Three children and an adult were baptised while two adults were confirmed by a County Bishop recently at a joyful service …
Not an unusual event in the life of The Church of England in Lancashire you might think … except that this service was held on an abandoned allotment!
The baptisms and confirmations by the Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Dr Jill Duff, were the first to be held by a new church on the giant Higher Croft housing estate in Blackburn.
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The new church opened in November 2018 after Licensed Lay Minister Sharon Collins was employed by ‘The M:Power Project’ (based at St James’ Lower Darwen) and subsequently moved to the area to church plant in nearby Higher Croft, with the aim of connecting with people on the estate who had never attended church.
The M:Power Project aims not just to make new Christian disciples but to grow new leaders so that Church life on estates in Lancashire becomes sustainable in the long-term. You can find out more here on the MPower website.
All smiles after the service with Bishop Jill (pictured), back row centre left and Sharon Collins, back row centre right, are the baptism and confirmation candidates: Paisley, Kyla and Esmai at front and Kathy Case and Haydon Fickling at back.
The three girls and Kathy were all baptised while Kathy was also confirmed at the same service alongside Haydon.
After joining local groups and speaking to residents on the Higher Croft estate, known as ‘Crofters’, Ms Collins began small group meetings in the community library, discussing the big questions in life – and praying for people.
Then the pandemic arrived. Lockdown meant the church - named ‘Pop Up Church’ - could no longer meet in the library. It was temporarily homeless but, as restrictions eased, it relocated to an outside venue ... a disused former allotment.
Sharon said: “The church is very well placed on the allotment because it is near a path that is very well used by residents and every week.
“When we are worshipping, people can see us and hear the singing. We use the fence along the path for mission and place passages from the Bible there for people to see.”
“The weekend of the confirmations and baptisms people brought their families and friends who would not normally have come to church. There was a buffet and music and they all saw the love of Jesus. We hope that this time next year the numbers coming forward for baptism will have significantly increased.”
Speaking after the service, Bishop Jill reflected on the Diocesan aim to make more and more estate churches as accessible as this one, commenting: “My experience of estates is that many people don’t feel good enough for church, let alone good enough for God. But out in plain sight, on what was an abandoned allotment, it’s so much easier to join the family.
“The sun came out just as I baptised the girls. It was a beautiful moment. I had been praying for an open heaven for everyone who came. There were lots of tears. Paisley (9) told me ‘I want to open the door to Jesus’.”
Many people who attended the service were completely new to church so there were fag-breaks in the service for adults who wanted one, just so everyone felt at home. Drinks were served after the service and party-bags were handed out to help celebrate.
Bishop Jill continued: “Meanwhile, underpinned by lots of prayer and thanks to Sharon’s authentic faith and hard work, Pop Up Church has grown from scratch after Sharon moved on to the estate as an urban evangelist to around 50 people now. It’s the only church I know where people give their apologies when they can’t come. It’s as if they don’t want to miss out on the heavenly banquet!”