Churches Group for New Housing Areas meeting 19.06.19
What can we learn from Cambourne? Reflections on starting something in a new housing area.
On 19th June 2019 a number of us from the Churches Group for New Housing Areas (NHAs) spent the day at Cambourne in Cambridge, reflecting on some of the best practices from the story of Cambourne.
1. Take your demographic seriously
Jacqui Huckle, part time administrator at Cambourne Church shared her story which in interlinked to the wider story. The first houses were built in 1999, although original planning started in mid 1980s. Upper Cambourne was just a field in 2002 when Jacqui originally moved in. The District council moved their offices to Cambourne in 2002, where Jacqui’s husband worked. Originally there was a concept centre – including a model of what Cambourne would eventually look like – which gave an overview of the developer’s intensions, but this changed over time.
The church began in a home using deck chairs, and later moved into a doctor’s waiting room. It quickly outgrew the doctor’s waiting room – moving into a two-room portacabin, with Peter Woods taking much of the pioneering role. A member of the congregation pioneered the building originally called the Ark. It was simply two rooms, toilets and a kitchen area. This meant that services took place in one side and children’s work the other. The church’s website describes this time: “An old school portacabin was found in the north of the county. It was reconditioned by local residents and became the first community centre for Cambourne opening on Palm Sunday 2002. The Ark quickly became a home to a wide variety of community groups. Although very limited in many respects it opened a good discussion on what was and is church.”
According to The Telegraph, Cambourne had a higher birth rate than India. Certainly at one point the highest birth rate in the country. In the original plan, Monkfield Park and the Vine were to be the school provision, but this was inadequate. Jacqui noted that, “This shapes the church and what we do.” In starting a new church in any community, listening is vital, but having access to statistics like the ones highlighted by The Telegraph means the church can really respond the community’s deepest needs. Subsequently, although the church is currently in an interregnum, there is a part time youth worker and a part time children’s worker involved in schools and responding to community needs.
2. Make use of professional help when building
Revd Dr Geoff Cook shared with us how having a company to work with the church in terms of buildings is key. Shared Churches Ely Limited was made up of directors who were Anglican, Catholic, URC, Baptist, Methodists and from the Society of Friends. The company had the Bar Hill church built in South Cambridgeshire.
Geoff noted that a legal body is really important. The developers plan was in the gothic style, and not really appropriate for the community. Churches knew what the church should look like, but the local people and developers had other ideas. s106 agreements are often referred to as 'developer contributions'. Developers have to give land to the community. Geoff said, “churches shouldn’t congratulate themselves, they need a smart solicitor and a legal entity to actually own property.” Having a development company and people with the right skills can be very strategic in the process of a new building.
3. Keep being committed to the ecumenical nature of the church
Jacqui noted that having Peter as minister from the Church of Scotland had been very helpful. It allowed Cambourne to create its own traditions over time – honouring the different traditions but forging something new. For example, they use the Methodist Covenant Prayer and communion in different styles. They have still had interesting conversations like, “do you or do you not cover the bread and wine after communion?” etc.
Cambourne is an LEP in association with Catholics, made up of Baptists, URC, Methodist, CofE. In terms of leadership, a previous minister was CofE, but that meant being careful it doesn’t just slip into being an Anglican Church. Cambourne wanted to protect the ecumenical side of the story. It’s hard to find people excited about an ecumenical project, but this has been really important in Beth’s story of training at Ridley. Be intentional about honouring the traditions within your NHA LEP, but do so with a flexibility and creativity to allow something new to emerge. Create your own traditions.
4. Succession in an NHA church still needs a pioneer mentality
Cambourne Church is currently in interregnum. Jacqui said that Cambourne Church was, “still a developing church.” Whilst the physical building was established, the church is still developing, growing and learning. Jacqui also reminded us that, “Cambourne is quite a transient place. People tend to come and go.” It was not easy to follow the previous minister. ‘We didn’t realise how strange we are’. Peter was not from one of the partner denominations, being a Church of Scotland minister. Whilst the church sought to honour traditions and operate in the here and now, there was still room for pioneer mentality, in the next minister bearing in mind that the demographic is young and child focused.
Questions around succession appointments are really important. Understanding the skill set needed in second stage pioneers needs to be developed. Reflections on modality and sodality from George Lings (drawing on Ralph Winter’s work) may be useful in helping churches be more strategic in appointing the right person. I’ve also blogged on pioneer shapes. Recent work by Hodgett and Bradbury on the pioneer spectrum is also worth considering for churches in succession planning (Hodgett, T & Bradbury, P ‘Pioneering Mission is…a spectrum’ Anvil 34(1) 2018. p. 30-34).
Cambourne, although a new town close to 20 years old, is still growing and is set for considerable development into the future. This is reflected in the life of the church too, which although established is growing, learning and maturing. Our prayer is that lessons learnt in this context may prove helpful to others on the pilgrimage.
Ben Aldous, Principal Officer for Evangelism & Mission for Churches Together in England.