Story 90 - Join in with everything
Witney New Life Church, Oxfordshire
By Suzie Abramian in conversation with Revd. Jacky Bone 02/03/2021
The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown up questions for many about some established church practices, especially for those maintaining buildings, but for those pioneering on new housing developments many of those questions were already being debated due to their unique context. In the case of Jacky Bone, pioneer minister at New Life Baptist Church in Witney, Oxfordshire, she explains that when she moved 4 years ago to one of the largest new, Windrush Place, there was already a challenge to discern how to reach out and connect with the growing community. Without a church building on the estate or any other communal space planned for the first 2 years, there was also a logistical challenge about venue before the words ‘social distancing’ were ever coined.
Despite New Life Church’s very small congregation having a venue in Witney town centre, Jacky notes that even with improvements to publicity and a good central location, people did not want to come to their church. In fact, Jacky reflects how she felt God clearly saying they would have to do things differently, and that if they wanted to see people on the new housing estate come to know Ch
rist, they would have to make the connections themselves. Following this, she spent a lot of time walking in the area, trying to discern where God was leading and establishing good relationships with local stakeholders, such as councillors, other church leaders and becoming a local school governor.
The turning point came not long after some of the new connections were made and the first lockdown of the Coronavirus began in March 2020. Jacky had already joined the local community Facebook group and soon after was asked to become an admin of the group. With physical limitations barred due to the lockdown, this group became a springboard for local connections and for sharing out pandemic compliant events. Starting by making free Easter activity packs for local families to come and collect, Jacky could see how popular such an initiative could be when more packs were requested, especially due to the estate’s high percentage of young families moving in. This developed into a weekly project, giving activity packs out every Sunday from a table placed in a field destined to become the new allotment site. Jacky shares how this initiative developed into a regular meeting place for some in the community to come and have conversations about God, so much so that they began to refer to it as ‘their church.’
With the changing guidelines throughout 2020 other ventures were also possible, such as a teddy bears picnic for families in the summer and outdoors carols and Christingles, accompanied by music from a ‘carol van’ visiting the streets at Christmas time. The craft packs have continued and Jacky shares how she has become bolder to include bible stories and offers of prayer, the creation of the packs are shared out between a team and now delivered to people’s homes.
Looking ahead it is encouraging to hear how many of the good relationships Jacky and the rest of the church have built in the area are bearing fruit elsewhere. The new primary school currently being built on the estate intends to be a Church of England school and amazingly decided to incorporate a dedicated space in the school plans for churches to use. Jacky is looking forward to seeing how their church could possibly use the space but also makes it very clear that she hopes to grow their expression and development of church out those who are not Christians, stressing that were they to plough ahead with their idea of what church should resemble they would probably only attract Christians from elsewhere.
For others considering their missional approaches on new housing developments Jacky’s advice is to, ‘join in with everything...whether it’s Christian or not…genuinely join in and support what people are doing,’ and furthermore, to actively engage through online platforms in order to build relationships and become known in your own community.