Manna interview: A pioneering journey

11th January 2022

Trevor James (centre) Keynsham Pioneer with two local people

Trevor James (centre) became a pioneer in Keynsham in November 2019


What led you to pioneering ministry?

The journey started before knowing that pioneering was even a thing, before seeing any job adverts. I just felt called to stop doing the ministry that I was doing at the church we were at; it wasn’t stop and leave, it was simply stop and so I knew something was coming. But it took 12 months to unravel where God was leading. When I saw the pioneer post, I was excited because I didn’t know I was a pioneer. It was reading the job description that actually drew me to it and gave me an identity. It enabled me to realise where I fit in to this thing called church.

That was the first nudge. I knew we were called to Bath, but we didn’t know how to get there because financially we were in a mess through me being ill the year previous to that and that ended up in me being in bankruptcy because I was self-employed. So, we knew we were called but we just didn’t know how it was going to manifest. But God being God he made a way.

You’ve been in Keynsham as a pioneer for two years now, how has the role developed?

It's been a journey. I am a very strategic thinker and I have always had a mind full of vision. I did come to Keynsham seeking the way the Holy Spirit was leading, but I also came up with this whole fan dangled approach to pioneering with lots of plans and projections. Then I was only in post six months, and we had lock down which completely transformed everything. It got to a point where I thought I’d possibly got all this stuff wrong; do I need to just hand my notice in? But God being God just transformed the journey and that’s where the sanctuary garden came in. I ended up getting this small plot of land on the river and from there it has been like pushing a ball down a hill. I am really now in a place where I don’t have to plan too much because I’m trying to keep up with where the Holy Spirit its leading and where we are going and it is very exciting, very busy, but very exciting. We’ve all been locked down, but God certainly wasn’t.

Tell us about the Sanctuary Garden

It is a very holistic space. I do a regular prayer meet there called ‘Be Still’. It is just opening the space for people to come and be together at the beginning of the day in God’s presence. It happens at 7am every Monday to Friday. It is the only regular thing that I have in place. Around that I have had a fantastic candlelight gig. We put lights and candles everywhere and had a brilliant band come and play for us.

I have met pastorally in the garden with a bunch of folks, including some young people. I had the privilege of praying for a young woman who was 17 and had previously been sectioned because she had tried to take her own life. She came down to the garden with her boyfriend. His family are people I’ve got to know along the journey. Now all the children come, some want to help me in the garden. It’s interesting because I don’t see my ministry as being with young people or teenagers, it’s not what I have felt called to do, but I feel God is just sort of placing it here. We also held the first Churches Together youth event in the garden.

One of the other things that has come out of this is a project to make ministry financially sustainable through our resurrection project. This involves getting things that people are throwing away, upcycling them and selling them. We had lots of stuff that needed upcycling and so we got the young people to help. They enjoyed it so much they’ve asked us not to finish projects for them, because they want to continue the work on it. We also do hope rocks, where we go out into the community and paint messages of hope on rocks. We have a table with that all set up and it’s a great.

The things that we’ve done through the garden space have been so fruitful it has completely shocked me. It is a base; people know that it’s there now so when the gate is open, I have people wandering in and just enjoying a coffee and sit down.

Throughout lockdown we were allowed to meet one person, so I met one person at a time – I’d often meet three or four people a day, one at a time. It provided an opportunity to get to know people on a deeper level. People opened up more and were willing to share more, so we got rid of the awkwardness of that happens in the first steps of new relationships and got a bit deeper quite quickly.

A lot of these people are either not churched or have been churched, come out the other end and decided it’s not for them, so they are just on the outside of church but still with a belief. They are the folk I really want to engage with.

Where do you feel you are now on your pioneering journey?

The biggest lesson for me is, what does a fresh expression of faith look like. I’ve not landed with the answer to that yet. The way I see it at the moment is, that the stage has been set, the foundation is there, and I’ve really taken my time to explore what a rhythm of faith looks like in that space.

The people that I am meeting wouldn’t go inside the church, It’s not because there is anything wrong with it, it is just not their expression of faith, it’s not how they live out their faith. That’s especially true of the younger ones. So, it is providing that space for them. But this is always the biggest struggle for anyone pioneering - what does that rhythm look like? How do we create depth, how do we create worship, or a prayerful space from the project we’ve created within the community?  

So, as I enter year three it is really pushing in and seeking what that looks like. We can do that with a small group, it’s not about numbers. As long as the rhythm exists you’ve got something to invite people into and that’s where the growth and vision is coming from, but I am not going to try and plan it too much, I’ve learned my lesson with that, I am going to wake up each day and just follow God.

Is there one thing about pioneering you’ve learnt that you’d like to share?

Something I wouldn’t want to miss in all of this is the element of play. It’s something Tina Hodgett touched on. I come from quite a strong evangelical charismatic background so when I first heard about it to hear this idea I thought, ‘no, I’m not sure we are on the right page here’, but in that journey of lockdown and receiving the sanctuary garden it was the theology behind playing with God and entering the kingdom as a child that was where the fruit was and it has opened up this whole new realm of theology that I didn’t know existed in my faith and it made me realise there is a freedom in being a child of God rather than coming to it as an adult with all my ideas. And it is proving a scientific formula at the moment; that the more I start pushing into the adult and the planning and strategic side I don’t see fruit. When I let go into my day and just allow myself to be a child in God, to enter the playground of His Kingdom and play with Him in ministry, it is so freeing and so fruitful.  I can say now all the fruit that is coming from this has come from that approach. It’s a real experience and it has helped me grow.

A shorter version of this interview featured in the Manna mailing for February 2022.

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