Glo Church was planted in 2010 out of All Saints, Marple into the Offerton Estate which is a suburb of Stockton, Greater Manchester. This was the 5th church that I visited in my tour of churches who had received funding from the Archbishops Council for building up the church on estates in England.
There was a real difference in feel between this church than others that I had been to on estates. Partly, this was because it was the newest one. Partly, this was because this was the only one supported by another church and planted from it.
The church is led by Gareth and Lizzy Robinson. Gareth had spent a number of years as a worship leader in the US and is in the process of being ordained this summer. They had been asked by the vicar of All Saints to lead the new plant and the Bishop of Chester gave them a Bishops Mission Order as the estate was not in All Saints parish. The Bishops Mission Order gives them a legal framework to work on the estate across parish boundaries.
There were a number of things that stood out about Glo.
Firstly, they had an emphasis on serving the community. So, they have a number of projects on the estate. They have a shop given to them for a peppercorn rent and they use it for a number of activities – Glo central is a drop-in 4 mornings a week. One afternoon a week they have a young mums group and they also use it for parenting courses. Other activities include a freecycle programme and a toddler group once a week in the local community centre.
Talking to members of the team a key aspect is that all of the core team live on the estate. They have learnt from the Eden project that people who live on an estate are often more committed to seeing their community transformed. They currently have a core team of twenty who live on the estate. For some this has been a sacrifice with people renting or buying houses on the estate (the people I stayed with had rented their old house out and were renting on the estate). You could see some great benefits from this with a high level of commitment by people to the community and to its transformation. One subset of this was also a reflection from Gareth that although the Church of England live on estates in vicarages – these are often the largest on the estate and that therefore they are seen as able to retreat out of the estates problems.
Thirdly, they have been strongly supported by the diocese. Not only are they ordaining Gareth they have also placed two pioneer ministers for training there (paid for from the archbishops council funding) and help to pay for a couple of interns. Although the cost hasn”t been substantial (other than Gareth’s salary) it has shown how they value Glo.
Their philosophy also reflected some of the other things that people elsewhere are using, especially for example Kings Church in Warrington. The use of missional community groups to focus on key areas of outreach; both interns have a focus on the youth and help run roc a youth community group which have some 50-60 young people coming to it. They have focussed on seeking out the people of peace in the community – those who are open and are often gatekeepers in the community. Another aspect that they have in common with others is the use of the lifeshapes (that Mike Breen developed when he was at St Thomas Crookes) to build and develop disciples at the church.
They have a high view of membership in the church with the core especially. They see that there needs to be a bounded centred where a high level of commitment is called for – being part of a huddle, living on the estate, making a public commitment, the estate is the place of mission.
After a year of meeting in a home (Where they prayed and sought how to build links to the community) and having a core team of a dozen they started worship at a local school. Given their community commitment within a few weeks they had grown to over 50 people. Their services are simple with worship followed by a break for drinks and then a talk. After a year or so at the school they transferred to the community centre to ensure that they were using one of the key places in the community (and the cost was cheaper!).
They do see that they have issues. One of these is one that other churches have identified – that of financial self-sufficiency. There is a generational issue that they face with those of an older generation seem to be less prepared to be accountable and having a very Sunday focussed view of the church. They have people who come and go and have chaotic lifestyles making it difficult to build the church.