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Story 24- Kings Corner

Jo Sharman - Biggleswade Baptist Church

The Context
Founded in 1771, Biggleswade Baptist Church has a long, established presence in the historic Bedfordshire market town of Biggleswade. The town itself has undergone many changes of development over the centuries, particularly in becoming a popular place for commuters to London or to the other large towns nearby. And much like the town, the church has also seen many changes, moving to its current site in 1968 and extended to provide modern catering facilities and a suite of connected multi- functional rooms in addition to the main church worship area. Over the last 10 years, the wider church family has increased at a faster rate than the growth in average Sunday service attendance.
The Mission
With the town’s current population around 18,500 it is forecast to grow to over 20,000 as a large new estate is built on the Eastern side of the town. The ‘Kings Reach’ new estate is yet to be finished but when completed will have around 2,000 households. Like the many changes and developments happening in the town itself, BBC has also been on a journey in recent years exploring how they could reach out to a new growing community with all the opportunities that come with a new housing estate. A large part has started to come to fruition with the recent establishment of ‘Kings Corner’, a community hub from the church on the corner of the central square in the Kings Reach estate.
Jo Sharman, BBC’s church and community worker since 2017, has had a particular mandate to not only support the church body from within but also to help facilitate the outward missional focus of the church as well, as she developed her role in the community. Jo describes this role with her ‘hand-in’ to support the existing church family, getting to know them and develop the small groups but always with a view to look at how this would equip them for the “hand-out” mission of the church, echoing the church’s mission statement “to know Jesus and make him known.”’
The Plan and Action
Interestingly, it is worth noting that despite the apparent opportunities arising with the new housing development, plans did not begin with a project there. Rather, considerable time was given to help the whole church move together, particularly with their small groups where, whilst it was noticed the long established and relatively ‘closed’ groups were very good at caring for each other, this sometimes came at the detriment of welcoming new people from outside. In order to welcome and develop relationships in the wider community of Biggleswade and encourage others to explore Christianity, the church has now moved from a traditional homegroup model of small groups and developed 3 streams of groups, including discipleship groups, social/interest groups and courses. 
Only over the last year has Jo’s role gradually evolved to develop a more outward focus, especially furthering links with professional bodies outside the church such as councils, health workers and teachers – many of whom are represented in the church. 
Much time was also given from the church to pray through how they might have a presence in the new estate and ultimately how they might introduce others to Jesus. Along with the discernment of past and more recent prophecies, some of the leadership team also attended the Fresh Streams conference in 2019 leading to a challenge to take a Renew Wellbeing café into the new estate. Jo notes that as this vision was explored as well as other ideas it became clear that not only was it important for the church to have a presence on the estate and for it to be a permanent place in the estate, ‘it was also to be a shared space with others, supporting the community and other local services,’ and perhaps most importantly was the idea that this should be a ‘space to develop friendships and relationships without the expectation for someone to come to a ‘church service.’ 
With a clear vision to go ahead a speedy timeline of events transpired from the first enquiries about an empty retail unit on the estate in September 2019 to Kings Corner opening its doors on 22
nd February 2020. It was clear that God’s was creating the way for all this to happen with godly appointments given along the way, negotiations with the council on leases and favour shown to the project from the outset. 
Relationships already established in the community beforehand were also vital in the lead up to the opening of the hub, particularly with the church’s long-standing reputation in the area with its large baby and toddler group where Jo was able to get know many families and support services.  This as well as the whole church participating in the promotion by dropping leaflets and prayer walking in the surrounding streets all contributed to a well-considered approach to the whole lead up.
The Result
In February 2020 the appropriately named ‘Kings Corner’ opened with balloons and bunting and a team of 18 volunteers. As Jo reflects on the reasons behind the final design and look of Kings Corner, she says that the plan was for ‘it to be a very relaxed place where people could “come and be.”’ She also explains how they consulted with 3 local, single mums asking, ‘what would invite you to step over the threshold?’ and from their responses much of the internal design was taken, including the desires that it mustn’t look clinical, that there should be soft furnishings, lighting, plants and something that makes them feel safe such as children’s toys. 
Whilst it was only able to run for 4 weeks before the period of lockdown began in the UK it was still of enormous encouragement to see the interest and reception from the local community with 55 visits to Kings Corner in that time alone.
Looking ahead, the church is obviously keen to reopen the doors of Kings Corner again but in the meantime is already considering how, if they can’t meet indoors, the outside spaces on the estate may be used and also how to increase its use of social media.

Advice and Encouragement
Reflecting on this entire journey, Jo encourages others considering a similar venture to be inclusive and give people space, saying that, ‘if there is anyone in the church saying they think they are hearing God speak – we need to give people the opportunity to share, encourage the prophets, share with the leadership. If it’s clear the Lord is taking the church in a very specific way, then run with it.’
This has evidently been the case at BBC as Jo also notes the challenge there has been to identify the needs of the community they seek to serve and that it is important to involve the whole church family in a vision with the desire for them all to take ownership of it. Ultimately, she encourages that if there is a strong vision, with people on board and God, by His Spirit invited through prayer to lead us, then we can see ‘a greater picture of what God will do through us, out of obedience and trust when we step out of our comfort zones!’

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Neil Attewell
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Emily Chalke
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Justin Kennedy
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New Brighton
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