Last week (27th April) I headed up to Manchester for my first visit and interview. Sanctus 1 has been around in one form or other since its first meeting in January 2002 and is one of the longest and most established of the Emerging Churches. Over the last few years it has been through a time of transition. In 2009 their founder, Ben Edson (a Church Army Officer and subsequently Anglican Priest), moved on and a new part-time Methodist Minster (Al Lowe) was appointed with shared responsibility for the Nexus Art Gallery and for Sanctus 1.
This has inevitably led to a time of reflection for the community at Sanctus 1; a re-assessment of their direction and focus. At the same time as the change in leadership there was a changing demographic within the core group involved in Sanctus 1. It had begun with the aim of mission and outreach to the heart of urban Manchester and the core group had reflected that youthful focus – but over the years the young grew up and kids began to arrive on the scene. And as those of us with children know, they change everything! Wednesday evenings were not so attractive as the main meeting point. Sunday mornings began to seem a more appealing time to meet.
Sanctus 1 now meets twice weekly with ‘paired’ sessions on Sundays and Wednesdays. The Sunday morning session is more family focused, attracting around 15 or so people, most with children. The Wednesday evening session is a repeat of Sunday’s theme but adapted for adults with a regular group of between 8 and 15.
I knew that it wasn’t a good week to visit (the week after Easter is universally a ‘low’ week for all Church/Christian communities). Rather than having their normal meeting in the Nexus Art Centre they were heading off to the pub for a discussion. Not sure what I expected – that it would be obvious in a busy pub who the Christians were by the gentle glow that surrounded them or the crosses tattooed on their arms? But the reality was that I sat nursing my drink (with a student from Keele who had accompanied me on this mad trip) desperately eavesdropping on conversations for allusions to faith in some form or other! A good half an hour later we finally made contact with a small group of 4 blokes – ‘Sanctus 1’ for the evening!
We had missed the discussion (we were 45 minutes late!) and so really only had the opportunity to interview Eyan, currently on the leadership team and long-term member of Sanctus 1. It would be good at a future date to go back and ‘experience’ Sanctus 1 properly.
It was a fascinating interview and it will be up on the blog as soon as I have edited it (pub recording is not the best for quality!) It was clear how important Sanctus 1 has been to Eyan on his faith journey – someone who had had nominal involvement with the Church before coming along to Sanctus 1. I was interested that his recognition of Ben as ‘someone like me’ (dress, piercings etc) was an important starting point.
The key phrases that kept recurring during the interview were creativity, inclusion and community. The space to be creative was highly valued and I sensed that it was an open creativity where all could contribute and it was a creativity that was keen to connect with contemporary culture.
Interestingly it was poetry night at the pub and Eyan was not actually there as part of Sanctus 1 but because he was reading one of his short stories and had come out of the poetry session to chat to me. Sanctus 1 has clearly attracted artistic people who need space to explore their faith creatively.
Eyan also spoke of the importance of inclusion as a key value, a place where all are welcome, but that Sanctus 1 was also very clearly a Christian community. Structurally it has ‘fuzzy walls’ in the sense that there is no form or creed that needs to be signed up to – you are ‘a member’ if you come along and are committed to the core values.
Accountability and denominational links have come through the ministerial leadership – it was strongly Anglican and now has a more Methodist focus. That seemed to primarily have an impact in terms of the Sacraments (they have always made sure that there has been an ordained person present if they wish to have communion). Those involved, though, came from a range of denominations and theological backgrounds and did not specifically align themselves denominationally.
The other key value was community. There is always a dilemma when building community; to build the sense of community you have to look inwards; to avoid becoming a closed group you have to keep looking outwards.
As I wrote in my first blog, that lack of a community of ‘people like me’ in the Church is something I always struggled with. Places like Sanctus 1 are about creating a positive Christian community for a generation who have felt out of place in the more established Christian Churches.
I wasn’t clear on the leadership front how much input/support they received in terms of ordained ministry and how much their own internal structures ran the show. I suspect that in the beginning Ben, as the founder, had a significant role in the running of Sanctus 1 but that since his departure they have had to find ways of ‘running themselves’.
Currently Sanctus 1 is a small group that clearly feeds both the core group, for whom it is their primary Christian community, and the many who come from other Churches for a ‘creative top-up’.