Transforming Mission in Truro during a pandemic

Transforming Mission (TM) is the exciting Christian initiative in Cornwall churches that has been bedding down in strategic locations across the county, working hard to find ways to reach the missing generations. Beginning in Falmouth two years ago, Transforming Mission is now also working in Liskeard, St Austell, Truro and Camborne. Each area is distinct with different demographics and needs, but all share a common yearning to know the love of God – even if they might not recognise it as such!

Connecting with each other and others when no one can meet

Like everybody else in this pandemic storm, life has been hard for the TM teams. Over the past year, amazing staff have been recruited from across the country, hearing the call for regeneration in Cornwall. But social distancing, repeated lockdowns and shielding have meant that many staff members have never met each other in person, or at best from 2 metres away. And as for the communities they hope to reach out to, these are only encountered through Zoom screens, YouTube or telephone calls.

Yet these are people with mission in their hearts and creativity running through their veins. Each month we will report on what each area is doing, showing how they are making connections and reaching out to people in ways that are practical, helpful and making a difference in these very strange times.

The Transforming Mission team in Truro

This month, Truro is in the spotlight. More specifically All Saints Highertown (ASH).  There’s a lot happening here as the church is at the foot of an enormous project to transform their building into a purpose-built community hub, the Truro Lifehouse. Sitting in an area of multi-generational deprivation, ASH has partnered with a raft of outstanding charitable partners and has grown to become one of the largest providers of community services in the city. Pre-pandemic, it welcomed up to 800 people every week. But the building can no longer cope, hence the ambitious plans for the Lifehouse and an almost £3million fundraising target.

Not surprisingly, the TM team have a strong focus on social justice, inclusion and making sure no one is left behind. The team includes:

  • Social Justice Missioner Joff Phipps, who was a lay minister at the Tube Station in Polzeath,
  • Worship Leader Anna Robinson
  • Young People and Families Leader Sam Payne
  • Operations Manager Lucas Bostdorff, latterly from the Tube Station and Creation Fest

Everyone pitching in to make sure no one gets left behind

Although not officially part of the TM team, Assistant Curate Revd Patrick Gilbert, who joined from New Street Falmouth, has been invaluable sharing his considerable gift of creating a prayer ministry and setting up a pastoral system for the TM team. Patrick, like Anna, is a gifted musician. For the very brief time last summer that the church could meet together in an outdoor setting, Patrick and Anna transformed potentially frustrating worship times, where the congregation were not allowed to join in, to times of permission to stop, absorb beautiful words and music and offer them back up to God.

Patrick, together with fellow Assistant Curate Revd Janette Mullett, have the job of ensuring that with all the changes and new influx of people, the faithful, existing congregation don’t get left behind. That’s not always easy when you cannot sit with someone over a cuppa and reassure them their concerns are heard. Leaning into prayer and trusting that God’s plans underpin all they do is the only practical way of holding everyone together.

How to make an impact in another lockdown

In these present days of a third lockdown, when some of us are juggling work, possibly home-schooling and the fluctuating anxieties of family-life in a landscape with very little variety, there are many others who are living alone, isolated and very probably fearful. Reaching people in these circumstances is a challenge but it’s one the TM team at ASH have risen to.

Alongside the dial in telephone sermons and services provided by ASH, Anna has been curating and facilitating beautiful online spaces. Part meditation, part worship they give space in a day to pause and help connect with and respond to God. You can experience one such session here.

As part of the TM vision to resource and support the wider church community, Anna has led a retreat day for other TM worship leaders and, with Patrick, helped lead a citywide prayer event. Very excitingly, Anna is currently working on the idea of an app or series of podcasts to encourage people in Christian meditation and reflection. More news of these when they become available.

Craft packs, hot chocolate and not doing the unexpected

Preparing and distributing advent craft packs in Cornwall was a surprise in the life-plan of Young People and Families Leader Sam. They were an amazing blessing to the community, enabling Sam to connect with lots of families, socially distanced of course, over hot chocolate as he handed out the packs with Alice, ASH’s intern. But Sam, after training in sport and youth Christian culture and completing a theology degree, envisaged a life transforming gang culture in inner cities. “You never know where God calls you! I’m excited to be here and see what He has in store for me.”

Sam is keen that young people beyond the church community experience the love of God as he did, growing up. In these lockdown times he believes a good way to engage them is by developing a bespoke online social media platform and, once schools re-open, establish a presence in our schools and at college. Sam would also like to reach out and support local families through a range of courses, from parenting, marriage, managing finances, mental health and healthy living.

Life in lockdown for a church community that usually welcomes up to 800 people every week

Ordinarily, life at ASH is busy as groups jostle for space and people from across the community cross the threshold to take part in something, seek help or meet up with friends old and new. Arriving at a time when everything is shut is hard when your mission is to roll up your sleeves, get stuck in and make connections to determine how best to help. So for Social Justice Missioner Joff, like so many at this time, most of this process has been through a screen.

Nevertheless, he is building relationships with local church leaders, social justice workers and charities and finding ways to support the work of the organisations that run from ASH. He has also done some work around racial justice, collaborating with Transformation Cornwall to produce a toolkit for Cornish churches.

Truro Lifehouse on the road

For Joff, a highlight so far has been getting to know some of our city’s homeless community by working with Truro Homeless Action Group (THAG). This has led to a hope for the coming year to identify an existing local community centre to develop a ‘Lifehouse on the Road’ while waiting for the Lifehouse project to be built. The need in this community is too great and too fragile to wait, especially as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. “Many people feel uncomfortable coming to a church building and so we have to be where they are if we are to offer care and comfort in a way that puts people at their ease.”

Sharing resources and ideas isn’t limited to the ministry team. Operations Manager Lucas has been sharing his talents with Christian Aid Cornwall. The charity usually puts on a large Christmas fundraising event called Truro’s Big Sing, where choirs sing and raise funds for Christian Aid’s projects that benefit the vulnerable. COVID-19 put paid to that so Christian Aid Cornwall turned to ASH for help in putting together a video version of the Big Sing. Using TM resources and staff, the ‘Truro’s Not Quite so Big Christmas Sing’ was launched on YouTube.

Looking ahead and recruiting for a Pioneer Minister for Transforming Mission

Looking ahead, the TM team in Truro is hoping to recruit a Pioneer Minister to catch, and help realise, the vision God has given us for transforming the mission of the Church of England in Cornwall. For full details of the post and how to apply visit the ASH website.

In these very difficult times, Transforming Mission is needed more than ever. We cannot imagine how the world will be as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. Hope is on the horizon with the vaccine but a great many people have suffered for too long with isolation and mental health issues. Many are grieving, many have lost incomes and many are worried about their children, their lost opportunities, rites of passage and plans. Generations aren’t just missing, they are hurting in ways we have yet to comprehend. Thank God for the teams He has gathered with TM and thank God for their resilience and determination to fulfil the potential of what God can do in Cornwall.

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Post expires on April 10th, 2021