Praying in the street
If people are not coming to church, does that mean they have no interest in what the Gospel has to offer? Or are there other ways of engaging with people who are only too ready to talk about spiritual things? Tim Yau, who has spent five years experimenting with creative witness on the streets of Ipswich, shares his experiences
I trained as an ordained pioneer minister because I felt a calling to those outside the Church – but after serving my curacy in a new housing area in Peterborough, I couldn’t find anywhere that felt right to me. My tutor suggested a post advertised by the United Reformed Church, even though I’d only just got my head round what it means to be Anglican. It was past the deadline and I thought the job description sounded untenable – pioneering in Ipswich for two-and-a-half years, then going somewhere more rural. I thought: You can’t start a church and get it to stand alone in two-and-a-half years! But it seemed to be one of those ‘for such a time as this’ moments, as there was no one in the URC with the right calling or skill set at the time, and nowhere else for me to take mine.
The work in Ipswich was very much about starting from scratch. The idea was to do something for the new housing area in the waterfront development which churches weren’t reaching. But my house was in a different area on the edge of town and in the first two weeks I realised there was a Newfrontiers church in the centre of new housing which had already become one of the largest churches in Ipswich.
I thought: What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to compete – and I can’t. I could just hand the keys back. But in the job interview they told me: ‘We think you should do this … or anything else.’ And I’ve inhabited those three words for the last five years!
The work I’ve developed has been in networks of relationships, rather than in a geographical location. My question was: ‘Where are the people that the Church just isn’t reaching?’ One answer came from a self-supporting Anglican minister who had been doing outreach at Mind Body Spirit fairs, where people offer tarot reading, clairvoyance, dream interpretation, etc. My Pentecostal upbringing was very aware of spiritual dangers and would have avoided such places as the ‘devil’s territory’, but I felt challenged to go…
This is an extract from the April 2017 edition of Reform