The Sheffield Church of the Nazarene is in the Heeley suburb, about one mile (1.5 kilometers) from the Sheffield city centre, in England. It was established 35 years ago and has always been at the heart of the local community with activities for all ages.
I recently retired as the church’s pastor, and I, along with others, have felt for some time a desire to start a church that’s different — for people who don’t attend “normal church,” especially those who have attended the midweek activities of the church down through the years, but for whatever reason chose not to join in Sunday morning worship services.
Just after I retired, the Waggon & Horses public house, which is about 100 metres from the church, had a new manager.
The Waggon & Horses pub has had a long reputation as a place of violence and petty crime, but when I went to see the new manager, I discovered that, like myself, she is a former probation officer and keen to develop the pub as more of a community resource. She also had a church upbringing and she willingly agreed to let me start Heeley Pub Church in the smaller function room, especially after I and a church friend re-decorated it for her.
Initially, a trial run of monthly services was set up for March, April, and May, each one starting at 4 p.m. on Sundays and lasting about 45 minutes, followed by refreshments.
God’s timing is amazing. I never had time to do this sort of thing when I was a full-time pastor, but now that I have the time, God has opened up the opportunity.
The Pub Church is about faith, hope, and love in a very relaxed and informal setting where people don’t have to worry about what to wear or where to sit. The style/content of the services is aimed at non-church people and includes secular and spiritual music, chat, interviews, stories, guest singers, video clips, prayer, and humour in a “magazine” format with no item lasting longer than five minutes.
The first two services saw 20 to 25 in attendance. Most of these were existing church people who came to see what a pub church would be like before they invite their non-church family and friends. The small number of non-church people who have already come to the initial services have shown particular interest in the prayer spot, asking for prayers for their families.
One lady who doesn’t attend “normal” church said that she really liked the Heeley Pub Church because the minister was “not up there looking down on us but down there walking among us.” She also said she was going to invite three friends to the next one.
Those attending asked if we could make it a permanent thing. After the three-month experiment, the Pub Church is still going.
The manager has been serving afternoon tea with cream cakes after the service, which is very popular with virtually all of those attending.
There are difficult issues to face, such as doing church in a place that serves alcohol. Jesus has called us to go into the world with His life-transforming gospel of forgiveness for sins — resulting in abundant life before the grave and eternal life beyond it.
We believe that we need to look at the bigger picture of our call to make new disciples by finding new ways of connecting and communicating with those outside the church.
I believe we have been challenged by God to make this first step of faith, leaning very much on His strength, compassion, and wisdom. We will never know where God will lead us unless and until we make that first step of faith — which is always scary, but also exciting!
We have made that first step.