Jacky Bone was ordained as a Baptist minister in Surbiton, Surrey earlier this year. But Jacky is no newbie: she has been a church leader for 30 years. Beginning as an elder in Surbiton Community Church, part of the Pioneer Network, she has been taking church to the community as the Lead Chaplain for YMCA London South West since 2005.
Jacky (pictured) now combines this part-time role with leading Surbiton New Life Baptist Church on the remaining two days a week, and believes this could be a sustainable leadership model other small Baptist churches could replicate. She says it reduces the financial burden on local congregations while creating limitless opportunities to build relationships with people who don’t come to church.
The journey to the church is directly related to her role at the YMCA. When Jacky started there 10 years ago she worked with all users, including the 500 staff, gym members, children and youth, people who came into the café and the 300 homeless people housed in temporary accommodation at YMCAs in Kingston, Merton and Putney. What surprised her was how those living in the YMCAs had "an enormous desire to know God, but couldn’t access church".
'I began to ask why?,' she explains. 'And the barriers I observed were low levels of literacy, not feeling they had the right clothes to wear and having no money for the offering.'
Jacky wanted to start something new where residents could experience church without these obstacles, and asked Baptists locally if she could begin running activities in their underused building, five minutes from the YMCA in Surbiton.
'They were delighted to help and one of the deacons just handed me the keys! I was overwhelmed by their trust and generosity, I thought this is a congregation I want to join.'
So Jacky started ‘The Well’. It was born out of a weekly discussion group at the YMCA which had been running for three years. Twenty people come to faith over that time, but they’d failed to engage with church since then.
‘The Well’ takes place on Sunday between 3.30-5.30pm. It has a cafe layout and youth club feel with pool and table tennis, and a hot meal provided.
'Those who came along told us they didn’t want sermons, singing or lots of reading,' says Jacky. 'But they did want to talk about the Bible, have prayer, food, and outings.
'We also have communion once a month. It’s important that those who come along to ‘The Well’ learn the language of church so they can feel part of the Body of Christ and be comfortable in any mainstream congregation.
'Four years on and we’ve seen people become Christians and get baptised. Some have made the transition to Sunday morning services, others see ‘The Well’ as their church and some still just come for the food and the company.'
‘The Well’ has also given a small group within the existing Surbiton congregation an opportunity to serve. However, it’s messy and inconsistent, Jacky says. 'Some Sunday afternoons six people turn up, others 60! Like the parable of the sower, some seed grows and flourishes, some fall away but it is seen by all as a place of safety.
'Spin offs have included a community choir and a project to provide for those who’ve been homeless and are moving into more permanent accommodation, with pans, plates, cutlery etc. We now run a lunch club, tots and carers and are a distribution point for food bank.
'We also host an employment course called ‘Ignition‘ which is a Churches Together in Surbiton initiative. Everything we do as church, we ask how are we going to connect with those outside in the wider community?'
Another successful innovation at the YMCA has been the ‘Life Journeys’ course. Again it was born of a question. Why do people become homeless in the first place?
Jacky continues: 'By tracking back I could see that the root was nearly always bereavement or abuse. ‘Life Journeys’ takes people away to a professionally run retreat centre to explore these underlining issues through discussion and creativity, with the option to join in with worship and prayer. No-one is forced to do the Christian bit, but we’ve seen transformation in the people who’ve attended and 60 per cent have gone on to become Christians.'
So what about Jacky’s plans for the future?
'The challenge for me is always having enough mature Christians to disciple the new believers. I would like to see more members of my congregation grow in confidence to take on this task of discipleship.
'I also hope to raise enough funds to refurbish our church building and employ a missions worker so we can use our building to reach and support those at the edges of the community every day of the week.'
Andrea Campanale is a mission partner with CMS. She leads and trains teams in outreach to spiritual seekers at Mind, Body, Spirit type events and has set up her own missional community in Kingston-upon-Thames. Her blog can be found at http://sacredspacekingston.com.