Presence was formed by Bishop's Mission Order in December 2009 to set up a new church to the west side of Leicester's city centre in an area of new apartment blocks, waterside redevelopment and the DeMontfort University campus. Its leader, city centre pioneer minister David Cundill, gives an update.
Our aim is to provide church for people who don't go to church, never did, don't anymore, don't think they fit in, doubters, sceptics, seekers and the spiritually curious. We've adopted a grass roots approach built around relationships that embraces festival and fun, hospitality and welcome and safe space to ask questions. One of our regulars describes us as working out together and for ourselves what it means to follow in the way of Jesus.
We've met and made many new friends along the way as we attempt to help grow community where it doesn't exist. We're regulars at a local pub quiz, enjoy nights out at the cinema together, run men's events and weekends away in the hills, girls' nights in and lots of parties. We've tried some open mic nights and got involved with Christians Against Poverty and tried worship in many unconventional ways.
Our journey has been eventful and wholly unpredictable not least due to the dramatic change to our BMO area in this time. Our first base was a pub, which was bought by Tesco for a convenience store, just prior to the widespread collapse and closure of most pubs, bars and most meeting places in the area. Building work has largely stopped - with even the biggest waterside development having to put plans on hold for the community elements of their project, including space for shops or new meeting places. We've had to be very flexible and adapt to significant changes in the various neighbourhoods that our BMO area includes. This has been very much like a wilderness journey, looking for where God has been at work, for people of peace, and places to meet them.
As a result we've done a lot to make spirituality accessible in public spaces, in the parks for instance and through shared community rituals such as floating lanterns and memory gardens at the city's riverside festival. We've got accustomed to worship in the rain and expert at putting up gazebos. The church year has been really useful in helping people connect with us and God in new ways; we’ve reinvented festivals and claimed secular ones back, celebrating with food a lot and always providing space for spiritual encounter: Todos los Santos at Halloween/All Saints, beer and carols, Rasa/Mardi Gras, curry feasts for harvest, and even our own annual mini 'Greenbelt-style' festival under canvas at the diocesan retreat centre, Launde Abbey.
Over time, our connections with the local community have grown. We now have good links with a local primary school and have hosted a community cafe to help the university's Square Mile community outreach programme which falls into part of our area. An engagement with ancient future, involving labyrinths and Easter sunrise services, has proved popular and - combined with endless opportunities to show hospitality, welcome the stranger and share fellowship round a table over food - we're finding much of what we're doing is similar to others exploring new monastic approaches to church and life.
We're conscious that our name has had a significant part to play in this in that we've increasingly worked on helping people connect with the presence of God through what we do as a presence for God in the local community. This is now leading us to plan about how to put down roots in a local redundant church to create a community meeting place that will connect arts and spirituality amongst other things. A monthly cafe church event has evolved into a near weekly pattern of worship in many different forms, all aimed to help seekers encounter God.
Our story shows that often you cannot know the shape of church when you start to form it and that the way God builds it can be both challenging and deeply rewarding. We’re discovering the gift of not fitting in, resilience and optimism based on realised hope of what God can do for, with, and through us. Three years in, things constantly evolve and we keep finding that God opens up ever more possibilities for us to enjoy.
* On Sundays, Presence meets weekly at 3.30pm at 12 Frog Island, LE3 5AG, (next to All Nations Church) for informal worship or prayer. We also host 'Cream Tea Communion' featuring cake, community and cream tea – organised with the University's chaplaincy centre – at the same time and place on 28th October and 25th November.