Continuing our series on church revitalisation, the Rev’d Pete Snow shares his experience of leading a team to revitalise St Paul’s Harringay. Amidst the differences of theology, styles of worship and backgrounds, Pete describes how this diverse community is drawing together to become a reflection of God’s love and grace.
A ‘blended family’ is a phrase used to describe a couple who have children from different biological parents. It conveys a sense of stability – the couple love each other and want to be together – but also of an, er… interesting history.
Leading a team to revitalise a church has felt like leading a blended family. In September 2018 I was sent with 30 Christians from my old church, Christ Church Mayfair, to join my new church, St Paul’s Harringay. We came at the invitation of the Bishop of Edmonton, the encouragement of Christ Church Mayfair and with the backing and resourcing of my friends in the Co-Mission network. St Paul’s Harringay doubled in size overnight and we officially became one church family operating under the same roof. There’s a wonderful sense of stability in our new blended family – the two groups love each other and want to be together – but it is not without its challenges.
It’s not the first time I’ve been part of a blended family. When I was 18 my mum got remarried. I went from being one of three children to one of five. I had a step-dad all of a sudden. But 15 years on it’s a family I’m proud to be a part of. We have weathered some difficulties together and I’m so pleased to call them my family, and to introduce friends round the kitchen table.
At St Paul’s we’re combining Christians from Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical traditions. That’s pretty challenging when it comes to working out how to sing, pray and worship as a church! But we’ve been helped by allowing some things to be different, and also by rejoicing that some things are the same.
We’re deliberately allowing our church services to be different. The Bishop of Edmonton, Rob Wickham, took the pressure off us by telling us it’s a good thing for a parish to be able to choose from an ‘a la carte menu’ of church services: a more formal Eucharist at one time on a Sunday, and an informal Service of the Word at another time. As the leader I try to embody this difference within the constraints of my conscience: I robe and sing the liturgy for the ‘Anglo-Catholic’ service, but go without robes and enjoy longer in the pulpit in the ‘Evangelical’ service. I’m an Evangelical by conviction, but I’m trying to give my Anglo-Catholic brothers and sisters as much as I can in ‘their’ service, and I’ve thought carefully about what those things will be.
But what we’re finding is that ‘their service’ and ‘our service’ no longer work as labels. People are crossing the boundaries and attending the other service. We’re becoming friends as we eat together at our church lunch each Sunday. Perhaps most significantly, we’re giving money into the same pot – and as Jesus says, where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
We’ve also found that there are common things among us that we can rejoice in. We obviously share the same Bible and gather to hear it read and preached every Sunday. We share the same sacraments and have enjoyed some genuine high points in receiving bread and wine or baptisms together. And in the Church of England we share the same liturgy: the very name ‘Common Worship’, as well as the theology within it, has been a good anchor in both services.
God is doing a great thing among us, Sunday by Sunday, moment by moment. We now have a very special mix of people meeting as a blended family on a Sunday: black and white, young and old, rich and poor. I think people in the community are gradually noticing that in a troubled London borough that has its share of knife crime and violence, St Paul’s is a community that is bringing diverse people together every week in hope.
And it is a special joy to me to know that within the Church we’re not splintering Christianity any further, but rather bringing Christians together in an authentic local expression of the people of God. We have access to the riches of both families, which is a distinct advantage revitalisation has over planting. And with that combined strength St Paul’s is stronger now than it was before. It’s a family I’m proud to be part of – I think that this is just the beginning of the works God has planned in advance for us to do!
Article by Pete Snow, Associate Vicar of St Paul’s Harringay