Alicia Baker visit's Zac's Place for a 'gloves-off bible study' in Swansea, South Wales.
Zac’s Place began in the late 1990's when Sean Stillman moved to South Wales and conducted a couple of funerals for members of motorcycle clubs, who in turn began to ask very deep questions and wanted to know more about God, but couldn’t see how mainstream church was relevant to them.
So Sean booked a function room in a local bar every Sunday night to answer some of these questions and many came including bikers, musicians and those on the fringes of society – the vast majority of which, had very little church connection what so ever. The gatherings aimed to provide opportunity for expression of and enquiry into the Christian faith in a relaxed pub environment. The format consisted of quality live music and other performance art and straight talking in languages and images that relate at street level.
Over the next 7 years, somewhere in the region of 300 events took place, using dozens of musicians, storytellers and artists, and a significant number of people benefited from the community that surrounded them. Some folk were encouraged in their recovery from addictions, working alongside local and national agencies. Others, whose faith had been battered by negative church experience, had their wounds tended. Still more found a level of communication they could relate and respond to, to see their Christian faith develop. Some people have stuck around, for many it was an important staging post, others were travellers passing through.
Zac’s Place now continues to meet in their own venue in The Gospel Hall in George Street, Swansea. As people have grown and matured in their walk following Jesus, this community of faith has emerged into being a church – a church for ragamuffins. The venue is used by different groups throughout the week including offering a daily breakfast for the street homeless, a weekly bible study and an evening soup kitchen.
"It’s just a real mixture of people. Quite a few people are on methodone, but they still get involved, they still get chatting. Being on drugs doesn't stop you having a faith, doesn't stop you believing – it just means that you are caught in a trap", says Martin from the Rhonda.
So how does Sean imagine that Zac’s Place may develop over the next decade?
"I would hope to think that Zac's place would still be here as a community of faith and still on the side of the poor and oppressed. I hope we will have trained people to share some of the burdens and responsibilities. I'm a 'first one over the trenches' kind of person, so I don't think I'm a very good maintainer in the long term. But I'm certainly in it for the long haul with all it's pitfalls and rewards."
"The work going forward at Zac's Place is in every way innovative, courageous and important for the community in general as well as the Christian community. I have been privileged to watch the development of this initiative over several years and would want to pay the most sincere tribute to the dedication and vision of those who have been running it."
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, October 2005