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Exploring faith with emojis and pilates in North Lynn

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Every Wednesday morning, a group of people from North Lynn meet to explore the Christian faith. There is no planned topic, no sermon or pre-prepared notes and no pre-selected songs. Instead, they have created their own way and it is leading to deep discussion about God, the Bible and their lives.

The Revd Becca Rogers, Vicar of the King’s Lynn Group, has been one of the Ministers of North Lynn Methodist Church since 2015. With an unimposing building in the middle of one of the most deprived wards in the country, North Lynn Methodist Church has a small congregation who work hard to serve their neighbours. Each week they host a weekly community meal and other activities such as ‘coffee on the couch’.

Noticing that there were regulars to these social activities who rarely or never came to Sunday services, Becca was keen to offer a way they could explore faith that wasn’t ‘too churchy’.

She said:

“The culture of how we do church for some people is just a huge barrier. We are expecting people to jump over that barrier before we even get to the talking about God.”

Becca, along with James Hawksworth, the Church Army Officer in King’s Lynn, invited a group to think about how they might like to explore faith in a new way. The only proviso was that the group had to involve the Bible; otherwise, they were given free rein. “There was a mix of both church members and those who came to church activities but wouldn’t call themselves Christians,” Becca said.

In May the new group ‘Solace’ was launched, meeting on Wednesdays from 9.30am-11am. They start with 30 minutes of Pilates. Becca explained:

“In our first discussion someone said that the lives of people who live around here are pretty busy and stressful, and often people are just rushed off their feet. So, before anybody can even begin to think about any God stuff, they need to be relaxed.”

Mats and cushions are placed on the floor and a Darcey Bussell Pilates DVD is played on the big screen. About half the group take off their shoes and stretch into positions such as the sphinx. Those who are unable or don’t want to, sit around the edge quietly listening to the soothing music and occasionally texting each other.

Once relaxed, the group gather around a table with hot drinks, Bibles and a large sheet of blank paper. A different person takes the lead each week using laminated cards printed with a series of questions and prayers. The first question, ‘How are you today?’, is accompanied by a sheet of emojis.

There are around a dozen in the group; both men and women, single people, parents and grandparents, professionals and those out of work. “There is a mix of people who are signed-up believers and people who are not sure yet, but everyone is searching,” said Becca. There is a warmth and friendliness, and in the chatty, fun atmosphere everyone is equal and listened to. Some select an emoticon and others simply give news of their children, grandchildren, their work and their health, before a short prayer is read out asking for peace and focus.

Felt tip pens are then given out and everyone is invited to write down a topic for discussion. Without explanation or preamble, topics like thankfulness, anxiety, love, hope, celebration, frustration, giving and joy are written down. The group vote on which to discuss. Becca explains, “You can vote on as many topics as you like, and you can vote on your own.”

Once decided, people are given five minutes to research the chosen topic using their tablet or phone, the Bibles or the Bible concordance. They write down verses, thoughts and examples on the sheet.  Becca said: “Then we talk about those Bible passages we have found, and we also talk about our lives.”

In a discussion on ‘how God provides’ the conversation is wide-ranging, spontaneous and insightful. In 30 minutes we talk about creation and growing our own food, answers to prayer and God coming through in difficult situations, the charge on mobility scooters and spiritual sustenance. Passages are found from the Feeding of the 5000, the Sermon on the Mount, Hebrews 13 and Philippians 4.

Becca said:

“Sometimes as a vicar, I get a bit twitchy and I’m thinking, ‘is this really a good way of looking at the Bible; it’s not a three-point sermon!’ But actually, in the conversations that we have, the sharing has been amazing. People have shared what for them is going on at the time and we have really deep faith conversations.”

Towards the end, Becca asks: “Has anyone got a song that would fit with the theme?” and on her phone someone selects the perfectly suited ‘God Provides’ by Gospel singer Tamela Mann.  Becca prays and the group disperse, clearly encouraged and uplifted by the morning. “It’s a good thing to be part of,” said Becca.

Photo: The Solace group including Rev Becca Rogers (standing second right).