God in the everyday
Sharon Barnard talks to Third Space founder Carolyn Skinner about God encounters – and taking the fear out of evangelism ...
SHARON BARNARD talks to Third Space founder Carolyn Skinner about God encounters – and taking the fear out of evangelism
Running round Richmond Park, meeting friends after an aerobics class and having a coffee are some of the things Carolyn Skinner loves to do in an average week.
And it’s here in the middle of these ordinary activities and everyday places – the ‘third spaces’ – that
she aims to help people encounter God.
“The ‘third space’ is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg,” explains Carolyn, who worked as a secretary at the Evangelical Alliance before training to be a Baptist minister. “One space is home, the second is work and the third spaces are where people go to develop friendships – places of belonging.”
In her own life Carolyn discovered she was most energised when she was doing mission. “I had a passion for places where there was spiritual poverty, for example in the leisure and entertainment industry, in nightclubs and sports clubs.
“These are places where people are soul-searching and trying to prove themselves through performance. I thought: they need to have people representing Christ in these places.”
Third Space Ministries which she heads up, was launched in 2010 and is run from her church in Morden, Surrey.
“The first thing we did was ‘Love All Serve All’ during Wimbledon fortnight. I was doing that already through church so I brought it – and our nightclub ministries and sports chaplaincy work – under the Third Space banner.
“We offer free refreshments, chat about life and tennis to people in the queues and there are opportunities to pray.
“It has all built up over the years and what we’re doing is recognised by the organisers as adding fun and a sense of community.
“We also minister to the stewards and security guards as well as tennis fans. People from all over the world descend on SW19 and it’s an opportunity to show Jesus and welcome them.
“This year we had 100 volunteers from 22 churches from different denominations.
“In our training session we say it’s all about loving people. One of the greatest compliments we had at Wimbledon was from someone who said: ‘You guys genuinely ooze love’.
“What we’re doing is ‘incarnational ministry’, being with people and prepared to give an answer and doing so with gentleness (1 Peter 3:15-16). It’s about working with people and not imposing things on them.
“Seeing people understand God’s love for the first time; seeing them come to faith; being in a place where people are least likely to encounter God and going away with a God encounter – it’s brilliant.”
Carolyn, who is also a sports chaplain at major sporting events and at her local gym, admits that being a Baptist minister is helpful in opening doors.
“The gym asked me to go in. I know some other gyms have been sceptical at first but they have seen the difference it makes and how it adds value.
“It’s the same in the nightclubs. From their perspective, we’re taking the welfare of clubbers seriously. I have encountered no resistance.
“People share their struggles with relationships, depression, anxiety and loneliness and I will offer to pray for them. It’s about providing a listening ear and speaking hope into their lives.”
Part of Carolyn’s work with Third Space Ministries is encouraging churches and training volunteers to show the love of God to people they meet in all the third spaces that touch their lives.
“I am passionate about taking the fear out of evangelism,” she says. “Our volunteers are nervous at the beginning, but we have them coming back saying it was fine and accessible. It gives me great joy seeing people being equipped for mission.
“We also have a great working relationship with all sorts of groups such as Street Pastors, Sports Chaplaincy UK, 24/7 Ibiza and Christian Nightlife Ministries. We’re all working for the kingdom and sharing resources.
“I never set out to become a Baptist minister, but I loved being involved in mission and exploring creative ways of doing church. Now I can see it all makes sense.”
Third Space Ministries
Carolyn is available for speaking engagements. E-mail: email@example.com
PHOTOS: Carolyn in the gym (top) and with the 2012 Olympics chaplaincy team (above)