The majority of my working week is spent being the Senior Leader of Birchfield Church. So, I thought it would be a good idea to take a few moments to tell you where Birchfield Church has come from, where we are, where we believe God is taking us, and a few encouragements/challenges that we have seen along the way.
Our heritage begins in the 1960s when Aubrey and Lily Parish were walking through fields on the eastern edge of Yeovil, Somerset. They saw a boy kicking a can as he too walked through the fields, at which point Aubrey remarked to Lily, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the young people had somewhere to meet with God?”
A short time later a building was built in that very field and in the spring of 1964, with the help of Vicarage Street Chapel in Yeovil’s town centre, a group of Christian believers opened Sunningdale Gospel Hall with the purpose of “raising a gospel testimony” in a “vast new estate.”
Over the coming decades the surrounding area that this new church was on the edge of grew into a dense estate and the people of Sunningdale Gospel Hall (that eventually became known as Sunningdale Evangelical Church) shared the gospel with an innumerable amount of families. Such was their impact and the Biblical foundations that they laid in people’s lives, throughout Yeovil and surrounding areas are numerous church leaders and elders that grew up in Sunningdale Evangelical Church and are now an active part of leading other churches in sharing the gospel to their communities.
Unfortunately, as time went on, the church struggled more and more to connect and share the gospel with the growing, hurting, and broken community around it; which meant that the church itself struggled to grow. However, a couple of years into the 21st century, with only a dozen or so people left in the church, full of Spirit-led humility and wisdom, the elders went to an organisation called Counties UK for help. Counties’ solution to the growth problem was to plant a new church in its place through a daughter organisation called Church Planting Initiative.
So, in November 2006 Church Planting Initiative handed Sunningdale Evangelical Church over to my wife and I (we’d only been married 3 months before) and Kelton Black (a friend of the church and nearby minister who acted as a mentor to us for the first couple of years); and Birchfield Church was born.
Birchfield Church is a family here to pray and work for the peace and prosperity of their estate through growing in their knowledge of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, sharing this gospel to everyone they can by the power of the Holy Spirit, meeting the needs of everyone God enables them to, and equipping others to do the same; all for the glory of God.
Here is a video that some Americans who came over to do some mission with us in 2012 made for us (please excuse the few shots that aren’t in our estate, they didn’t fully get what “local” meant to us), it shares a bit about us and our heart.
Take a moment to stop and pray. Are you, or someone you know, in a position to help? We can’t pay you, but we are in desperate need of more people to partner with us in sharing the Gospel to the families on this estate. If you would be willing to raise the support to be able to come and spend some time with us doing just that, get in touch with me. If you have the financial resources to facilitate someone else coming and spending time with us to do just that, get in touch with me. You can reach me by email at, email@example.com
I’m not sure that I am capable of summing up what God has done in Birchfield Church, the people that make it up, and the community around it; other than by saying that I continue to be convinced each day that God is building his kingdom. Like any family, the last few years have had both ups and downs. However, I believe there have been more highs than lows and more people have come than gone, the estate has improved more than it has deteriorated and we have had the privilege of baptising 5 adults (so far!) from this community in the last few years.
As a church we are passionate about helping families engage with God as a family. This is reflected in our Sunday morning services where young & old stay together, families of all shapes and sizes, as one larger family; learning to engage with God in a way that can be taken back to all of our homes and reproduced. We are also passionate that people not only learn about God when they are with us, but experience God. So, through our events and services, with people right across the spectrum of levels of belief in God, we regularly encourage and help people to hear God speak and experience him and his Holy Spirit in a tangible and life-altering way. We also believe that the Gospel, the story of God’s faithfulness in rescuing the world from our brokenness through Jesus, is the main continuing source of salvation and transformation for everyone. Therefore, its message is at the heart of everything we do and say. We believe passionately that this Gospel should not only transform those of us that believe it, but also the very fibres of the community that we are a part of; so we work hard to see our estate become a better, more prosperous (in every area of life) place to live.
It isn’t easy trying to build a church in a financially deprived area, but we are passionate about figuring that out with God’s guidance and leadership. Practically, this means that as a church, what little money we have (after running costs) gets spent on sharing the gospel and not on staffing. Those of us that are leaders in Birchfield Church have part-time jobs and seek additional financial support from friends and family as we need it.
Our dream is to not just connect with a few people in our community, but to provide a central hub to our estate where families can share their lives, have their needs met, and hear the gospel. One day we would love to turn the building we use into a coffee shop, a charity shop, and a youth/kids centre. The coffee shop would be where we meet on Sunday mornings, as well as open throughout the week with an adventure soft-play area. It would be an opportunity to give kids on our estate breakfast as they went to school and healthier meals in the day time for those that find it hard to cook at home. It would have large glass exterior walls so that everything we do is out in the open and visible to those in the community as they go by. It would be a safe and comfortable place for people to bring their questions and concerns and for us to share the gospel. The charity shop would be an opportunity for us to be a go between of local resources and local needs. It would also be a place for us to live out our faith that God provides for the neediest families in our estate. The youth/kids centre would be a place where we can continue to connect with and disciple the young people in our community by loving them, giving them a bigger family to be a part of, and helping them to understand the Gospel and its implications.
This page has ended up being a lot longer than I initially intended! So, if you made it this far, congratulations! As you’ve made it this far, why not take a moment to stop and pray for us? Pray the God would send us more workers for the harvest. Pray that we would have perseverance and courage in sharing the Gospel. Pray that God’s kingdom would be built on this estate.
Thank you, and may the grace and peace of Jesus Christ interrupt you today, as it has us many times.