Tuesday, the second day of our pilgrimage experience was spent at the St Thomas Philadelphia Campus, north and west of Sheffield’s city center. 7 years ago, Mike Breen, then the vicar of the St Thomas Crookes parish, felt God calling the people of Crookes to care about the city of Sheffield in a more determined way. Mining had been shut down during the Margaret Thatcher administration, and Sheffield, which had once been the source of 25% of the world’s cutlery, now faced double digit unemployment as steel mills and cutlery factories were shuttered forever. Sheffield was changing for the worse before their very eyes, and 80% of the people of Crookes parish decided that God was calling them to love this aching place.
So these people began worshipping in a night club, closer to the city center. Then, when the Health Department shut them down, they found another location in an exercise club. Finally, they purchased an abandoned factory and retrofitted it for use as a worship and teaching center.
At the same time, members of this new congregation, St Thomas Philadelphia and the mother congregation, St Thomas Crookes believed that God was calling them to do ministry in neighborhoods, especially with mums and children. Some of these members left more affluent neighborhoods to move into the troubled areas. There they started playgroups and bible studies, among other things.
Today the Philadelphia parish has outreach oriented to neighborhoods and to various activities people enjoy and/care about. There are people clustered in groups around outdoor activities, simpler lifestyles, young families with children, care for aging members, and the like. Clusters meet once a month to do a ministry or enjoy an event together. Cluster members regularly invite their friends (especially those who may be living life without a connection to God.) They know that their friends will have a great time, and meet people who share a common interest. They know that this is a way for their friends to realize that Christians aren’t boring or legalistic. In time, if these friends show interest, cluster members will invite them to worship or some other event at the St Thomas campus.
These clusters are made up of smaller “cells” which generally meet weekly for Bible study and prayer. Sometimes they meet in people’s homes, sometimes at a coffee shop or a pub! When they meet in a public place, they are committed to praying as a group for the proprietors of that place, those who serve the coffee or beer.
In many powerful ways, these people “love” the city of Sheffield and its people – because they know that God loves this city and wants it and its people to prosper.
More later – days 3 and 4 will be at Crookes Parish.
Because internet access is not as widely available here, I will always be a bit behind. But keep watching; I’ll catch up!
May you live in God’s amazing grace+