29 August 2012
Linking up in Chester
It’s a Thursday morning in Chester, and just like every first Thursday of the month, leaders of churches and Christian organisations from across the city are gathered together in one place to have breakfast together, pray for each other and the place in which they live, and build relationships.
They are the body of Christ in this place. They are church leaders with their own styles of worship and orders of services. They are Christian leaders who are serving God and the community of Chester in their own individual callings.
But they believe that for Chester to thrive, for it to live up to its potential and for the good news of Christ to change people’s lives, they have to stand together and commit to a common purpose of transforming the place in which they live in unity rather than individually.
That’s why this morning they are meeting together; as a demonstration of unity and friendship which is ultimately for the sake of mission.
Unity like this just isn’t common. But it’s of fundamental importance to the Church in Chester, which started Link Up, a relational network of churches and church leaders in Chester, West Cheshire and into north Wales.
At the heart of Link Up is Philippians 2:2: “Working together with one mind and purpose.”
As well as church leaders, Christian organisations including Alpha Chester, Chester Schools Christian Work, Street Pastors and The Light Project, look to Link Up for advice and support.
Andy Glover, who leads Hoole Baptist Church and Link Up, says: “It provides the relational glue and level of trust that allows projects to blossom. When we come together to do something, people seem to have a willingness to engage and work together.”
Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, Andy and his wife Sue moved to Chester more than 20 years ago.
“I very much feel a sense that I’ve been called to Chester. For me, it’s about being called to the place, as well as being called to the congregation,” he says.
“There’s a uniqueness about the size of our city. It’s small enough to be able to do unity really well. For us, it’s not about ‘my church’, but about what’s best for the city, which is why we help each other on projects. Church leaders feel confident that people aren’t going to be poached away from their church if they help out with other people’s projects.”
Among the projects in this thriving city is The Light Project, started by Chris Duffett 12 years ago, which runs a number of innovative evangelistic projects. Its work includes running a city centre chaplaincy, youth clubs and Night Church.
Glyn Jones, who leads The Light Project in Chester with Gill Reeve, is passionate about making the gospel relevant to the average person. When he became a Christian, he was struck by a sense that it needed to be accessible to everyone.
“Somebody came up to me and told me about God and I didn’t understand why I hadn’t heard this before. Why didn’t everyone know this?”
Once a month, The Light Project runs Night Church at St Peter’s Church between 10pm and 2am, for those who need help and support, recuperation after a night out or just a cup of tea and a chat.
“People often come in drunk or after their mates have got into a club and they haven’t,” says Glyn. “We’ve had ex-soldiers who have come back from Afghanistan, and people who have recently lost loved ones. Sometimes people end up just staying for hours.”
Chester is a beautiful place, known for its affluence, steeped in history. While some of its neighbours in the north-west may be described as more urban and less affluent, it’s clear to the Christians in the city that Chester really needs God.
Glyn says: “Chester is very middle class and polished, but the real Chester is different. The alcohol level is disproportionately high, for example. The problems are just a lot better hidden.”
Away from the city centre, Christians are seeking to meet the needs of the area’s agricultural workers who often suffer from a deep sense of isolation. The Agricultural Chaplaincy started in 2000 and now both the Christian Farmers Together Group and the Cheshire Farm Crisis Network Group are run from there.
The team provides a listening ear for people in need but is able to bring in other agencies to help where necessary. They help people going through challenging times including illness, bereavement, tenancy issues and financial problems. The Church meeting the needs of its communities.
The chaplaincy also runs a 24-7 helpline for farmers. Alison Linfield, an associate agricultural chaplain, says: “We’re here to help and support. Jesus provided love and support. We’re here to give people hope. We want to say that they’re not on their own. They don’t have to feel isolated, because there’s someone to talk to.”
Speaking about the history of Link Up, Andy says there has been a concerted effort by the church leaders in the area to reach the city. “Right at the heart of the city centre is a place called The Cross. In 2002, we said that together we would seek to reach all of the men, women and children within the 10-mile radius of The Cross. We knew that if we were going to do that we would need each other. No one church was going to be able to do that. It was about the whole Church taking the whole gospel to the whole city.”
Andy has also been encouraged by the work of the Alliance’s Gather initiative. “Gather has given a language to what we’re doing. We thought we were the only people doing this. But we’re sensing that we need each other to reach the nation. When we went to the Gather conference, we saw that God is really doing something. If we can reach the towns and cities together, then we’re going to reach the nation. That’s what excites me.”