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South West News

A new way for the church in South Devon

Christians living in and around Buckfastleigh and South Brent have begun to explore, in a new way, what it means to be church in the 21st century. The story has its roots some 20 years ago in Devonport (see: New Way Booklet No 14, "A Fresh Start"). It has continued at Rattery over the last decade (see: Reflection) and now it is embracing new communities.

John Summers tells the story of the new communites as they go on a journey of exploration.

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July 2007: A Visitor from Kenya

We had a very pleasant evening at Box Cottage, South Brent with Alphonce Omolo and twelve of us sharing supper after which Jeanne Hinton interviewing him about his background in Kisumu Kenya and his work with Small Christian Communities both in London and Kenya.

We were struck by the simplicity of the process within Small Christian Communities (SCCs). and indeed of the healthy bottom-up way in which a catholic parish functions in East Africa. Once again, in common with the Latin American experience of CEBs it challenged and resonated with us -
it really can be done here!!

Genevieve( coordinator of the group in Rattery ) was able to come and we immediately recognised the process as Alphonce described it. Alphonse stressed the reality of the 'ownership' of what they do by the communities . It is no top down imposition -indeed such an approach from a priest would simply not be accepted.

We felt by the end of the evening that we had already taken the first step in South Brent and that there was a high expectation that we would continue what had begun that evening. Watch this space!!

September 2007: Visitors from Australia
photo of Irene and John with Jeanne Hinton, Michael Bridgwater and John Summers
The meeting with Alphonce Omolo held in our small cottage at Aish, South Brent in July , was followed by another similar evening on 4th September with a further group of a dozen for a buffet supper and a meeting with John and Irene Wilson, members of a SCC in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. Once again the response was the same .'lets get going'.

October - November 2007: Learning for ourselves

These two meetings were followed on 30th October with a New Way 3 -session 'Taster Workshop' open to all denominations or none, to introduce the basic processes of Small Christian Communities , to be held on three consecutive tuesdays. A central venue was chosen and the whole thing had the good will (but not participation) of the local clergy . Few could object to a re- vitalising of the church at the grass roots We had no idea how many would take part. Some had previously dropped out of church, others were disillusioned with how church is today and wanted to discover another way, others we regular worshippers locally. and as it happened each evening we had a pretty full complement of 24-26 participants.They soon found it was a 'learning by doing and dicovery' propcess with no-one at the front telling them what to do. Soon the room was noisy with the buzz of activity and dicussion in small groups.

January 2008: Getting Going

About 24 people from South Brent met on 8th January in the local church room to move the New Way process forward and for the next step - "Forming New Groups” (ecumenical in character). At first they expected us, the facilitators Jeanne Mike and myself, to organise them into groups, but if they were to own this different way of being church they had to organise it themselves , so now it was ‘over to you’!
The end result was two completely new groups were formed and yet another that had paused for various reasons hoped to restart after Easter.

January 2008: The Idea is Spreading - to Buckfastleigh

We were invited by the Vicar (John Rowland) to facilitate a New Way taster workshop, to be held on three Wednesdays in January with his own house-group. Jeanne Hinton and I were very warmly welcomed and received by the group who seemed to take to the process very easy and naturally. They had a keen awareness of local needs and issues and related this to what we doing together. (Personally I think it was very wise of the vicar to take part in this New Way process, and to experience or ‘check it out’ himself before introducing it in his church.)

April 8th, 2008: SOUTH BRENT- An ‘Agape’ by implication!

A suggestion, of gathering together all those seeking to encourage Small Christian Communities in the region, led to 25 of us meeting again in the South Brent church ‘upper room’ for an ecumenical bring and share supper on 8th April.

We began with a welcome and reminder of how important Jesus' shared meals with his disciples were in the New Testament. After some initial ‘drinks and nibbles’ we collected our food from a large table and were encouraged to sit with those we knew least well. Five tables had been set out, on each of which was a goblet of wine, a bread bap and a candle. Before starting the meal, part of the story of Jesus and the disciples on the Road to Emmaus ( Luke 24) was read; a reminder of the way in which Jesus was made known to the in the breaking of the bread.

Of course the setting with the reading and the bread and wine implied an agape commemoration of the upper room but each table was free to use the symbols of the bread and the wine goblet in any way they wished! It was interesting to note the different ways in which the groups did this without being given any directions, though each did share and serve one another at some point.

After the meal we gathered in a circle to share stories from those who had set out on this 'new way'. We all found Genevieve’s story of the small group at Rattery to be very encouraging. That group has met once or twice a month around a farmhouse kitchen table for the past seven years. Here was reassurance for those starting out that it really does work and it soon becomes second nature.

Mike shared his experience of Ermington where the monthly 1662 Book of Common Prayer sung Matins had been transformed by the people there.
He also reminded us that success is not guaranteed as we heard the story of a small church in Plymouth which flourished for a time in the 'new way' until a change of vicar led to decline and a painful end. This ‘new’ process is a very fragile plant that we are encouraging to grow.

The two new groups in Brent shared their experience of the past couple of months and two friends from the housegroup in Buckfastleigh told their story.

It was a good evening and we look forward to next time

Sunday 19th October 2008: Breakfast Cafe

The new groups together initiated a village Breakfast Cafe raising funds for ' Send-a-cow to Africa'. One of the members who is normally 'at church' on a Sunday reported that she was glad she took part because she met up with people, some of whom who used to come to the parish church 'but now rarely, if ever, do and met others who don't normally have anything to do with 'church'. A Great Success with widespread village participation.

Also, as a result of much prayer and initiative coming from members of the new groups, the newly arrived village youth worker Dryl (from Preston) is getting along well ... spending a good deal of time working alongside the Social Services Youth workers temporarily attached to South Brent, and relates naturally and well with the local young people.



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