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Story 70 - Update - Ilfracombe Baptist Church

Aly Fulford
Written by Suzie Abramian in conversation with Aly Fulford - 18/01/2021

In one of our first podcasts for the Missional Adventures project, Aly Fulford shared about her very new appointment as pioneer missioner at Ilfracombe Baptist Church (https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/586359/Story_28_Ministry.aspx ). Starting a pioneering role in a new, established church, right as the Coronavirus pandemic first hit the UK, with half of her family still living in their previous home in Bristol, we were keen to catch up almost 1 year on to see what mission has looked like personally for Aly and for the church in Ilfracombe.
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After noticing the effects of a worldwide pandemic on our hairstyles since we last spoke, I am relieved to hear that Aly and her family have also changed their living situation! After 7 months apart it is wonderful to hear that the family were able to move into a manse, incredibly provided by the URC South West Synod, in July 2020. Until that time Aly was in temporary accommodation in a flat in the centre of Ilfracombe which she says was a hard and lonely time, although it gave her a perspective of the town which she now says she feels privileged to have experienced, saying that it opened her eyes more to the needs of the town than if she had moved straight into the manse to begin with.
Perhaps one of the next burning questions is, what does a new missional ministry look like during a worldwide pandemic?! Aly immediately notes the flexibility that has been necessary with the unique circumstances of the last year, commenting that, ‘no two days are alike’ and that for her personally, the challenges of starting new somewhere were heightened even more due to the restrictions of the pandemic. Many plans and ideas have had to be adapted or put to one side, especially those involving hospitality and community gatherings with the acceptance that things are having to be very different.
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In Aly’s first interview she mentioned that she felt she had been invited into a party that God had already started, and I wonder how that image has changed or been affirmed over the last year. Encouragingly, Aly says the feeling of God already working in a place has continued even though it has looked different saying, 'God hasn’t been derailed because of Coronavirus.’ Furthermore, she notes that ecumenical relationships, already strong within the town, have actually grown more throughout the last year because of the different opportunities that have been presented to help the wider community.
It is also of great encouragement to hear how some plans, especially those so reliant on relationships have still managed to flourish and develop. Before the first lockdown in March 2020 Aly had already established good relationships at the local school academy, being invited in as a chaplain for well-being which has continued throughout the last year and has now developed into the start of a chaplaincy for the staff as well as the pupils. Interestingly Aly recalls that some of these new relationships felt rushed when she arrived in the area at the beginning of 2020, but she now sees God’s hand preparing her and others to be in place for what was to come.
Other opportunities for relationships to develop have come in the form of Aly being a mentor for young people in the school, something which has been positively encouraged by the school to continue throughout the pandemic. Discussions across churches have also led to the plans to open a permanent youth drop-in space in the town, all ready to go as soon as guidelines allow. Again, listening back on our first interview in 2020, we can recall how Aly had already noted the years of prayer - 40 to be precise - that people in the town had been praying for a Christian presence to be welcomed into the school.


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Another reflection on the last year from Aly, which will undoubtedly resonate with many churches, is that her theology of buildings has changed somewhat! Confessing that, ‘I’m not a massive fan of a building as I think they’re more trouble than they’re worth,’ she admits that she has seen first-hand how their church building, which is so well-known in the town as a place of refuge for the lost and broken, has held even more importance over the last year. Throughout the pandemic, Aly, along with others from the church, have been able to use their building in line with Government guidelines in support of vital services to the community, especially the local food bank. Aly also notes in the scripture when Jesus sends out the 72 with the command to stay in a place if they are welcomed, and says that message can perhaps apply to our church buildings today very simply because a building is easier to find by those who are searching, be it for practical help, support or ultimately Jesus himself.
Looking ahead, it is also possible to see the impact of the pandemic on other aspects of Ilfracombe Baptist Church’s missional outreach. Whilst there have been the very real challenges of having to close its doors for most of the last year and the knock-on effect for helpers and volunteers of certain ministries, Aly has noticed that new growth has still been able to spring up. One new team within the church has been able to form, exploring together how mission itself may look different going forward and fundamentally listening to where God is leading. From this, Aly comments on how instead of thinking in terms of ‘in Church’ or ‘outside Church’ she, along with others of the church, are reflecting more on the importance of the mission of God in all that we are all called to.
We look forward to hearing more again in the future from Aly and pray God’s blessing over all those who are setting out into new pioneering roles at this time
 
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