Sharing the stories of Fresh Expressions is what we do, but sharing good news of Fresh Expressions is what we LOVE to do. When the jungle drums brought news that Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministry (WPM) was awarded a Gold award for their work last November we were rightly made up for them, but also wanted to find out what they’re doing that other Fresh Expressions can learn from.
“For those of us involved in leading WPM, the Gold award from the Christian Funders Forum was a totally unexpected – but very lovely – recognition of the work we do here,” says Deborah Walton, WPM’s leader. “However, for the young people who are part of our community it means much more. Many of them have never received such encouragement or appreciation before, and so this has been a special moment for us as a wider organisation. It is a great confidence boost to people who have received a lot of knock-backs through life.” This sense of community ‘ownership’ of the award has been outworked in several ways. A service of celebration followed by a Ceilidh gave community leaders and members a chance to mark the moment together, but since then – in a creative and contextual plan that perhaps sums up the embedded practice of WPM – the Gold award has gone on tour. “The award is travelling at the moment,” Deborah told us. “Everyone is having a week with it – its currently working its way around a block of flats!”
This tour is not to give everyone their own little moment of glory, but represents the desire at the heart of WPM to ensure that their work has longevity – that there is a legacy which goes beyond this moment and leads to a life-long relationship between young adults and wider structures of church. WPM has now been established for ten years, and this has been an intentional development in its practice. Whilst the Sunday night meeting, ‘Vitalise’, used to see high attendance figures, there was awareness amongst leadership that these young people were mostly drawn from existing church links. “Our mission has always been to those on margins,” says Deborah, “young adults who don’t have support structures in place and who may have had a rough time through life.” Whilst Vitalise numbers have reduced, the community gathering is now comprised significantly of people with no previous church background – and through WPM’s Bluefish Chaplaincy around 400 young adults a week are engaged with and supported.
The challenge that this shift creates is how to embed sustainability into the ministry; young adults grow up, and if they have only ever engaged with one style of church how will they find a longer-term home in the inherited church? WPM are working actively to remove barriers between young adults they work with and wider church experience. “It’s about bridging the gap”, says Deborah, “thinking about discipleship as a life-long journey and building familiarity with inherited church.” Monthly services led by local clergy help build this wider sense of community, and moments to mark belonging within different denominations begin what the team hope will prove to be long-term relationships.
This commitment to long-term discipleship is a distinctive and intentional aspect to WPM’s work, and is perhaps what was recognised through the Gold award. As the trophy continues to tour we are excited to see how things evolve as this pioneering work is sustained and nurtured. The Gold award is a great moment – and we hope that it brings encouragement in every living room its visits – but the work is ongoing and points to a future that will sustain its community members for the long-term.
Story by Hannah Skinner