The Diocese of Connor / Church Army North Belfast Centre of Mission now has a bricks and mortar presence on the Shankill Road.
Connect Base is open for business in the Spectrum Centre and Church Army Evangelists Karen Webb and Stephen Whitten are welcoming the local community in for tea and a chat, and discussing other missional opportunities with parishes, schools and community groups in the area.
Connect Base – building on the Bishop of Connor’s theme of Connections and the idea that this is very much a base for exciting new work in north Belfast – occupies two units offering a great space for the community.
There is a comfortable sitting area, with sofas and coffee tables, a multi-purpose space with a large table which can be used for meetings, homework clubs and round-table chats, a kitchen, office space, and a relaxing prayer room.
The paint is barely dry on the walls, but Connect Base is open and welcoming people in, with a formal launch planned for next year.
Lead Pioneer Evangelist Karen Webb said: “Between now and Christmas we will be engaging with parishes and local people to find out the best way to use the new centre. We have our own ideas, but we don’t want to impose them on others, we want to listen to the community.”
Parishes will be invited to visit Connect Base to share their visions and ideas for the centre, and it is hoped that people from these parishes will become involved with the Centre of Mission.
It is likely that Connect Base will operate a youth drop-in facility, something that is close to Stephen’s heart, somewhere young people can chat, enjoy a cup of tea, perhaps play some pool in a friendly, relaxed and non-judgemental atmosphere.
Karen and Stephen have also identified a need for a homework club. “Other areas are well covered, such as pre-school provision, but there is very little homework provision,” Karen said. “We will be working with Connor Children’s Officer Jill Hamilton, who will spend part of her time in Connect Base, and her training, both as a teacher and in special needs education, will be invaluable.”
The team will be visiting local schools in the next few months with a view to setting this up.
The drop-in facility will not be limited to young people – when Connect Base is open anyone passing by will be welcome to call in – indeed many local people have already stopped by to find out what it is all about.
The team has been working with Church of Ireland parishes within the Mid Belfast Rural Deanery, ensuring everyone has been kept informed as the project progressed. “The clergy came to visit and loved it and are very happy to support us,” Karen said.
“We want them to feel a sense of ownership. This is not just our space, but their space too.”
The team has also been working with other churches in the area, including the Methodist, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian Churches. On September 19, in celebration of International Peace Day on the 21st, Karen and Stephen will be joining representatives of the neighbouring churches at the Girdwood Community Hub in an interface area for a children’s event, with the Centre of Mission team doing puppet shows and teaching the children the song ‘My Lighthouse.’
Karen said: “Having a base in the middle of the community that is not a church building gives us the freedom to connect with people who would not go into church.
“We are working with a diocese but are right in the heart of the community, and we are very clear in our identity and what we are about.
“Bishop Alan said he would like this to be a lighthouse for other parts of the diocese.”
Stephen said that the Centre of Mission was very much a resource for all of Connor Diocese. “We are keen to get involved in helping parishes where we can, and this gives us something more concrete in terms of our work here,” he said.
Working alongside Karen, Stephen and Jill in Connect Base will be Christina Baillie, Diocesan Youth Officer, who will also spend some of her week working out of the Shankill Road centre. The team is supported by Diocesan Development Officer Trevor Douglas, who is based in Church House.
Trevor said: “Thanks to the Church of Ireland Orphans and Children Society for funding this project for the next four years, and also thanks to the Church of Ireland Priorities Fund. Without this help the project would not have gone as planned.
“The project itself is based in the Centre of Mission on the Shankill Road, however this base will also be used for training in children’s work and evangelism for parishes across the diocese.”