaurant area open to the public, alongside the brand-new offices of a local housing association. On the corner of the site was Stoke Baptist Church, where the minister Marg had watched the land be transformed as the new building emerged from dereliction. In January 2011 she sent an invitation to the other local churches in the area asking if they would join in a meeting to discuss “doing something Christian in West End Village”; the invitation was also opened to members of those churches who had moved into the village as residents.
An enthusiastic group of fifteen individuals, representing the local Methodist, Baptist, Anglican and Catholic churches came to that first meeting. The outline proposal was for a Christian gathering but one that would be accessible to people who had not been to church for many years, mainly who were moving into the village, but also to be open to other people in the locality. There was a real sense of unity in the meeting, and all agreed that no one denomination should dominate the gatherings, but each should be represented and that the meetings could be led by anyone with the confidence and ability to lead (i.e. not just church leaders). It was also agreed that the sessions would start with refreshments and conversation and would include prayer and some hymns. It would include some traditional church service elements but would be presented in a fresh way, that would not feel like formal church – more like a group of friends gathering.
Viv suggested the name ‘Faith in the Village’, which everyone liked, and so it was agreed that a small group would arrange to meet with the management of West End Village to outline their proposal.
The subsequent meeting was very positive, and the proposal well-received, and so the first Faith in the Village was organised for April 2011. Seventeen people, mostly from the organising group, attended the first gathering, but the numbers attending gradually increased over the first two years until average attendance was around 30 people, from a group of around 50 regulars. As hoped for, residents from the Village attend as do people from the local community, some of whom do not attend any of the local churches.
There is always a warm and friendly welcome for all who attend Faith in the Village, and of the long-standing local church members, many have commented “this is the best thing that Churches Together have ever done.” The gathering has strengthened friendships between people from different churches in the area, and it has also provided a bridge into faith for people who would not go to a regular church on a Sunday. It is a place of spiritual encounter for many, with prayer firmly rooted in the heart of each gathering and a sense of caring and sharing in the love of God between friends.
One of the joys of Faith in the Village is that if a stranger were to come along to three or four sessions then it is quite possible they would not be able to work out who organises or who leads it, or what type of church it has come from! It has genuinely emerged from the ‘grass roots’ and not from a ‘top-down’ mission initiative from the regional office of a denomination, and it has proved to be sustainable, with a small amount of funding support early on, as an on-going Christian gathering.
Now into its fifth year, and going strong, Faith in the Village has been a constant positive presence within West End Village as the development has seen a change of staff, managers, and ways of doing things.
Supported by Churches Together in Stoke