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Worship on the waterways: church, pub and boaters join forces for mission

When a Derbyshire pub landlord revealed he’d attended church as a teenager, an unlikely partnership was formed. Ian White reports on how boaters are sharing their faith on the waterways ...

When a Derbyshire pub landlord revealed he’d attended church as a teenager, an unlikely partnership was formed. IAN WHITE reports

Members of the small Ilkeston Elim Christian Centre were seeking a suitable venue for a joint mission with the Boaters Christian Fellowship (BCF), so approached the Bridge Inn, Cotmanhay.

Situated on the banks of the Erewash Canal, the pub has a large garden with a small community farm attached. BCF members were able to invite people on board their narrowboats.

The delighted landlord hosted mission planning committee meetings over six months, even providing a free buffet.

Minister-in-training Anne Vesse said: “He gave good advice, offered to cook, and to hire a bouncy castle.

“Whilst realising he had the agenda of building business, there was also a clear desire in him to see the Lord at work in his locality.

“He stated that Cotmanhay needed God and boldly advertised the mission to his regular clientele.”
The landlord and his partner have built a lasting relationship with BCF and have since attended church.

In fact a number of hard-to-reach males in this socially deprived neighbourhood can relate to the practical and down-to-earth BCF men.

Many families attended the June 2011 fun event where the Christian weight-lifting group, Tough Talk presented the Gospel message. One woman remarked that they’d been “visited by goodness”.

BCF founders Alan and Hazel Dilnot subsequently became members of the fellowship, which was invited to join fundraising days already in the pub calendar.

Anne said: “Going out to the pub represented a major change, but was a natural part of a journey we’d already begun.

“We recognised many people would never come to us. We needed to go to them.”

She takes the initiative from author Michael Frost, who in his book Exiles Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture speaks of the need for a “third place” – a place where people are comfortable but which is neutral territory.

“The Bridge Inn has become our ‘third place’, representing an unusual, though mutually beneficial, partnership between the landlord and the church,” said Anne. “There’s increased trade for him, whilst he provides vital resources that a small fellowship lacks.

“But perhaps more significantly, it affords the opportunity to meet members of our community we might not otherwise meet. They have no fear of not knowing how to behave as they are on familiar territory, but also social territory where interaction is expected and welcomed.”

At last September’s mission the church set up a gazebo, organised a free children’s activity and distributed tracts and Mark’s Gospel in simple English. The landlord put on an evening karaoke with a free buffet.

Anne also chatted with Erewash Conservative MP Jessica Lee about faith and local social matters.
“I believe that when we live, work and co-exist in a locality, we are being [like] Jesus. He wasn’t just an outsider to the places he went.

“A suggestion we could raise church funds gave opportunity to explain our aim to bless our community and to make the love of Jesus known through words and action.”

And it certainly worked as most of the 100 people who turned out on the Saturday were strangers to the church.

An outdoor Sunday service featured testimonies from a man suffering from dyslexia and a woman whose life was rebuilt after marital difficulties.

Anne concluded: “We need to build bridges. Understanding God himself is on a mission alters our perspective.

“Our task is not to be instigators, but discoverers of the mission God is already engaged in and to become co-workers.

“The Bridge Inn has become our corporate, community-focused mission field, but in an unexpected place.”


Members of the Boaters Christian Fellowship will live on their narrowboats for an outreach starting in Droitwich via Stourport to Kidderminster from 6-18 June 2013. They will be working with local churches.

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