Alistair Birkett, leader of Gateways: It’s a very rural part of the world. We often joke within Gateways that there are more sheep than people within our parish. There are a few local market towns but largely rural, dispersed and largely local ethnicity. One of my roles is running, managing, the family farm here at Norham West Mains – we’ve got an arable farm of around 550 acres. I use contractors to help out with a lot of the work to allow me to have my involvement with Gateways so, day to day, it’s management and working here on the family farm.
Bill Landale, Church of Scotland Minister: When I first came here about eight years ago as a locum it was quite obvious that there were no young people and no young families in the church congregation. So we had a look at what might happen about that and it was during that process of looking at the problem, and trying to come up with some ideas, that the Emerging Ministries’ Fund in the Church of Scotland was announced.
Alistair: And they really got behind it; they understood the whole genre, the whole language of emerging church if you like. And they got behind our project, got behind the ideas and, for the first three years, were very generous in their funding of Gateways.
Bill: The juxtaposition of the two movements in the church; the traditional congregation and Gateways worked together very well. They’re not seen as competitive to one another. When we started Gateways, it was clear that whatever it was going to turn into, it wasn’t just a means of getting people into church. It was actually to create a new form of church, a new way of doing church that appealed to people who were not currently in the congregation and for whom traditional church models weren’t really cutting the mustard.
Alistair: Being in such a rural context, Gateways – perhaps unlike other fresh expressions – can’t afford the luxury of saying that we are looking to work with one particular grouping of people. If we were to have a church for skateboarders, I think we might have one – or maybe two – in our target grouping! So within Gateways we’ve decided that it was important that we had different elements or fractals, parts of what Gateways was about, that joined together to make the whole Gateways family.
First off is the Gateways Gathering which currently is a monthly event, Sunday afternoon. It is aimed particularly at families with younger children; we worship God, we pray, we look at Scripture, and we eat.
Male voice: I think Gateways is more suitable for people who are coming from an unchurched background. It’s not threatening, we don’t judge people from what sort of background they come to it and it’s very family friendly. You know, there are a lot of young children come along and it’s just very relaxed type of preaching. One of the reasons we’re coming along is because of this sense of community that they have here. It’s people who are like minded; they are very welcoming and I think people just like to pull together. It’s relevant to the area that we live in.
Alistair: On the second Sunday morning of the month we meet together for what we call Gateways Fellowship which has a slightly different emphasis to the Gateways Gathering. It is more designed for people who perhaps are wanting to look a little deeper and take their discipleship journey on a little further; interactive teaching, developing elements of worship in different ways but again responding to the needs of people who were at the Gathering who were saying, ‘We’d like a little more’, trying to listen and embrace what they were after.
Working alongside the traditional, inherited church model has been thrilling in that my role, my work with Gateways, is not to enhance and develop and grow the congregation of the inherited church but we have been genuinely released to build Gateways as its own congregation. That is liberating; and Bill Landale, the minister, has been key in that relationship. We get along well together, we minister together, he being an ordained Church of Scotland minister we have carried out baptisms together; we’ve baptised young people in the River Tweed which was a wonderful experience. And I’ve now been involved with weddings, funerals, and the relationship with the inherited parish church I think is one of the strengths, and keys, to Gateways’ developing and continuing to grow.
I was contacted by the local Methodist minister in Berwick-upon-Tweed that then was and he told me they were having this course; the msi – mission shaped introduction. ‘Come along’, he said, ‘If you like it, maybe some of you could go on to do the mission shaped ministry course.’ Well I thought this would be a great idea for four or five other people within Gateways. I didn’t think I would be bothering about that; took them along to the msi course for those few weeks after which none of these folks decided that they wanted to go on and do mission shaped ministry! But I’d fallen in love with it so I stayed the course, spent the year and it was a really helpful process for me, just looking at reshaping ministry and mission in different modern contexts.
Working with unchurched people is really great. It often can be challenging because there’s no boundaries, there are no rules, in some senses so it has really made me reflect theologically on far deeper levels than I had in traditional ministry contexts over the last seven or eight years, which I think can only be healthy.
A lot of the people that come along and get involved with Gateways; it’s through their families. We’re building spiritual values from the bottom up, trying to listen to what those guys are saying to us and trying to meet them where they are.
Leadership, developing leadership, has been in some ways a challenge. Again I often joke that some of the people who are on the core team of Gateways wouldn’t even be allowed to give out hymnbooks out in ‘ordinary’ church! But it’s good, and it means risk. And being given the permission to take those risks in an environment of mission where failure isn’t a problem is actually liberating; very helpful.
Taking people on the journey with us is something that’s really key to us and, alongside our Gateways Gathering and Gateways Fellowship, we have a Tuesday evening small group setting. If everybody turns up, there’s 15 so we are beginning to have problems with that; we struggle to fit into people’s front rooms, people’s living rooms. But that is a place that is far more intentionally about learning at a deeper level, about growing together, fellowshipping together and moving on in the discipleship journey.
Female voice: The small group, for me, is a very safe place where our friendships have been developed in a wonderful way really, sharing the Word and also encouraging one another in our day to day lives. The effect that it has on my family is that they can come along as well if they like, and do, although neither of them – both my son and my husband – attend church, they do get very involved with Gateways.
Alistair: We hope that future ministry and elements of future ministry within the Gateways family if you like; we hope that they’re able to be guided, led, by the people that God leads to us, that we respond to their needs. The ministry that I feel I have here, running the family farm, sowing the seed, seeing that risk as the seed goes in and wondering will the harvest come. Some years it’s a great harvest; others fail completely. And being able to reflect on Gateways in a similar context I think has been really helpful for me; to see that what we do with Gateways as we look to the future is sow seed that is broadcast, that is spread. Some of those places will see great fruit I have no doubt and I guess there’s the sense of faith to believe that. Other elements of it will fall to the wayside and there will be no particular harvest but I think as I plant the seed into the farm, it goes into the ground with faith. Likewise as we develop conversations, as we seek to get to know the families within the Gateways context, we trust a God who will make a difference, who will see some fruit come to fruition and Gateways sustaining – and growing – in the future.