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£100k boost for Portsmouth projects targeting church growth

An initiative to reach out to young people on the streets of Havant, Bedhampton and West Leigh is one of 25 outreach projects being launched by the Church of England ...

An initiative to reach out to young people on the streets of Havant, Bedhampton and West Leigh is one of 25 outreach projects being launched by the Church of England.

Portsmouth’s Anglican diocese has agreed to split £100,000 between 25 separate projects that aim to increase the size of congregations and deepen their faith. The projects have all been allocated funding from the diocese’s Mission Opportunities Fund because they help worshippers in parishes to engage with their local community.

Among them are initiatives to reach out to a new generation of children and young people, to help those who are lonely or vulnerable, and to make church buildings more welcoming.

One of the most exciting is a plan for a new Pioneer Youth Project in Havant, Bedhampton and West Leigh. The idea is to employ a pioneer youth worker for five years who can meet teenagers in schools, church groups, sports clubs and on the streets.

That person could provide opportunities for young people seeking a purpose in life to explore what Christianity has to offer. They could train churchgoing teenagers to become leaders themselves, and perhaps ultimately start new worshipping communities in a style and venue that suits young people. The project was awarded a £12,000 grant from the diocese’s Fund.

The Rev David Proud, rector of St Thomas and St Nicholas Churches, Bedhampton, said: "It started with a chance conversation between two of our church members and the director of Scripture Union UK. It turned out they had no youth workers in this area, so we started talking. I’ve always had a passion for pioneer work, so was keen to get something going.

"We thought it should be wider than one parish, so talked to neighbouring clergy. We also felt it should be pioneering work with those who don’t go to church, rather than work with our existing youth groups. And we want the person to train new young leaders so that this work is sustainable in the long-term – it doesn’t just fade away when the youth worker’s post ends. If it results in new worshipping communities, that’s great."

The first stage will be to create an Associate Trust to run the work jointly with the Christian organisation Scripture Union and other local partners. Then the post will be advertised in the New Year.

Anglican churches in the city of Portsmouth were also awarded a £11,760 grant to develop chaplaincy at further education colleges. They want to employ a chaplaincy development officer, who will build on relationships already established with Portsmouth College and Highbury College, and then design a long-term plan for meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs of the students, who are mostly aged between 16 and 18.

Canon Tom Kennar, associate area dean of Portsmouth, said: "We are really excited about this project. Students in further education are going through a major change of life – a transition between the worlds of school and work. Most of them have no connections with the Church, so it can be difficult for us to reach young people with the kind of spiritual and practical support we would like to offer.  

"Chaplains create a bridge between colleges and churches. We think they are an essential tool of mission. The current chaplain can only devote a couple of hours a week to Portsmouth College. This pilot project will help us to work out the most effective ways of supporting students and growing disciples among young people in colleges.

"Running alongside our existing deanery youthwork project, we hope it will open up new possibilities for church members to create meaningful and supportive relationships with young people across our deanery."

One of the most intriguing projects will see a theatre company take up residence in an historic Isle of Wight church. The Original Theatre Company will hold weekly rehearsals, performances three times a year and drama workshops in St Andrew’s Church, Chale.

Staff and pupils from Brighstone C of E Primary School will also hold after-school clubs inside the church, as worshippers seek to make the building more useful for the local community. The diocese has given £5,000 from its Fund towards this project.

The Rev Helen O’Sullivan, priest-in-charge of Brighstone, Brook, Shorwell, Chale and Mottistone, said: "Chale Church will soon be celebrating its 900th anniversary and is a much-loved community landmark, but it was only being used for an hour a week. I asked people in the local community if they could use it, and Kevin from the Original Theatre Company, who lives in Chale, came forward.

"We had already cleared pews from the south aisle, which will give the company space to rehearse. And we’re now holding some regular services in the lady chapel, which means they can use the chancel and nave for performances at certain times of the month. Bringing theatre into the community in this way gives people opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise access.

"And we have a variety of children from families in Chale, Niton, Shorwell and beyond who will appreciate having an after-school club in Chale Church. But in order to do all of this, we need to install proper toilets, hot water and drainage into this historic building, and that’s where we’ll be spending the money."”

Another exciting project will aim to create a new youth congregation for those aged 13-18 at a neutral venue in Liphook, near Petersfield. A new youth minister would lead this congregation and train young people to take on aspects of leadership.

The project has been suggested by the Anglican and Methodist churches in Liphook working together. They would also like the youth minister to engage with schools and potentially reach young people on the streets. And they would like the post to become a permanent one. The project was given a £5,000 grant from the diocese’s Mission Opportunities Fund.

Among the other 21 projects that will be funded are:

  • a project to help reduce the average age of the congregation at St John’s, Sandown, on the Isle of Wight, by around 10 years. Worshippers would like to set up a ‘fresher’s fair’-style event for those who retire early to the town, hold a twice-yearly welcoming evening, redevelop the back of church as a meeting place, and hold regular film nights
     
  • a new soup café to be launched in Whitehill Village Hall on Monday lunchtimes. The idea is to attract those who work, parents with children, and those living alone. Clergy and lay volunteers would be available to make friends and provide a listening ear over soup, rolls and hot drinks
     
  • the launch of a new Messy Church group at St Cuthbert’s Church, Copnor, in Portsmouth where families can enjoy art and craft activities, share a meal and worship together on Saturday afternoons from February 2013
     
  • the launch of a Faith Forum in St Mary’s Church, Hayling Island, which would focus on current affairs, including faith issues, and would include the chance to watch TV programmes and DVDs that would stimulate discussion
     
  • an outdoor learning space at St John the Baptist School, Rowlands Castle, where children can be encouraged to reflect and pray in a natural setting
     
  • a self-help group at St Simon’s Church, Southsea, for those struggling with mental, physical or social problems
     
  • the chance for worshippers at St John’s, Locks Heath, to build up relationships with those aged 12 to 20 who often hang around in the church porch, and discover how best to help them
     
  • a new community worker developing links between St Columba’s Church, Fareham, and the local community, including leading a breakfast club and helping with assemblies and RE teaching at St Columba Academy

Portsmouth Anglican diocese’s Mission Opportunities Fund was created as part of its Ministry for Mission framework, which aims to help parishes think about their mission and ministry in a new way – to achieve spiritual and numerical growth.

The money was provided by the central Church of England for mission initiatives. A panel including the bishop’s senior staff met to consider applications from parishes, clusters of parishes and deaneries. For details, see www.portsmouth.anglican.org/MforM.

Photo: Current chaplain at Portsmouth College, the Rev Tony Forrest (right) with the principal of Portsmouth College, Steve Frampton.

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