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UK News

Planting faith - in the allotment

by Donna Birrell

Four people have devoted their lives to God...on an allotment in Lancashire.

The baptisms, of three children and an adult, in the presence of the Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Dr Jill Duff, were the first to be held by a new church on a housing estate in Blackburn. 

Sharon Collins is the urban evangelist who set up the church. Speaking to Premier about how this new style of worship came about, she said: "I'm an urban evangelist, which means I've come to live on an estate and with a specific aim to reach out to making Jesus known to people with no church connection or no interest in having a church connection. And to draw them closer to God. He loves them and wants them back.

"I've planted a church that originally worked out of the community library, but during lockdown we lost our building and we actually became a homeless church. But that was one of the best things that ever happened to us. We began prayer walking in earnest around the estate, laying hands on and claiming places for Jesus and just crying out, when we got given the use of a disused allotment in the community, which means we could once again meet to worship and we became a very public and visible church. 

"It's a very strategic position that God has thrown the doors out for us. So it is wonderful to be there. There's some fencing that surrounds the allotment and we use that as well for mission. So we often put posters up with Bible verses on them or with words of encouragement on them. And these are causing great interest for the community - we get lots of people wandering in and asking us who we are and what we're doing. So it's a massive community reach out, it's brilliant. It's like being a church without walls."

Sharon says that on the weekend of the confirmations and baptisms, people brought their families and friends who would not normally have come to church. There was a buffet and music and they all saw the love of Jesus. She hopes that this time next year the numbers coming forward for baptism will have significantly increased.

"We were absolutely thrilled. We had four baptisms, and two confirmations, which were held outside. And it was all done in a very cultural, beautiful way, with lots and lots of people who had no connection to God in attendance as well. So it was a really good piece of mission and a really blessed day for all of us. Wonderful."

Sharon believes worship should take many forms and be available in many different locations, despite the 'Save Our Parish' campaign which is calling for more traditional styles to be upheld.

"I would think there's definitely room for both. Where I'm based in the parish of St James's church, Lower Darwin, there's almost this heavenly blending going on between the two spaces. So St James's church do things and people from the church plant go and take part in that and people from St James's often visit us at the church plant as well. So it does work really, really well."

"We're just following what Jesus is doing here. And he's thrown so many doors open on the estate, we've got the offer of different community buildings. We've just recently started pop-up football and we've got 63 children on roll currently, with an average of 30 playing every week and hearing about Jesus during the talks that go on as part of the football. So it's just absolutely roaring along, which is wonderful.

"One of the loveliest things is that people feel that they can just wander in the space and come and talk to us about who we are and what we're doing. And we absolutely welcome them. We welcome people of all faiths and none - everybody's welcome. And it's definitely a growing thing. 

"And it's God's thing."

Speaking after the baptism service, Bishop Jill said: "My experience of estates is that many people don't feel good enough for church, let alone good enough for God. But out in plain sight, on what was an abandoned allotment, it's so much easier to join the family. 

"The sun came out just as I baptised the girls. It was a beautiful moment. I had been praying for an open heaven for everyone who came. There were lots of tears. Paisley (9) told me 'I want to open the door to Jesus'." 

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