Church Revitalisation: Inviting Change

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While church revitalisations bring new life and vision, they also involve change and transition for the longstanding congregations. Terry Vanhorne, who grew up in St Paul's Harringay, spoke to us about the journey of welcoming a new team to revitalise his church, describing the blessings and challenges that have come from this step of faith.

At the beginning of September 2018, a new church service launched at St Paul’s Harringay. A team from Christ Church Mayfair joined the congregation of St Paul’s to start an 111am informal family service together. Terry Vanhorne, a longstanding member of the congregation, was one of the church wardens who decided that a church revitalisation (when a new team joins an existing church community) was the right step for St Paul’s. What encouraged the church wardens to support a church revitalisation and what have been the results so far?

Terry ’s parents were married at St Paul’s and he was baptised at the church. Growing up, he remembers the church being full of life and playing a central role in his childhood, from Sunday School to The Boys’ Brigade and playing football. Later on, he experienced the tragedy of the church burning down in 1984 and saw its restoration over a nine-year period as it was remodelled into the strikingly beautiful place of worship that now exists. He was also married at the church and became the church warden of St Paul’s almost one decade ago.

While there was originally a big congregation at St Paul’s, over the recent years the numbers steadily dwindled. Young people in the church grew up and moved away, and older members passed away. Since 2016 there was no stable priest, and with the drop-in congregation size, the situation felt both disheartening and uncertain. The PPC began to ask, “How are we going to get life back here and regenerate?” They ideally wanted a couple of new families to join to bring fresh energy, but in spite of being welcoming and friendly, nothing happened.

As the church reached a standstill with no vicar, the Bishop of Edmonton and the Archdeacon of Hampstead approached the church wardens at St Paul’s with the idea of a revitalisation, where a team from another church would join St Paul’s Harringay to bring new life and vision. Hearing about the success of a revitalisation of a church in Crouch Hill, the church wardens started to see that this could be a positive step for St Paul’s.

At the same time, a team at Christ Church Mayfair were praying about sending a group of people to North London. Suddenly the opportunity of revitalising St Paul’s with a church graft from Christ Church became a reality. The excitement grew at St Paul’s when they realised that the team from Christ Church contained lots of families with young children, exactly what the church wardens at St Paul’s had been praying for. In Terry’s own words, “we couldn’t believe our luck.” A new informal family service launched at St Paul’s this September led by the new Associate Vicar the Revd Pete Snow and his wife Sara, along with a team from 30 from Christ Church Mayfair.

Terry is full of joy when speaking about the blessing that the church graft has already been to St Paul’s. There are now two services on a Sunday morning, one traditional and one a livelier family service. The church is keen to show that neither service is better than the other, simply different in its style of worship. BBQs after church and a joint Harvest celebration have helped to bring the two congregations together. Terry admits that change is hard and it’s taken time for some people to understand. However, he also wonders whether the church would still exist if it wasn’t for the church graft from Christ Church Mayfair. The PCC realised that they had to try something if they were going to see new life in their church, and it now feels like the church is thriving again. After wondering if they would ever have a priest again, the Revd Pete Snow and his family have moved into the vicarage, there is a new Sunday School on Sunday mornings and a Toddler Group is starting in 2019. Terry shares that “we wouldn’t have thought we could do what we are doing now – supporting two congregations at St Paul’s.”

Terry’s heart is to reach the young people in Harringay. He is well aware of the issues facing young people today and he’s excited that the church now has something new to offer them. He’s hopeful that the young people in the area will start to reconnect with their church and realise that there is a home for them at St Paul’s Harringay.

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What does it feel like to send a church planting team from your church? Phil Allcock, Associate Minister at Christ Church Mayfair, describes the painful privilege of sending 30 people to revitalise St Paul's Harringay.

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