'There was an expectancy in the air'
Tim Sutton from Westward Ho! Baptist Church, North Devon on his church's missional responsibilities after several years of patience, prayer and preaching Jesus
The Lord spoke to me as I was sitting in Costa, sipping a flat white. I’m hesitant to share the following snapshot of where we are currently at but trusting that it will build your faith in Jesus as it has mine.
It was early September 2016 and I had just been inducted as Pastor at WHBC. I felt the Lord was saying as I sipped my coffee that it would be five years before we began to see significant new fruit, so we should pray, preach Jesus and be patient.
Not exactly being full of faith as to what I thought I’d heard, over the next few years I shared the ‘word’ only with a few people. In September 2021 we had a Leadership Team away-day and I summoned up the courage to remind everyone of what God had said – and that five years was NOW, so we should get ready. We sort of believed it and there was an expectancy in the air.
Within a couple of weeks two things had happened. The first was that there was a real buzz on Sunday mornings as more and more people began to return. The second was that three of our young peoples’ groups exploded in size. Our Thursday morning Toddler’s Club, our Friday afternoon After-School Club, and eventually our Friday evening Youth Club all just about trebled in size with 20-30 something children – so much so that we have struggled to keep up with it in terms of helpers and leaders.
Additionally, we currently seem to be receiving lots of new folk on Sunday mornings – both Christians and not yet Christians.
The Platinum Jubilee Celebration was also remarkable. We advertised a Celebration Lunch for the local Community, hosted at WHBC and wondered if anyone would come. In the event, we think over 300 local people came along to what was a lovely afternoon’s activities. Through our various outreaches we managed to give away over 500 copies of the Jubilee John’s Gospel.
As I look back at the past couple of years, there are the losses that we have all felt – including a few who have moved churches or simply not come back.
There are also incredible gains and what strikes me most are the enormous opportunities we’ve had for the medium-sized seaside church that we are. Two to three tonnes of food given away to local families feeling the pinch, 80-90,000 vaccinations given through partnering with the local pharmacy to host one of the regional vaccination centres in our church hall, and connecting with hundreds of people through livestreaming our services.
Even among personal friends and local contacts the spiritual atmosphere seems different and I’ve found people to be much more spiritually open. Gav Calver, Evangelical Alliance general director, recently came to speak at WHBC and spoke about the “open goal” we have at the moment in the UK. I think he’s right – even down here in deepest Devon.
As we face uncertain times and big challenges and [we pray] emerge from the pandemic, I’m not sure where all this is leading or how long the goal will remain open. I am aware of the big pastoral responsibility we have now to welcome and help integrate the new folk with our existing membership – and of the missional responsibilities of making the most of our incredible new opportunities with young people and families, and many more in the community.
So, lots of challenges ahead but I’m grateful to be part of this lovely, hard-working church family who have a heart for God and for people.
The Revd Tim Sutton is minister of Westward Ho! Baptist Church, north Devon
This is part of a short collection of stories from churches in north Devon, which have shared how God is working through them post lockdown
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