The Boring Wells Story – Scene 1

Scene 1.

Holes in the cheese – that was God’s word to me. I read somewhere recently about the parish system in the Anglican church being a bit like a cheese sandwich – wherever you take a bite you get cheese. I think it was in the Mission-shaped church report. So, wherever you live in England (and for me, Ireland) you are in proximity to an Anglican church, a pastor, a worshipping community etc. This only works if you think geographically and you live in a world where the Anglican system is up and running. Deep in prayer one night it did occur to me to have a look inside that cheese sandwich. As I lifted the top piece of bread it was as I suspected – holes in the cheese. You don’t always get cheese now when you bite into that big ecclesiastical sandwich!

Wells is an attempt to live and love in the holes in the cheese.

To go back about five years; I was given a passage of scripture by the leaders of the church where I was working. It was Genesis 26. Isaac re-visited the wells that had been dug (bored) by his father Abraham. Around these wells had grown up little communities because fresh water in the Middle East means life. The bad guys (Philisteens, as the Americans love to call them) had a simple plan for community destruction; fill in the well or, worse, poison it. Result: immediate community disintegration. Am I being too simplistic to see that as an image of what happens in our culture as Christendom fades? The church, once seen as the well in any community and holding pride of place in every village green, is fading into obscurity in many places. In saying that let me add that there is no critical spirit at this end of the worldwide web, so please don’t make room for one at your end. It is just how life is. I walk my dog through the park behind my house and I can see six church buildings. One of them seems to have a very lively youth ministry but the others seem more like you would imagine. Compare that to the other youth ministries that I can see and hear from the park – McDonalds is bursting at the seams, the ice rink and bowling alley with its lasers and crazy golf has a congregation of over 2000 on Friday and Saturday nights. And the park where I walk has a whole other world of teenagers and hoodies and skateboards and plastic bags and bottles of pop etc. I quite enjoy the fun of it all as I walk the dog. I have never found any threatening behaviour, they all love the dog and he loves the attention and the burgers. I have found a great big hole in the cheese. I see blocked-up wells and a disintegrated community.

The leaders of the church where I worked challenged me to consider reopening old wells and digging new wells. Unanimously we decided that it meant me and my family leaving that church. I am fairly sure it was a genuine decision and not a clever way to get rid of me.

One gracious and understanding bishop later and Wells was born as an attempt to mix a metaphor or two by digging a well in a hole in the cheese.

How do you start?

  1. A very good friend welcomed me into his parish as a part-time curate for a year to recruit a team for this new venture. It also helped pay some bills.
  2. Recruit the team – about thirty-five gullible but courageous souls signed up.
  3. Pray lots.
  4. Find a place where you think there is a hole in the cheese. We found a pub in a commuter village on the edge of east Belfast.
  5. Make a few mistakes – that is obligatory. We started Sunday services. Dohhhhhhh. There we are, about to champion the cause of mission-shaped church (i.e. church shaped by mission rather than mission shaped by church) and we start with Sunday services. We have other wells now and none of them have started with a Sunday service so at least we learnt something.
  6. Make another mistake – don’t define the hole in the cheese! We had landed as a wee crowd of worshippers in the upstairs room of a pub with our guitars, bibles, toys for the children, and coffee machine. What did it look like? It looked like a church. Were we here to start a new parish? Were we here to reach people who are unchurched and, if so, how were we going to bring them to a service? Were we not supposed to be a network church rather than a geographical church, growing by reaching out to our existing networks of friends and colleagues? If a network, how were we going to create a new community out of such a disparate group of people? One sure way to lose your way is to not have any idea where you are going, although technically that is not losing your way, I suppose.

But the adventure had started and still goes on.

Wells numbers four and five are just started…

Even the mistakes can be redeemed.

Lingering questions – Identifying holes in the cheese
How do you genuinely live in a hole in the cheese?
How is the gospel lived out in community?
How does it affect those who have not been part of that before?
What is the message?
How is faith experienced and described in a post-modern and unchurched context?
How is all of this kept as simple as a God walking on a beach in Galilee chatting with fishermen and engaging with their lives?

Scene 2…