Different approaches to covenant
The Spring 2016 edition of Baptist Together Magazine focused on the aspect of our renewed culture where 'we feel like one team'. As part of this we invited different expressions of church to share their approach to covenant:
Church 1v23, Harold Hill, London
“Not much difference in our paperwork and theological values, but much in our practice”
In recent years a new expression of church has formed in the Harold Hill district of East London. It began when Baptist minister Richard Shorter and wife Alison moved into the estate in 2009 and formed an Urban Expression team.
Working with predominately unchurched and dechurched folk, it meets once a week on Friday for a church meal, where those gathered share communion. It’s a community where “families can support, love and challenge each other and change the community we live in, starting with us”, says Richard. “Food, family fun, serving together and trying to think about and work out who Jesus is.”
Membership is based around an annual renewable covenant model.
“We wanted to aim for a discipleship community, with a commitment to follow Jesus,” explains Richard. “We are trying to get people to learn to covenant together, to be a discerning community, to give people a voice.
“But we were very aware at the start that we were working with people who are not used to having a serious input into the conversation. Many of those who gather with us are so used to having professionals tell them what to do and give them the lead.
“We want to create discussion and not be afraid of conflict to work something through, rather than submission to the minister as we work out what it is to be followers of Jesus together.”
As the community developed it assumed a name - Church1v23 – and after functioning for five years without a legal structure, it needed to be taken to the next stage. Seeking advice from the Baptist Union Corporation (BUC) and the Eastern Baptist Association, Church1v23 made steps to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), a new form of legal entity designed for non-profit organisations in the UK. CIOs offer flexibility in terms of procedures and only report to the Charity Commission, which doesn’t set a minimum age for membership.
At Church 1v23 there are twice as many children as adults, and its meetings are open to children. Becoming a CIO has therefore given Church1v23 a legal identity, alongside the freedom to adapt to its context.
“In our constitution you won’t see much difference in our paperwork to perhaps a more traditionally shaped Baptist church,” says Richard, “but you’d see a lot of difference in the way we practise the “church meeting” elements while at the same time trying to hold to the same theological values and principles.
“The BUC were incredibly helpful. They really understood our context, and were very supportive in helping us fulfil our values.”