Stepping Out Communities in Rushden – taking church to the people
When Jesus said ‘Come follow me’ he invited his disciples to a life-long journey to become like him. Yes, they went to the synagogue and Temple. There was that famous Sermon, but mainly they became disciples by walking, talking and eating with Jesus, and doing what he did.
Members of Whitefriars Church in Rushden have been following Jesus’ example. On the second Sunday of each month they meet in ‘Stepping Out Communities’ at different locations rather than in the normal church venue.
PCC member Andrew Presland explains that this alternative way of doing church began in 2011 with ‘Stepping Out Sundays’. ‘It put mission firmly on the church agenda, rather having a solely pastoral focus.’
Whitefriars Church in Rushden’s Countryside Walks group with a view of Whiston Church behind them.
On the second Sunday of the month, church members take part in a range of activities with other members of the local community. Andrew and a couple of church members lead the Countryside Walks group. This began with mainly church members, but now there are around 70 names on the contact list. The walks attract 30 or 40 people from walkers in their 80s down to a toddler who was still in a push chair when the family joined the group. Most of the walkers are not part of the normal Sunday congregation, but many do enjoy meals and other social events together as a group every couple of months.
The walk is about three miles and suits all levels of fitness. Half way round they break for drinks and to hear a short talk with a Christian theme. There’s also short a prayer, then they resume the walk, with some food for thought and discussion.
At Easter and Christmas, they’ve sung a hymn or carol, but Andrew is keen to avoid anything that puts off those who aren’t familiar with church traditions. Instead, they encourage one-to-one conversations as they walk.
That’s the key to the success of the Stepping Out Communities, Andrew says. ‘We are all in it together. We want everyone to see that they are part of the team. Some people are good at chatting about their faith in a way that is natural and not contrived. It can be easier to talk about Christian things as you are walking along side by side. People naturally open up when they are in the countryside.’
There have been one or two people who have joined the normal Sunday congregation from the group, but the main aim is to take church out of the building to meet people where they are. For some of the walkers the Countryside Walks group is their expression of church.
The walking group is just one of Whitefriars Church’s Stepping Out Communities. ‘Books 'n' more’ is for people who enjoy reading popular, best-selling books. They meet in a coffee shop from 10.30-12 noon for a ‘discussion group, in a relaxed setting with friendly people’.
‘Breakfast at Whitefriars’ is a cross between Messy Church and Café Church. They meet in Whitefriars Junior School Hall for a second breakfast and a short discussion on the 'thought for the day' plus lots of time to relax as a family whilst the children play with lego, puzzles, cars and board games.
‘Silver Service’ brings together about a dozen older people who enjoy a quiet and more traditional form of service with older hymns, readings, prayers and a talk, with opportunity for personal reflection and prayer with others.
As well as the successful Sunday events, other groups have developed on weekdays. The ‘Retireds Group’ hears from guest speakers on Friday afternoons. A dress-makers’ group makes dresses from pillowcases as part of the ‘Dress a Girl Around The World’ project. And a Netball group offers a friendly game on Wednesday evenings.
The Stepping Out Sunday walking group singing ‘Thine be the Glory’ at Easter.