Who’d have thought that a new pedestrian crossing could make such a difference?
It was in 2006 that we began planning the renewal our Church Action Plan, which we decided should be a collaborative process in which every one of our members should have a voice. Finally, after months of discussion, Shaping our Future was born and its five headings summarise our life and purpose: Worship, Welcome, Caring, Outreach and Growth.
The title is significant. Shaping is a continuous process, not something done and then put away; every one of our regular planning meetings has Shaping our Future on its agenda. Our is possessive; each individual continues to have a part to play in developing our worship and work. And the Future is what we’re constantly looking towards; of course we live in and enjoy the present but always we want to keep up to date in an ever-changing world.
Looking back, our church has changed radically since then. We stand at a crossroads, literally, which links us to the heart of the city – a pedestrian crossing on Chapelfield Road. There’s a constant flow of people past the church: to and from Chapelfield Mall, Bignold School and its car park, St Stephen’s Gate Medical Centre, the new housing complex at Fellowes Plain – the old hospital site, the Champion pub. City College.
Many of these passers-by find their way into our Church Centre, whose door is open to welcome a wide variety of groups every week: the Samaritans, an Epilepsy Group, the Photographic Society, Relate, the Post Office Veterans, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Sine Nomine choir, Bignold School Parenting Classes, the African Fellowship, Combat Stress, the Townswomen’s Guild are just a few that play a regular part in our outreach. We also host large-scale annual events like the Sea Cadets’ Prize-giving Ceremony, the City College Foundation Course Awards and many Carol Services.
Our membership profile’s developed too, with a growing number of younger families and a flourishing Junior Church from babies and toddlers to teenagers. When they celebrated the Olympics and paraded a flag for each nation represented in our regular congregation, 26 colourful banners decorated the church. Some of you will remember Christian Aid’s Africa Alive! event and the spectacular singing, drumming and dancing by members of our Congolese community
Before writing this article I invited the congregation one Sunday morning to jot down in a few words what Chapel Field Road Church means to them. Well over a hundred responses – all anonymous – were honest, inspiring and sometimes humbling. The children’s candour is refreshing: they like bingo and biscuits; singing and playing games; having fun and hearing Bible stories. As they get older they value having somewhere to go on a Sunday morning; making friends from other parts of the world; learning valuable life lessons; talking to God and helping each other.
Adults find a welcome at the church and reach for metaphors to describe it: my home; a warm, caring family of faith and love; a safe haven; a pit-stop that gives me strength for the week; my security-blanket in an insecure world; it has given me a new chance; it’s a place where I can be myself, become more confident and discover new talents. The church offers variety and depth in its worship: music, singing, preaching and activities; it encourages immediate involvement; it helps me to reach out and do things in God’s name; it’s a place where I am challenged, again and again.
And finally: this church means love, God’s and other people’s; this church is my life; this church is my very existence.