Story 74 - The Wave, Littleham
Rev. Sam Burnett
By Suzie Abramian in conversation with Sam Burnett, 27/01/21.
Situated on the south Devon coast on the outskirts of Exmouth is Littleham, an area made up of a traditional village, a council estate, shopping area and an emerging new estate. Sam Burnett shares that when he felt a clear calling over 6 years ago to move to the council estate part of Littleham it wasn’t originally with a clear vision to plant a church. However, as he then explored his call to Baptist ministry, alongside an MA focused on reaching the unchurched, it became clear that he was being called to explore church planting on the estate which at the time did not have any active church presence.
With a passionate calling towards reaching the unchurched, particularly those who would never go to any established, conventional kind of church, Sam spent almost 2 years missional listening within the community. A term which he says he might not have used or recognised at the time, but he now says describes best what he was doing, ‘praying about the estate, seeking God about what the need is, how he might be calling us to work, praying around team… and just talking to people to see if they would consider being involved.’ Sam explains that as the vision emerged and was shared, he was quite specific towards Christians from other churches who wanted to join, encouraging them, but being clear that to be involved it would entail moving onto the estate and clarifying that this was not going to be another traditional church plant.
During this time Sam connected with the local Anglican church who were also praying about the council estate. Sam noticed early on that as well as this Anglican church there were a multitude of churches to choose from in Exmouth and the Anglican church was particularly active in local youth work which led Sam to reflect that, ‘it seemed just ridiculous to try and do our own thing when it would be better to pool our resources and support them as best we could.’ Instead, it became clear that there was a need for connecting with families on the estate and encouragingly, the Anglican church gave real support towards Sam and the connection with the church has continued and developed ever since.
Looking at the community around him, Sam saw that there was a lack of engagement between parents and children resulting in broken relationships and in some instances with children committing vandalism in public areas. There was also a lack of local community spaces for families that didn’t involve the time and cost of travelling into the centre of town or hiring a large public space.
Recognising this need for relationships and community, practical outworkings of this new church started to emerge. The Wave, Littleham officially launched 4 years ago which Sam unequivocally states is a church but as he says, ‘it just doesn’t look like “come to church on Sunday morning”…we haven’t got to get them through the doors…we have to be real and not just like a missional thing that comes in to do stuff for the people, instead it’s living here and being part of the community.’ As well as a semi-regular gathering on Sunday afternoons in a local leisure centre, outdoor gatherings have connected especially well with families, notably ‘Campfire,’ which has been a regular time for whole families to come and explore faith together whilst learning forest school skills based at a local primary school. A community cafe in partnership with the local Anglican church has begun providing the much-needed physical place in the community for people to come to as well.
Looking ahead it is encouraging to hear how this genuine involvement within the community is leading to further opportunities. A recent opportunity to assist the local council in setting up a community fridge opened in November 2020 in partnership again with the Anglican church and has now led to further discussions with the council about a much larger community garden project to connect with the community cafe.
As Sam highlights the different people of peace he has encountered along the way in this, as well as the importance of having a genuine love for the town, it is encouraging to hear that there hasn’t been any negative response from the council towards Sam's openness of faith.
Reflecting on his missional journey with The Wave, Sam stresses the importance of listening to God above all else, ‘seeking the needs of the community and asking God what he’s calling you to do, rather than saying “I want to do this, and I want to do it in this community.’ Within that he also highlights how vital it is to hold things lightly, saying it’s important, ‘not to be afraid to just scrap everything and start again.’ This attitude perhaps explains why some of the common church struggles throughout the coronavirus pandemic have not affected The Wave in quite the same way. They are a church accustomed to regularly reviewing and reflecting to where God is leading, accepting when some things clearly don’t work, thanking God for the seasons when things do, and continually listening to God throughout it all.