HTB church-plant merger with Portsmouth congregation ‘not a take over’

01 June 2018

Harbour Church, Portsmouth, will merge its congregation with that of St George’s, Portsea

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The Harbour Church, in Portsmouth, the diocese’s “fastest-growing congregation”

The Harbour Church, in Portsmouth, the diocese’s “fastest-growing congregation”

A CHURCH-PLANT from Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London — Harbour Church, Portsmouth — has outgrown its building and will merge its congregation with that of St George’s, Portsea, it was announced last month.

In 2016, the Church Commissioners committed hundreds of thousands of pounds to renovate a derelict former department store in the centre of the city, which became a place of worship to 30 churchgoers from St Peter’s, Brighton — itself a plant from HTB (News, 2 September 2016).

The diocese of Portsmouth described Harbour Church, created through a Bishop’s Mission Order, as its “fastest-growing congregation”, and announced that it would now hold its main Sunday service at St George’s, a Grade II* Listed church built by dockyard workers in 1753. Harbour Church now attracts a congregation of 320 each week.

From this summer, the congregation at St George’s will hold their communion service at 9.30 a.m. (moved from 10 a.m.); the two congregations will then join for coffee and pastries before the Harbour service starts. The long-term plan is to merge the two congregations.

St George’s, which is positioned on the waterfront, has been without an incumbent since the last Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Belinda Davies, left in 2017. A member of Inclusive Church, the website says that “as a relatively small congregation we focus our energy on serving the local community where we can”.

The Revd Alex Wood, who leads Harbour Church, will become Priest-in-Charge of St George’s, and the Revd Matt Bray, who is an assistant curate at both Harbour Church and Portsmouth Cathedral, will take specific responsibility for the congregation of St George’s.

Harbour Church is also starting a family service at St Alban’s, Copnor, where Mr Wood is also Priest-in-Charge. Each Sunday, at 4 p.m., families will be offered free coffee and cake, plus a bouncy castle, toddlers’ soft-play area, face-painting, and a photo booth. There will then be a half-hour presentation, including songs, drama, and prayer, after which tea will be provided for parents and children.

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“We are part of a church-planting movement that wants to see churches revitalised across the UK,” Mr Wood said. “At Harbour Church, we have a role in helping Anglican churches in the city to thrive. That’s why we want to work together with the existing congregations at St George’s, Portsea, and St Alban’s, Copnor, to help them to reach out to their local communities in new ways. We aren’t taking over: we genuinely want to work in partnership with them.”

Rachel Scott-Thompson and Sarah Everett, churchwardens at St George’s, said: “We may be a smaller congregation than Harbour, and be used to a more traditional style of service, but we are excited about the potential for us to grow together and learn from one another.”

The refurbished department store, which costs £40,000 a year to rent, will continue to be used for Harbour’s Sunday evening services, and is used throughout the week, hosting Alpha courses, midweek Bible studies, groups for young people and students, and the Harbour Coffee Shop, and as an office for the church’s staff.

The average age of its congregation is 26. A Church Army study last year found that about a third of the congregation were students, and another 46 per cent were graduates (News, 19 January). Its survey showed that 71 per cent of worshippers were churched, and at least 20 worshippers said that they had come to faith through Harbour Church, and a further 15 saying that they rediscovered a lost faith there.

It is situated in one of the most deprived parishes in the country: 46 per cent of the population have no qualifications, and 52 per cent of children live in poverty.

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