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Pioneering in Looe 

Urban Expression and Rural Ministries recently announced that they would partner each other to engage in pioneer mission in contexts that did not fit neatly into either urban or rural contexts.

The first joint initiative will begin in the next few months as Barney and Sara Barron move to Looe on the south coast of Cornwall

Barney and Sara pioneered Café Church in Havant and have been involved with Urban Expression for many years. But they both come from a rural background and are pursuing a strong sense of call to Cornwall. Urban Expression and Rural Ministries are delighted to support this initiative.

Barney and Sara

What is this all about?

Barney was commissioned a few years ago to conduct a survey of the South Coast towns and cities and the deprivation that they experience. When exploring Cornwall he realised it wasn’t all sun, sea and sand, but there was a real need in the communities that rely on tourism for a small part of the year.

Who are Barney and Sara?

Barney and Sara are both ordained Baptist ministers, Barney is accredited as a Baptist Union evangelist. They have 25 years experience of pioneering ministry in both rural and urban contexts.

They are currently in Leigh Park a large ‘deprived’ estate near Portsmouth. They have been in Leigh Park for 16 years. They have successfully planted a ‘fresh expression’ of church, which is now an independent Baptist church. Barney is also the founder and executive trustee of Communitas, a local youth and community charity. Sara runs CURBs a national children’s ministry charity that focuses on producing material and supporting children’s workers in contexts where children have little or no knowledge of Jesus.

They also helped start and continue to, voluntarily, serve the Incarnate Network. Incarnate is a European network of those living and ministering at the margins, where we seek to embody the Good News in innovative and creative ways.

Earlier this year Barney and Sara were encouraged to have some of their local work recognised through a Premier Love Britain and Ireland award for community building.

Why Looe?

As Barney and Sara have explored Cornwall they have felt a particular sense of calling to Looe. As they have investigated Looe further they have felt this sense of calling confirmed through the opportunities they have already observed. Existing Church communities in Looe are Riverside (Methodist) and the Anglican parish churches.

There is also a mission agency called Rusty Bucket. On the ground Rusty Bucket is a couple who often feel isolated in the work they are doing. They have been extremely encouraging and encouraged by Barney and Sara’s plans. They are offering some funding toward the first year without strings but they are keen to work in partnership. They certainly feel that Barney and Sara offer complimentary skills and experience that are needed.

Like many coastal towns, visitors to Looe in the summer see what is a beautiful and thriving coastal town. However like many coastal towns the statistics and experience of those we have talked to on the ground would point to many who are living in economic deprivation as well as those who are isolated and suffering from addictions.

Groups particularly vulnerable to exclusion include the 26.1% of households in Looe who are lone parent households with dependent children and the 58.9% of lone pensioner households. Source OCSI (2009), from census 2001, ONS Settlement Definitions (2005). These figures are above the average both for Cornwall and the South West. They give clear evidence for what Barney and Sara have been told that isolation and loneliness is a big issue in Looe.

Barney and Sara met a lady aged 70 who has lived in Looe nearly all her life. She told them it was a terrible place to live with nothing for young people and older people like herself were isolated and lonely. She felt trapped and without a car it was difficult and expensive for her to get out of Looe to do simple things like shop. She communicated deep feelings of unhappiness.

Where you have huge areas of deprivation in towns and cities there are at least resources, funding and infrastructure in place to offer support. In areas like Looe the deprivation isn't recognised because its not such huge numbers so people end up in a worse situation lacking support and with a high cost of living. “Household incomes in rural areas are on average higher than in urban areas.

Nevertheless, research over the last 25 years has consistently identified in the region of 20-25% rural households living in poverty, with higher levels in sparse and coastal areas.” Commission for Rural Communities (2006), Rural Disadvantage: Reviewing the evidence. CRC.

‘Missional Listening’

Barney and Sara are moving to Looe in May 2018. They are going there initially to listen and observe; listening to what God is saying and listening to the local community.

They also believe it is important to allow the local community to ‘host’ them before they have earned the right to serve the community. From this listening and being part of the community they will seek ways in which they can serve the community, show God to the community and find ways to see the richness of God made manifest in the community.

So are they church planting?

This is not about setting up a new Sunday morning worshipping community, but about seeing ways in which Barney and Sara can serve the local community which includes the local churches.

They have already been in touch with the local churches and have received a warm welcome. The existing church leaders have affirmed that there is a need and opportunity for mission in Looe. We need to be clear that this is not about setting up competition to the other churches, but working together to see God’s Kingdom grow.

But who is behind this?

Barney and Sara are doing this with full backing from the South West Baptist Association, Rural Ministries and Urban Expression. It is the first time these three organisations have partnered in a project but they are bringing together their expertise to offer support to Barney and Sara. They hope to learn from the project in Looe and work together on similar projects in the future.

The relationship with these organisations is not financial, the expectation is that Barney and Sara will need to raise financial support. They do however offer an important sounding board, advice and accountability without control. 

Saltash Baptist Church will act as Barney and Sara's calling body and offer local pastoral care and support for them as a family.

Baptist Times, 27/03/2018
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