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In the heart of the inner city

How are two churches connected with their cosmopolitan communities?

Ivy Church in Manchester has been around for 125 years, but in the past decade since Anthony Delaney became church leader it has started to expand and reflect the diverse community it serves more and more.

Ivy Cottage, as it was formerly known, was a well-known church, with a focus on prayer and unity”, says the former police officer. However, it was also fairly white and middle-class, and wasn’t seeing much growth.”

Anthony’s vision of what a church should be clearly resonated with the existing members’ ambition to be missional and mirror the people of Manchester. When Anthony was invited to lead Ivy Church, he presented to the church two approaches to ministry: Ivy could either be a cruise ship’ or launch lifeboats’. Reflecting on that conversation, Anthony remembers saying, If I come to lead this church, we will launch lifeboats; if you don’t want that, please don’t employ me.”

They chose lifeboats, and the church’s congregation has grown to overflowing and become more diverse since that decision was made. We’ve gained hundreds more people over the years and we are now in four more buildings, as well as the original one,” says the Church of England ordained minister. Additionally, I think we have become a much more diverse church – more representative of the city.”

If it were me

Perhaps Anthony’s personal walk with God opened his eyes to the value of a lifeboat ministry’. The father of three, who wasn’t a Christian when he joined the police service, admits that the 10 years he spent working in a tough inner-city part of Manchester, followed by the riot squad and then in a drugs and vice unit, left him cynical and on a path of self-destruction. God intervened and offered him a lifeboat, and that’s why he wants to do the same. I always try to remember what I was like when I was searching for truth,” says Anthony. If someone is in the position I was, I want us to be ready to receive and help that person find their way back to God.“

Changing perceptions

But, how can a church receive someone who’s convinced that church isn’t for them? Anthony believes that changing people’s perception of church is one of the fundamental steps to bringing them closer to God. Thinking about his own journey, he says, My wife invited me to a vibrant church that had good music that I could relate to and a compelling message that challenged me. I had previously written off church but began to think: maybe I was wrong. God then got me thinking: maybe you are wrong about Me too.“

Anthony stresses that Christians are responsible for changing people’s minds about church, to stop them thinking, it’s not for me; it’s for certain types of people’. He says, it’s God’s role, then, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to change people’s minds about Him. This desire to dispel myths about church and encourage people to see church as it is – a body of rescued people who all need Jesus and want to make His love known to everyone – influences how Ivy Church interacts and connects with individuals and families in and around the heart of Manchester.

We don’t have a one size fits all’ approach, because we’re not just reaching one kind of person in one kind of way,” says Anthony.
Ivy has held church services in pubs, warehouses, cinemas, at MediaCityUK in Salford, and many other venues. The church has grown to become a network that regularly hires some of the biggest and best venues in the city and puts on outstanding events for the whole community to enjoy. Over the Easter period, for example, the church held a themed event at Manchester Academy, which comprised a circus area, band, choir, dancers and much more.

As a result, people in Manchester are afforded opportunities to engage in spaces that are more familiar to them. A by-product of this is church growth, as Ivy Church attracts people from all walks of life. Commenting on the large-scale events, Anthony says, None of it is cheap, but it’s money well spent, because they encourage people to evaluate their preconceived ideas about church. This will often create openings for God to step in and challenge them about their views of Him.“

Meeting people where they are

Jesus didn’t act the same with each person He was trying to reach, so why should we?” asks Anthony. He adds, Ivy Church shares the unchanging gospel in a way different types of people can receive it. I value and uphold traditional beliefs and practices, but I also think church leaders must be willing to adopt new ways of doing things to reach out to people. Yes, we want the gospel to change people, but we have to change too.“

Anthony’s position on meeting people where they are, and encouraging Ivy Church to flourish organically, as it goes through the doors that God opens, was evidenced after the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017. Tensions in the city were rife following the suicide attack which killed 23 people and injured more than 500

As most churches would do after such an atrocity, Ivy Church opened its doors to members of the public for prayer. But, Anthony discloses, People weren’t looking to the church for answers”. Anthony felt God prompting him to go to Didsbury Mosque, which had been previously attended by the suicide bomber, and reach out to demonstrate God’s love. Anthony says, Two weeks later, on a Sunday, a delegation from the mosque brought a big cake with We love Ivy Church’ inscribed on it, and stayed for the entire service. The imam said, You came to us in our time of need, and we’ll never forget that.’”

Doors wide open

In many ways, Latymer Community Church in Ladbroke Grove, London resembles Ivy Church. It has a long history that stretches back more than a century. It’s based in a central area of a major city, which is home to people from all walks of life. It wants to reflect the diverse population it serves, in its congregation right the way through to leadership. It witnessed, close-up, one of the devastating tragedies that sucker-punched the UK in 2017 – the Grenfell Tower fire. And, like Ivy, Latymer longs to see its community, including the many individuals and families who might not find their way into the more traditional church context, transformed by the love of God. But, it has a different method of reaching people.

Latymer Community Church is run more like a community centre than a church,” says church leader Jackie Blanchflower. It’s by operating the church in this way that we enable people to start developing relationships with Christians.” Jackie, who has led the church since 2003, explains that the doors of Latymer are open to an array of groups in the area, including Brazilian, and Congolese-speaking fellowships, an Ethiopian women’s community movement, and a group with a shared interest in crafts. This, she says, creates routes into the church for people who live in the area.

The way we run Latymer tends to attract people who are looking for relationships,” says Jackie. Many are lonely, rather isolated or may feel marginalised due to mental health issues or language barriers.” These individuals, points out Jackie, may struggle to find their way into mainstream churches, but they do discover a secure place in Latymer. The church is almost like a refuge,” she elaborates. The people who come to us start nesting and this creates an opening for them to taste and see something of the kingdom of God.“

Baby steps

Latymer’s approach, which Jackie admits is a series of baby steps, makes church more accessible by bridging the gap between church life and people who may not consider popping in to their local church, or who may have preconceived ideas about Christian worshipping communities. Providing an environment where people can meet breaks down barriers,” she says. And people connect with us by coming into the building – a great number of people come through our doors – and we’re able to offer prayer and spiritual connection for people.”

Just over a year after the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which left 71 people dead, 70 people injured, and hundreds homeless, Jackie stresses the importance of eliminating divides and providing refuge. We are very aware of the needs around us, and they do seem very large, but by God’s grace and power, as the church in this place at this time, our vision has to be to see healing and redemption in our community,” she says. Hospitality is a huge gift, and opening our doors to provide comfort and refuge and, for those who are open to it, prayer, makes people of all walks of life feel valued and have a sense of belonging.”

Whether by going out into the city, or by inviting folk in, both Anthony and Jackie relate to the people in their communities through activities and initiatives that they can understand, appreciate and accept. In doing so, they close the chasm between the church and those who are yet to come to know Jesus. As the two leaders make clear, this provides openings for God to step in and help them find their way back home, where they belong.

About the author

Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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