Story 31 - Whitehouse Church, Milton Keynes
Suzie Abramian in conversation with Tony McGinley 11/09/2020.
In story no.17 of the Stories of Missional Adventure, Minister in training Tony McGinley shared how the new church plant of Whitehouse Church in Milton Keynes were responding during the period of lockdown started in March 2020. Six months on, during a time when many limitations on normal daily life are still in place, we catch up with Tony to see how this new church is doing and also to look back on what led to the planting of this church to begin with.
Planted out from Loughton Baptist Church, Whitehouse Church is located in a new housing development in the western expansion of Milton Keynes, officially starting in a local primary school in January 2020, although the journey leading up to this point had begun some time before.
Tony, former Youth Pastor at Loughton BC recalls how there was the personal preparation for himself and his family and the preparation for those at Loughton BC to send people out to this new community. The personal journey for Tony, who grew up in Milton Keynes, was also intertwined with their need as a family to find a new home which miraculously came about for them in the Whitehouse development. Simultaneously, a deacon from Loughton BC was also having dreams about Whitehouse, seeing people from Loughton BC going out there. Running in parallel to this were other individual families from the Loughton congregation also moving onto the new housing development.
It was gradually becoming clear that God was, quite literally, moving, individuals to come together for a new Christian community. Tony describes these different stages as organic, with many of those involved testifying to miraculous provision and leading along the way without even being aware of a plan to plant. In 2017, a house group from Loughton BC was formed in Whitehouse with the aim to discern what their purpose would be in this new community and it was from this house group that the core group was sent, initially calling themselves Whitehouse Christian Community.
With the main demographic of this new housing development consisting of younger professionals from a wide range of nationalities and many with young children, it was apparent that these were the people to be connecting with. And with the primary school building finished on the new development before the houses were completed, wonderful connections with the school were made, encouraging and establishing good community relationships from the outset.
Tony states that their aim has always been to, ‘serve in the way God has called us to, that is, to build community and be generous in doing that.’ He recollects how there were billboards from the housing developers at the entrance to the new development inviting people to ‘‘be part of a vibrant, new community” yet the reality was there was no vibrancy and in fact there was no community. The way this young church has simply offered to bless others, despite limited resources and in a variety of ways demonstrates clearly their heart to serve and build community, especially where there is none.
When asked what prompted the move from a less formalised, house group model of church to the formation of Whitehouse Church, Tony responds that there was intentional prayer to discern what the future and identity of the house group would be and the clear decision emerged that it should be a more established form of church, with Loughton BC as their sending church and Tony as minister. Yet another miraculous provision, confirming their physical place in the community came in the form of the local primary school initiating the offer for them to hire the building on Sundays at incredibly low rent!
After opening the school’s doors on the first Sunday in January 2020 and welcoming in 36 new people, some totally unchurched, Whitehouse Church were able to enjoy a brief period of establishment and growth before the period of lockdown began. However, despite the disruptions this year has brought upon this church, Tony is still looking ahead to when they’re able to resume what was started and he notes the importance of keeping things smaller regardless when community is of such priority for people to feel a sense of belonging. He imagines that they would go down the route of multi-congregations and already sees the many different community buildings appearing on the development, such as coffee shops and a secondary school as possible places for these congregations.
In the meantime, online platforms, particularly zoom, have proved beneficial for Whitehouse and Tony has noticed how live services and giving people the opportunity to chat online or through messaging such as Whats App has especially connected with this church. He also observed how during the coronavirus pandemic many people have looked more to the leadership of the minister to guide with greater clarity and strength perhaps than before.
In conclusion, Tony states that during this time meeting new people and building new relationships is difficult, but ultimately we should be seeking to be who God has created us to be in whatever context we are placed in and minister out of that. He also highly recommends to those seeking to connect with schools to honour the school receptionists as the ‘gatekeepers’, observing if you can ‘get them on your side’ it will go a long way!