Re-imagining St Bride's: creating our future together
St Bride’s had a congregation of five when Rev Guy Elsmore came as Rector in 2005, tasked with the charge to ‘do something different or close it.’ It now attracts up to 100 worshippers on some Sundays, with a diverse range of liturgies.
St Bride’s opened in 1831 in the city’s Georgian Quarter, then a wealthy part of the city. Extensive demolitions of houses in the early 1970s ripped the heart out of the area and the church's congregation plummeted. Faced with the challenge of how to ensure the church's survival, he and colleagues began discussions with local residents on how to revitalise the building which is close to the city centre and two of its universities. They co-created a new vision statement to relaunch the parish in 2007. This vision is summarized in St Bride’s tagline under its logo: Creative, Progressive, Inclusive.
In the seven years after the relaunch, the church gradually grew in activity and community engagement and now has a very supportive worshipping community. In 2014-15, as part of the church’s celebration of seven years since its relaunch, the Rector invited Appreciating People to facilitate a process called 'Re-Imagining St Bride's - Creating Our Future Together' to help the congregation to recognize their achievements and strengths, and to co-create a shared vision for the next seven years. They used a process called Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which focuses on strengths and what works and what we’re good at. Click here to find out more about AI.
Between July and September 2015 we conducted two workshops, one after a Sunday morning service, one for a whole Saturday, and more than 50 one-to-one 'appreciative conversations' over six weeks, including all stakeholders such as community groups which use the space.
Examples of comments from the St Bride’s conversations:
‘I feel I can be me “warts and all.” I have freedom to grow spiritually, encouraged to be me and to offer only what I can.’
‘For me the discovery of St Bride’s has been a gift brought about by Google!’
‘Huge liberation to be part of St Bride’s - a giant playground for exploring spirituality.’
‘A place for reflection/thinking/being quiet – totally accepting of everyone.’
‘Love the worship – refreshing – connected – with where I am coming from.’
‘Very inspired by people so committed to St Bride’s community and giving so much to support this fledging community.’
‘It’s a sanctuary – friendship is a big one – feeling secure in relationships, trusting people.’
‘Being in that space, there’s a presence, a reality, no expectation on you that you have to believe or do this or that, which just allows you to be, that gives God and the sacred, that’s life giving. It’s the lack of things that enables the presence of God; less is more within the services.’
‘This church is open to LGBT people not like other churches – it’s quite an uplifting thing.’
‘Pilgrimage: special time, company, fun, play, spending time together.’
We arranged for More Than Minutes to make a beautiful permanent record of the process during our all-day workshop. The day combined paired conversations, revisiting themes from the earlier appreciative conversations, and small group presentations of creative ideas for how St Bride’s will operate in 2022 (seven years from the day of the workshop). Finally, the small groups began to identify future intentions. The community accepted that this element was a work in progress and required further consideration.
St Bride’s is an important building
It’s an important part of Canning’s Georgian townscape and now the only remaining Classical church building in Liverpool.
It’s also important for what happens there:
a flourishing Christian community committed to being 'Creative, Progressive, Inclusive'
vital outreach work amongst refugees, asylum-seekers and homeless people
host to Hope+ Foodbank
a safe sacred space for the LGBTQIA+ community and other vulnerable groups.
But the building - built for a totally different style of church - is no longer fit for its present purpose.
The community at St Bride’s has committed to a radical re-imagining of the building so that it better serves our aims and intentions, and offers better facilities for our partner organisations and the vital work they do.
We've come up with a 'concept' - the outline of how we think the building could be made to work whilst seeking to retain the essential heritage features.
The Project Group values your views - observations, suggestions, encouragement or criticism.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Building Project' in the subject line. Or pop in on a Sunday morning and we’ll gladly walk you through our ideas.
• a new, fully accessible entrance
• a ground-floor hub giving access to all parts of the building including a lift to the first floor
• three large, flexible spaces on the ground floor
• levelling out the retained balcony but enclosing the space to create small spaces
• a new roof structure, introducing natural light
• relaid grounds to provide areas for safe play and reflection
After the September 2015 event, the St Bride’s Core Community decided to review all the feedback from the complete AI process in four ways:
Discerning the future of the building:
A few days prior to the September event the Core Community became aware that a Heritage Lottery Fund grant was not sufficient to undertake vital restoration and renovation of the church building. Although this potential obstacle was named during the process, the generative energy created enabled the community to move beyond the issue and look beyond the building to the wider work and impact of the community. In October 2015, the community held a 48-hour prayer vigil in which people were invited to reflect on three questions – not ‘What shall we do with/without this building?’ but:
- What is God’s work in this parish?
- What ministries would support that work?
- What resources would be required to support those ministries?
After the prayer vigil, a community meeting reviewed feedback on these questions and made a majority decision to stay in the existing premises and find ways to raise the additional resources. Emerging from this event was the recognition that the AI process provided a generative effect and fostered resilience, providing clarity for the church and its future direction. The visual minutes and intentions created on the September 2015 event provided touchstones for the community as it made its decision, to ensure that what was decided was in keeping with those intentions, especially:
- What we do will be sustainable
- We will be a more open, beautiful and sacred space
- We will be an accessible, diverse community.
The building project group which emerged included members of the AI project team to ensure that the vision and intentions realised by the process are at the heart of new design proposals for the future of the building.
The Church Wardens reviewed all the appreciative conversations to identify practical tasks which could be prioritised in the short, medium and long term, or assessed as impractical due to availability of resources. These ranged from buying a new coffee machine (achievable in the short term) to constructing a labyrinth in the church grounds (potentially achievable in the long term depending on funding and work to regenerate the building).
During the day workshop, the community recognised that, while there was a helpful process of drawing out common themes and values from the appreciative conversations, there was potential for what the Core Community called ‘the prophetic voice’, a lone voice providing insight that others have missed, to be overlooked. Three members of the Core Community reviewed in depth all the significant information gathered through the appreciative conversations and the ideas and suggestions shared at both the post worship session in July 2015 and the Saturday September 2015 event. They produced a report for the Core Community, and used quotes from the paired appreciative conversations to produce four poems which they presented at the church AGM in April 2016, and weaved into the liturgy on the occasion of the anniversary of the start of the AI process in July 2016.
By coincidence, this was the first Sunday after the departure of their Rector, and the beginning of the St Bride’s community’s reflection on its fears and hopes for the future as they discern who they will appoint to lead and build on the transformation they have shared since 2005. The ‘prophetic voice’ group recognised that the AI appreciative conversations provided valuable insight into the ethos of the community that they wish to maintain and grow, and would inform the process of recruitment for a new Rector who could share and nurture this ethos.
Intentions and actions:
At the time of writing, a meeting is planned after Sunday morning worship on the anniversary of the September 2015 day workshop to review intentions and actions and check that progress made remains in keeping with these.