A group of Christians who gathered to pray and ask God how to connect with their local community found that their prayers were answered very quickly and in an unexpected way.
FOUR years ago the Lichfield Diocese in Staffordshire appointed its’ first mission priest, Gordon Crowther, to build a new type of church for young adults in the Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme area – a church without walls. In December 2008 Gordon moved on to lead a church in Cape Town, South Africa, but before leaving he talked about the original vision and a new project – Night Church.
It all began with an all night prayer meeting held in a former bank building in Gitana Street, Stoke-on-Trent. Gordon and his team were asking God how they could engage with the local community when the local community began to drop in.
At first it was a group of girls out clubbing who began peering through the window; then a group of five lads, one of whom wanted to talk, the others wanted to move on to their next venue, a strip club. Eventually all five went in – one dressed as batman - four waiting for their friend as he talked about his life and God. And as the night went on several others wandered in, curious to know what was going on.
And there and then Gordon and the team realised they had their answer – open the doors and the people would come – and that has been their tactic for ‘Night Church’ ever since.
‘The idea was to engage people who did not traditionally come to church as we know it,’ explained Gordon. ‘Initially we used to meet on Sunday afternoons for a worship service, but we still felt that we were missing a group who would not engage on that level. So when the five lads interrupted that prayer meeting we knew that the way to go was a night time project that targeted people who were usually out at that time. And so ‘Night Church’ was born.
‘Gitana Street is a back street during the day time, but at night it is a hub of activity because there are several night clubs there, and so many people pass by our venue on their way to and from the different clubs.
‘At first we started off opening the doors monthly on a Friday night from 10.30pm-2.00am, but the response and the needs were so huge that we had to go weekly and stay open until 4.00am. As the Bible says, ‘the harvest truly is plentiful.’’
Hospitality is key to the initiative, with all kinds of people being made welcome – asylum seekers, people sleeping rough, clubbers and older people who are in the city at night just wanting something to do or someone to talk to.
‘It has been marvellous to see what God has been doing in people’s lives,’ said Gordon. ‘We have had great conversations and meetings with people. We once had a young man from the Royal Marines who had been to Afghanistan. He had witnessed three of his friends get killed out there and on the night we met him he was out to get drunk. He came in and stayed for hours and we had the opportunity to pray with him.
‘I remember too the 17-year-old girl who came in and knelt in front of the cross and just started praying aloud about some trouble her friend was in. We went and prayed with her. She wanted to talk with us about some strange spiritual experiences she had encountered and it ended up as a deliverance session. Afterwards she told us that she felt free.
‘Night Church’ is truly an ecumenical project and it has been great to see groups who would not normally work together now working together for the good of the community,’ concluded Gordan.
Following Gordon’s departure, ‘Night Church’ continues under new leadership.
This story has been taken and adapted with permission from Spotlight - the bi-monthly newspaper from the Diocese of Lichfield