"It's not unusual for me to be heckled as I speak!" | Peter's story
Feeling uninspired after months of lockdown? In September we began sharing some stories of CEM resources in action, collected pre-pandemic. As we tentatively continue to make plans for the new academic year, we hope these stories will spark some ideas for your evangelism this season.
We caught up with Peter Silley, who is responsible for the Hope Centre in Weston, Southampton, about how they’ve been using CEM materials to share the love of Jesus with people in their area.
Hi Peter, can you tell me a little bit about you and what it's like to live in Weston?
I’m a recently retired microbiologist and professor. My wife and I are part of Kings Community Church
, Hedge End, and we look after the Hope Centre, an initiative that is part of our church.
We came to Weston about 10 years ago and it’s a great place to live! We are right on the water, and it’s beautiful - you can see Weston if you catch the ferry from Southampton to the Isle of Wight and look to the east of the city at the high rise flats along the water’s edge.
Weston is also one of the most marginalised parts of Southampton. We are the sort of community that does not have a lot going for it. Alongside high unemployment levels, there is a tremendous amount of loneliness and many people suffer with mental health challenges. At the same time, we’re a very tight knit community.
What's happens at the Hope Centre?
Before the pandemic hit, the Hope Centre would be open all day on Mondays as a drop-in centre. 35-40 people typically pass through on a Monday and we serve lunch to everyone. We have a pool table, play games and chat. We help people with benefit claims, we run a job club and we run a food centre based on referrals.
We'd also run a knitting group and an English language cafe on Wednesdays and another drop-in on Friday mornings.
The strapline for Hope Centre is 'Sharing the love of Jesus with Weston' - how do you go about doing this?
We had been doing the drop-in days for a couple of years but with no kind of teaching content. We’d play Christian music and give thanks before meals, but that was about it. We felt the time was right to give people clear opportunities to find out more about the Christian faith that motivates us.
So we started to meet at the Hope Centre on a Tuesday evening. When we started it I thought we would have eight or nine people but we have been staggered as numbers have built to more than 30 coming along! Lots of these people live on the local estate and are from unchurched backgrounds.
We have lots of banter, a time of worship and then teaching with discussion and prayer over coffee afterwards.
We offered a pick-up service for those who want to come to Kings Community Church on a Sunday morning but we are trying to emphasise that Tuesday night is church too.
So where does Christianity Explored come in?
The challenge was that initially I was the one responsible for Tuesday evenings and I didn’t want everyone to just listen to me all the time!
I had been looking for material for the teaching slot when I came across Christianity Explored
Lots of people who come to Hope have a very short attention span, so the timings of the films work brilliantly for us; 13 minutes is what most people can cope with!
We play the film and then myself or another of our young leaders will speak for a few minutes pulling out some key reflections. We also show the testimony videos from christianityexplored.org
which are brilliant to help people see stories of people coming to faith from different backgrounds.
We found that smaller discussion groups didn’t work for us, so we don’t use the handbooks and have more of an open discussion after the films - it can be very lively and it’s not unusual for me to be heckled as I speak!
We then did Discipleship Explored
and are now well on our way working through Life Explored
. I wondered how well the material would translate to a very unchurched audience. But it has worked brilliantly. And it’s also benefited people who are already Christians.
What kind of encouragements have you seen from these Tuesday night meetings?
In the last year we have had three people profess faith and come forward for baptism.
They’re a diverse group of people; complicated home lives, drug and alcohol challenges, mental health issues.
For example, Michael came into Hope for the first time after we had been praying for new people to come along. When he arrived he asked us to tell him about Jesus because he was in a mess. That was the beginning of the journey for him, we have seen an amazing change. There was a call for baptism one Sunday and he just went up to say he wanted to get baptised.
The week after his baptism he got a new phone - he explained he bought this phone so he could have a new number to stop his old dealers getting hold of him. It was so moving to hear.
It’s been so exciting seeing how God has been at work. We know there are ups and downs, it goes with the territory, but we have been thankful for what God is doing.
How has the pandemic and lockdown affected life at the Hope Centre?
Given the demographic of those coming to the Hope Centre and the layout of the building, we have had to completely close down and even now cannot seriously consider opening. Most of those that attend do not have internet access and so we have been unable to use any sort of streaming. We have, however, been calling and texting everyone for whom we have contact details on a weekly basis and some on a daily basis (where necessary!) so we can support them.
On a personal level it has given my wife and I time to reflect and consider how we move forward. We have for some time been talking with our church leadership about passing on the baton of leadership, as after 10 years of leading and having built up a good team with different gifts, we believe it's time to hand on the work. We are going to be moving closer to family in Sheffield. We are excited about the future, for us and for the Hope Centre.
Please pray that the gospel of hope will keep going out at the Hope Centre.
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