Gather at ASHBefore Transforming Mission (TM) rolled into Cornwall there was some trepidation that everything would change. Old services would be ousted, and our Cornish churches filled with the sounds of thumping guitars, endlessly repeated choruses and many waving hands.

To be fair, there is now more of that and that’s a good thing! But TM isn’t big-booted, it hasn’t bullied or trampled. Instead, it has wings and has flown and circled around Cornwall, sometimes touching lightly, sometimes beating, but always powered by the warm winds of the Holy Spirit. One of the places it has touched down is All Saints Highertown, ASH, in Truro.

Creating a community unbound by previous expectations of what church is

ASH is known for its determination to put community at the heart of the church. That’s very visible in its social justice and action work with people who are struggling, especially post pandemic. Less well known is the TM teams desire to create a community that isn’t bound by previous expectations of what church is. The new Gather service at 4pm each Sunday is one step on their journey to making that happen.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re just playing catch-up to God,” says Social Justice Missioner Joff Phipps. He has a plan and is rolling it out and we’re just riding that wave!” That appeals to Joff who says Cornwall is like Neverland in Peter Pan, he never has to properly grow up because he can always surf!

Discovering who we are through stories

Stories are central to Gather. Stories and simple church. “Everyone loves a story,” says Joff. “They help us discover who we are, what we want from life – my other favourite story is Robin Hood!” ASH might not be robbing from the rich to give to the poor, but it certainly has a strong sense of fair play.

“Everyone loves a story,” says Joff. “They help us discover who we are, what we want from life,” says Social Justice Missioner Joff Phipps whose two favourite stories are Peter Pan and Robin Hood!

For Joff and Worship Leader Robin Mitchell the greatest story of all is the Bible and responding to that is what’s shaping the new Gather service. The Bible is huge, complex and often deeply confusing. But at its heart is a simple and loving story of Jesus love and how he showed his love. Through hospitality, sharing food, being available, answering questions.

Being unafraid of questions and non-awkward spaces

“That, for me, is what I want for Gather,” says Robin. “To create a space where people feel they belong, feel at ease enough to ask questions. No matter where they are on their faith journey, even if they’re not looking to get onboard. We want to be able to hold a space that doesn’t assume any level of spirituality or understanding, but also makes it comfortable for those who want to go deeper with their faith. That’s not easy, but we’re not afraid to ask people how to do that.”

Gather has the loose format of a service, but it’s full of dynamic, non-awkward spaces that gives everyone the freedom to talk and to listen to each other. “We’re thinking we might hold a Gather that invites everyone to bring and share food and then have an open mic, so people can stand up throughout the evening and share their stories. It could be the story of their day, or their life.”

Come as you are, no matter how messy that might be

Everyone has a story, and almost everyone wants it to be heard. Creating an environment where people feel comfortable to share is a cornerstone of Gather. It’s key to growing a community. “We’re all guilty of putting on our Sunday faces,” says Robin. “Our vision is that people come as they are, so we can all meet each other where we truly are, no matter how messy that is.”

“We’re all guilty of putting on our Sunday faces,” says Worship Leader Robin Mitchell

As Joff says, “In Judaism the word for friend is Chaverim . It doesn’t define someone who shares the same opinions as you, but someone you debate with, question, and with who you grow the most. That’s what Gather should be, a community of people. Friends, who are not afraid to ask each other questions, grow with, and find a deeper love and respect for.

Why Jesus? Now there’s a question

Having gone to the first Gather with a reluctant teenager, I’d say they’re off to a good start. It was very welcoming, the church set up more like a comfortable front room with sofas and soft lighting. Drinks and cake on arrival, pizza to finish and plenty of opportunities in between to ponder together over the question of the evening, Why Jesus? And therein lies the greatest question and story of all.