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Urban Hope - answers to prayer
21/10/14
Rev'd Greg Bartlem, Pioneer Leader of Urban Hope

Urban Hope Coventry was formed three years ago in response to existing youth work with disenfranchised teenagers at the Cathedral's youth centre, Bardsley House, and ministry with young parents at Coffee Tots - a café and parenting project. It is now a community of around 70 people, meeting together as a church on Sunday afternoons, Thursday lunchtimes and weekly Communion as well as various home groups and monthly Encounter evenings for more reflective times of prayer. Urban Hope pioneer and leader, Rev'd Greg Bartlem, here shares an update and some answers to prayer.

Urban Hope is now a recognised Anglican church within the diocese and officially part of Coventry North Deanery. Final preparations are also being made for us to be made a Bishop's Mission Order and as a part of this, my post has also been funded on Common Tenure for five years – with potential of renewing them both.

I was asked to speak to diocesan synod in May, recognising the decision about my future was going to be taken in June. We tried to make sure that the people who made the decision about long-term funding for us knew our story - I had not expected that they would fund us as I recognised that there were a lot of good things they could fund but you can only spend the money once.

The build-up to this has been the encouragement of Archdeacon Missioner, Morris Rodham, to tell the story. So I have spent the last couple of years travelling around the diocese, recounting the story of what we do – to churches, deaneries and groups like the Mothers' Union - which has been fantastic.

Lots of things have happened as a result of that, including Shipston-on-Stour deanery sort of 'adopting' us! We also took a group of 35 people to Weston-super-Mare in a trip paid for by St Peter's, Kineton, which is just outside Shipston Deanery but is partnering them in this; interestingly I've found it to be the case that churches in rural areas are looking to partner with urban ones. It's also great to know that a deanery and an individual church are holding regular prayer meetings for us.

Telling our story over and over again can be frustrating but it's the key to the survival of the work. Everyone, including Archbishops and Bishops, want to hear stories of God at work and how lives are changed as a result. It's a privilege to be able to do that.

Churches give to community projects overseas and sometimes it can feel like an 'easy' way out to give in that way because the projects, issues and people are vital but they are a long way away from that church's context and culture. When something is on your own patch, it's very different – the attitude is much more one of 'we can do things together' and I think that's really mattered. Claverdon parish church, for instance, have real sense of ownership of what we do at Bardsley youth centre and that means such a lot.

It's very much a journey, I still have a huge amount of doubt – partly as to where we are heading and if we can do it. It's important to point out that I feel a failure a lot of the time but that's often because we are working with people that have got a lot of issues and are broken.

What I would like to see in five years' time is to retain people and grow numerically and it would be good to incorporate a rhythm of life through which I'd like to highlight the link to Jesus and see more lives being transformed by Him than at the moment – and I would include my own life in that.

We have been very successful in developing projects at Bardsley House and Coffee Tots; we've also been very successful at engaging people in Jesus talk but the jury's out as to what extent people are being transformed by Jesus. In saying that, it is a journey and we are all on the journey together.

On a personal level, it's really important to be accountable. I meet with the Archdeacon regularly and keeping that going is very important, I recognise that the churches don't always 'get' us but the churches that do 'get' us tend to be the more traditional ones. It has been more of a struggle with the newer churches, some of whom perhaps don't think we are a church.

I was quite protective early on about us getting involved in wider mission issues because I thought we might be stretched too thinly but now we are starting to feel we are part of something bigger. As people are gradually becoming stronger in their faith, then we are introducing them to something beyond us. Before then it felt too fragile. It's very different from church planting when you typically move, with a group of Christians, into a church hall. Admittedly, we did start with a group of people but a lot of them were non-churched or de-churched so it looked like we were further on than we were.

I wouldn't want another job, I love what I'm doing and – on a good day – it's the best job in the world! I'm really grateful that the Church of England, Fresh Expressions and Pioneer Ministry are asking questions about church and that here in Coventry (and elsewhere in the country too), we're engaging with people who would otherwise never dream of walking into a church.