Beyond our expectations

Rev Ali Boulton

New housing development pioneer Ali Boulton is also the newest member of the CMS pioneer team

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Pioneers are imaginative, creative and full of good ideas for living out the good news and drawing others into God’s new creation. However, these ideas don’t just come without hard work, commitment, perseverance and sometimes a struggle. Here are two stories from different housing estates that illustrate this – one on a new housing estate and one supporting young people for the long haul.

Rev Ali Boulton moved on to a brand new housing development as a Baptist pioneer minister. This week, she also joined the pioneer team at CMS as a lecturer on the undergraduate programme.

Ministry on a new estate can sound quite un-pioneering. Some think it suggests rich people in expensive houses on a posh new estate and maybe securing a church building for ecumenical services. This doesn’t resonate with my experience.

I experienced a call from God to move into an as-yet unbuilt new estate to unconditionally love, bless and serve.

Our estate looks beautiful because it is brand new, but the superficial appearance masks a wide and complex demographic of the well off and those in high priority social housing and many in between.

row of houses partially hidden behind trees

Our call was a call to bless, to sow God’s love into the very foundations of this new community. To help grow a place where people of all different backgrounds and cultures can flourish.

Before any kind of gathering emerged I believed we were church, both embodying Christ and seeing God in others we met.

a welcome basket including toilet roll, washing up liquid, tea, coffee, sugar
“In the early days ‘church’ looked like visiting everyone who moved in with a welcome basket.”

In the early days ‘church’ looked like visiting everyone who moved in with a welcome basket; increasingly it looked like making friends and listening to God through the community. We believed this was how God was showing us what the Holy Spirit was doing.

We responded to invitations to meet for coffee, play rounders, start a toddler group and a youth club and in turn we invited the suggesters to partner with us, be they individuals or stakeholders. And as we journeyed with local people beyond the church, they suggested a children’s God club, a community nativity and a weekly church gathering.

Some have explored faith and become Christians, some have rejected it. Sometimes things here thrive and other times they seem fragile. But over 10 years on we are still following God’s call to bless, to listen to his voice in the community, to partner with others and share faith. moved 

“A miracle on the edge of disaster” – Rev Simon Halls on the treasure found outside ‘normal’ church

We’ve had the privilege of living and working on the Pinehurst housing estate, Swindon for over 25 years.

Much of what we do rarely feels ‘pioneering’ yet our friends, neighbours and others that are part of all we do still feel very different from many, or most, of those we’ve met in our experience of ‘normal’ church. Yet we find great treasure and joy in seeing God use so many people in leading, experimenting and exploring community together that have never previously had the opportunity to get involved, or overlooked or excluded for a huge range of reasons.

Much of our work is around supporting young people and families.

Many of the young people we work with risk being exploited by local and national drug lines or youth violence and many have experienced things no-one would ever want them to experience. So to get alongside them and play football or work on a community project together or get them involved in leading things is a real privilege.

We also have the great opportunity of working with the local all-through school (2-19 years old in the same building) supporting the students, staff and parents in a whole different range of ways.

One of the Bible bits that sticks with us is from Ephesians 3:20 – “[God] who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. This is true for us but also the way that Jesus is using people regardless of who they are, where they grew up, what school they went to, or what they’ve done in their past.

Things often feel very fragile – “a miracle on the edge of disaster” is what someone once called it but there is real excitement seeing people coming alive in Christ!

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ANVIL journal of theology and mission

Volume 37 issue 1 is out now. The theme is mission and the arts, with reflections from practitioners including David Blower, Ian Adams and Lou Baker.

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