We are currently enjoying another glorious summer of sport. The Tour de France was a huge hit when it came to Yorkshire, the World Cup was regarded as one of the best in recent times, and we still have the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow to look forward to.
Someone who takes a keen interest in big sporting events - but not necessarily as a spectator - is Carolyn Skinner. A Baptist minister based in South West London, she has pioneered Third Space Ministries, which seeks to bless people in those places where they relax. Like the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.
For the tournament's duration Third Space Ministries facilitated a 80-strong team of volunteers from 12 churches doing outreach to the queue at SW19. They went out during the night to bless those camping with soft drinks and cookies. The outreach is now in its 13th year, and this time the team even provided a dedicated prayer space: they had the opportunity to pray with around 40 people.
The outreach started when Carolyn was leading a church in Wimbledon. Through it she discovered she came alive when doing mission.
On a sabbatical Carolyn sensed God 'calling me to develop a ministry around mission full-time'. She was also influenced by Mike Frost’s book Exiles
which has a whole section on engaging with people in third spaces.
The term ‘Third Place’ was coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and appeared in his book ‘The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day’
. He describes the first place in society as home, the second as work, and the third spaces as those environments where people meet to develop friendship, discuss issues and relax – coffee shops, gyms, pubs, sports clubs, nightclubs, and social groups. They also offer a unique opportunity to share the love of Christ.
Beginning with the support of Morden Baptist Church, Third Space Ministries
was launched in October 2010 and started with chaplaincy work at the gym in the YMCA.
'The chaplain there, Jacky Bone, approached me as I was already a member and building positive relationships with service users and staff. Since that time I have led Alpha courses and Wellsprings, a programme designed to pamper and build women’s self esteem over a six week period, while gently introducing them to the Christian faith.'
Carolyn next began working with 24/7 Prayer and taking teams out to Ibiza, having developed an informal relationship by being a volunteer. 'Seeing the impact in Ibiza made me realise that there are nightclubs on our doorstop. The people we meet clubbing in Spain live in the UK, so what can we do here? I started ‘club and pray’ in Wimbledon as a way for Christians to be a positive presence in nightclubs.
'In October 2012, I took on an intern and with her help established a Club Angels group at Tiger Tiger nightclub in Croydon at their invitation. As the word has got out about our activities, I’ve received more and more requests to train other Christians. I saw Third Space Ministries had a future and we gained charitable status in January 2014.'
She says that those taking part have been as blessed as those they are ministering to. 'When you put mission first, discipleship follows,' Carolyn explains. 'This year the team come back and say how much they have grown in their faith by being willing to share it.'
Wimbledon may be over but Carolyn is not putting her feet up during this summer of sport just yet. Her ministry has also involved partnering with Sports Chaplaincy UK and serving as a chaplain at major sporting events, including Royal Ascot, the Women's Rugby World Cup 2011 and the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.
She is now in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, which begin on Wednesday. Being a chaplain in these environments involves being available to athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers as a listening ear, but also to provide support and encouragement to Christian athletes. It’s described as being “pastorally proactive, and spiritual reactive”.
So what of Carolyn’s dreams for the future? 'Generally I’d love to see more people responding to the Good News in third spaces. For them to re-evaluate their image of Christianity and discover the God of grace. It’s often where He’s least expected!
'More specifically I long to see the night life ministry expanded to go into strip clubs and impact DJs. I dream the church will seize the opportunity to be more intentional in third spaces in their locality. It’s not so much about having a missions week but learning to live missionally and incarnationally 24/7.”