Hope Whitby - a thriving missional community
Jesus said: “Where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” And Hope Whitby – a thriving missional community - is testimony to this.
What started as a cell group made up of a handful of people has turned into an inspirational fresh expression of 'church'.
Pioneer leader Leigh Coates, who is a member and missional community leader at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Scarborough, and his wife, Bec, felt a strong call to be missionaries where they lived in Whitby. They shared this with the church leadership team, who released them to set up Hope Whitby. Ebenezer Baptist Church receives a Home Mission Ministry Grant for Leigh, who works part-time for the missional community, and is a part-time PE teacher.
Leigh takes up the story: “About five years ago, a group of us wanted to start something new, so we launched a small cell group and began to explore the idea of missional communities. We organised a couple of Christian worship events as outreaches; they were called Restore
and we had a couple of people come to faith as a result. That's great of course, but we wanted to do more and that's when we had a vision of being involved in a regular café-style 'thing'.
“So in May 2012, Bec and I approached the owner of what we reckon is the best café in Whitby, Sanders Yard
, and they said yes to us running a pilot ‘Hope Hub’. In a nutshell, this is a music event with a short testimony or talk that has Christian influences.
“The music is a mix of popular secular music - anything from The Beatles to The Arctic Monkeys – and some modern Christian music, and the surprising thing is that most of the people who are not ‘church goers’ will say how much they like it!
“The café seats around 50 people but the first event was packed and about 70 people came along.
“We then had another conversation with the owner and said we'd like to do this long term and she said, 'as long as you make £100 behind the bar, you carry on as you are'. Since then, we have never had to pay a penny for the use of the venue.
“Hope Hubs now take place there on the third Friday of the month and we usually get around 40-60 people, with an age range from 14 to much, much older! They are from church or non-church backgrounds, and even those who’ve been put off church for various reasons.
“The Hope Hub is not a service; we describe it as 'raw, real, relevant' because we are working through tough questions about Christianity in a way that's accessible to people of faith or of no faith. I hate Christian things that are cheesy so we do our best to avoid that! The talks are short and snappy. These can be people’s life stories or sometimes we look at relevant things that are going on in the world or ethical topics. The event is free and the cafe is open as normal, so there are hot drinks and scrumptious cakes but also wines and beers on sale.
“We also have #Gathering
on the first Thursday of the month at St John’s Church, Baxtergate, from 7pm. This is a contemporary service, which draws in all the small groups and also small groups and individuals from other churches.
“What started off as five people meeting together has now grown to four different cell groups, huddles, Hope Hub, Hope Rocks
, a new youth project called Hyp
and many other things. We meet as small groups all over Whitby, in houses, pubs and cafes.
“We have four core team leaders, including me and Bec, but there's no hierarchy. We work together on everything, particularly to ensure that we are not replicating something that is already being done by other churches here. We have no interest in reinventing the wheel!
“Hope Whitby is a decentralisated model of church and aims to show Christianity in a way that can be understood by everyone. We have seen three baptisms in the sea as part of a Hope Rocks the Beach
service, which featured some acoustic musical performances, readings and a talk – and a surfing lesson by Crossboards Surf Church.
“I'm always keen just to promote 'church' – wherever that may be or whatever it looks like. There are plenty of churches that meet on a Sunday in a specific building too. I would encourage you to find the one that suits you best and has the love of Jesus and the gospel message at the centre.
“Hope Whitby operates from Monday to Friday with Saturday as a day of rest. Our core missional community is drawn from different churches so, on Sundays, we return to them. Some churches might have felt threatened when we first came along but we have made it clear that we're not a Sunday church; this is all about building God's kingdom.
“Ebenezer Baptist Church has been amazing because it commissioned me to go and do what we are doing and I can go there for accountability; the pastor and elders have been great. Thanks to Ebenezer, I 'officially' work part-time for Hope Whitby. They have been very gracious and open to seeing what God has in store.
“In the future, we are exploring the possibility of doing many new things but we are still praying about it. It would be easy to get caught up in lots of plans; that's not the way it should be. It's being sensitive to what's developing around you and listening to what God is saying.
“Bec and I have been praying for others to join us with a heart for local mission. If you feel called to be a pioneer in a tent-making situation and have a passion for families, youth, elderly or worship and want to use this in a community-based life with no church building, then why not give us a call?
“We can't offer you a financial package but we can offer you a challenge. Whitby is a beautiful place but it has a dark atmosphere, we need help to bring the Gospel alive.”
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Report by Joolz Walker
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