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Portsmouth: what does it take to set up a resource church?

A resource church is far more than a large successful church rebranded to justify the attention it attracts. Where successful, resource churches are fully integrated into a diocesan strategy to revitalise city-wide mission and growth. Archdeacon of Portsdown the Ven Joanne Grenfell talks about managing the diocesan side of launching Harbour Church in Portsmouth in September 2016

At the invitation of Bishop Christopher Foster, the Revd Alex Wood relocated from St Peter’s Brighton – itself a 2009 plant from Holy Trinity Brompton – to plant Harbour Church in Portsmouth city centre. He brought with him a new curate, and a team of mainly young lay people who were committed to growing a new church. The intention from the outset was for this to be a resource and a blessing to the whole city.

It is quite difficult to grow traditional church in the centre of Portsmouth, though our existing parish churches do a great job in serving the community and being there for all who need them. There’s lots of high density medium rise social housing blocks, much of it is not at all attractive. We have many multiple occupancy houses mixed in with small pockets of affluence. The population turnover is high with many people moving on each year.

New student accommodation had just been built and we needed to develop an Anglican offering that would be appropriate for them and for other young people who weren’t served well by traditional churches.

For the church to work as a resource church it has to be embedded in the structure of the diocese. My role has been to link the Bishop at the heart of the vision with the new team coming in.

The initial preparatory stages were not straightforward. It is easy to underestimate just how much time and effort it takes to get things off the ground.

I’ve never before launched something like this. The sense of risk is high, as is the fear of failure. For me personally, it took a measure of resolve to overcome the expected misunderstandings and fear. Only by sticking with a vision that you really believe in can take you through.

I discovered I needed to develop a certain determination in me in a way I had not needed in previous roles.

We got things wrong in the first instance by looking at grafting into an existing church. There were a lot of difficult issues that circled around questions of influence and control, and we could not reconcile these. Conversations with local clergy were sometimes quite difficult.

We had to draw back from that approach, and there was a lot of hurt and disappointment when we did so.

Being detailed and clear and structured in my approach helped greatly. I’ve learned that you’ve got to keep to the vision of growth: keep the eye on the prize, and remember that the prize is not the institution.

Knowing that others were ready to support and help was a great help. Having the confidence and backing of the bishop also really matters.

In the early stages my most important contacts were with the Area Dean, leaders of local churches, the diocesan secretary and with the cathedral. Identifying the right people from the Church Commissioners to help move things forward helped hugely.

We put requests out on the Diocesan Secretaries’ and Archdeacons’ networks and were able to borrow ideas and expertise from other dioceses with matters such as creating a Bishop’s Mission Order.

Our ecumenical contacts too were very helpful, and I found that leaders in other denominations were ready to be supportive.

The team from Brighton arrived in May 2016 – four months before the launch, and we tidied up some of the administration and structures during the course of the summer.

Harbour church has had a good start, developing relationships with the diocese. We are ready to  bring in a second curate by the summer to work in partnership between Harbour and the Cathedral, and to develop new worshipping communities.  

One of the joys has been watching them bring their church planting expertise. HTB’s model of church is a strong one and I have seen that adopting a proven model means that we don’t have to invent it all from scratch.

A very positive surprise to me was how deeply and how quickly the team established a culture of prayer. I have also been struck by the power of working as a team. We often appoint a single vicar and expect them to turn things around on their own.

Our local clergy have been very generous. Before the launch they reminded me often that they were praying for the new church.

In the first month after the launch, I went to Harbour every week with my children; we still attend regularly and they love the focus on their spiritual development and belonging. I have wanted over the last nine months to be with the team in prayer and also to keep an eye out for any early problems. My overwhelming impression is that Harbour is a good and wholesome place to be, for people of any age, and of any background.

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