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From shoe shop to church

28 November 2014

THE diocesan Pioneer Minister, the Revd James Barnett, started with one-to-one conversations with 600 people among the 10,000 who had come to live in the new communities in and around Leeds. The result was that a small group began meeting in a disused shoe-shop.

That core group gradually grew, until it is now 80 adults and 25 children, half of whom were totally new to the idea of church. In this year alone, five people have been baptised (above). "It's really proved to me", Mr Barnett says, "that if you invest in personal relationships, then people show up."

Now known as Riverside Church, it has recently been officially launched by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, who, at the same time, licensed the Revd Hannah Smith as assistant curate. "Essentially we are a church without a building," Mr Barnett says. "Along the way we have met in different places, including the Royal Armouries, and now we meet on Sunday at Holy Trinity, Boar Lane.

"But we're not just about Sunday: we have seven 'missional communities' around the city, which are small weekly gatherings of people who are committed to the values of Riverside. They're quite diverse. Some are based around a pub quiz or a curry so that it's easy to bring friends along; and one is a traditional Bible-study group. We prefer not to use the label 'fresh expression': we think of ourselves as just another church doing the same things differently."

They keep their stated values deliberately simple and clear, he says. They seek to "live by a faith which is illustrated by hope and known by love". They have a number of lay leaders, and their services are "pretty informal", especially when they are held in the heart of Trinity Shopping Centre, when they often include tourists wandering in to take photos. "But we are growing into Anglican liturgy."

Pastoral care has its difficulties: there are some particularly broken and vulnerable people, as well as those that are new to the faith. But, he says, they are now really growing together.

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