‘Unprecedented ecumenical exchange’ as a Baptist and Anglican church in Bristol swap buildings
Horfield Baptist Church has been looking for premises more suitable to its current needs without having to relocate away from the Gloucester Road where it has been based for over a century.
Meanwhile the nearby B&A Church has split its activities across two sites for several years and had been looking for somewhere it could host community activities and Sunday services under one roof.
The two buildings are a couple of hundred metres apart, and throughout 2022 the churches discussed the possibility of a buildings swap.
Both congregations approved the proposal, and following an evaluation process by a series of professionals and leaders from both the Diocese of Bristol and the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the exchange completed on 31 March.
This means 160a Gloucester Road has now become the new home of the Baptist church. Moving here will enable Horfield to transition from ‘a period of maintenance to become more focussed in and for the community once again while maintaining its focus on Sunday morning worship,’ said minister Sarah Phillpot.
B&A Church will undertake a phased move to 279 Gloucester Road – Horfield’s former premises – with its community activities and staff offices relocating to the front of the building in April. It will undertake essential building work in the rest of the building and will continue to meet at its other site, B&A St Andrew’s Park, on Sundays for the time being.
‘This is an almost unprecedented move between denominations and an answer to prayer for both congregations,’ said Sarah. ‘It should also enable both churches to better serve the local community.’
Sarah highlighted more of the background to the swap in a post on the church website. While the old suite of buildings are ‘beautiful’ and the premises ‘extensive’, they were nevertheless ‘no longer suited to our mission to and ministry in our local community.’
‘Instead of enabling our call to tell people about Jesus, this building has become a burden on our time, money and resources,’ she wrote.
And while the Baptist church could have sold these premises ‘to bring in some much-needed cash’, the congregation made a commitment that they ‘should be used to the Glory of God and for the furthering of the Kingdom of God.’
This may have seemed ‘rash’, Sarah continued, ‘but the building was a gift to us from previous generations who have given generously for the work of God in the area.’
Sarah’s hopes for the future were echoed by the leadership at B&A Church.
‘We are excited to have found a solution that will enable both churches to continue to be based in the heart of the community they serve and to thrive and grow in the long-term,’ said James Stevenson Priest-in-Charge at B&A Church (pictured, with Sarah).
‘279 is an extraordinary building with so much potential and has a long history of being home to a lot of important community activities,’ added Wayne Massey, Team Vicar at B&A Church.
‘Our hope is to undertake the necessary repair and structural works to make it a safe and usable space over the next few months, so that we can be ready to welcome people for church on Sundays and community venue hire from autumn 2023.’
Community activities at B&A Church include the Ukraine Welcome Hub, free weekly Soul Food Meal for anyone, hot meals for Warm Spaces and Sixty-One Hub for ex-offenders.
Baptist services in the new building began on 2 April with a Palm Sunday service, a Good Friday reflection on 7 April and an Easter Sunday celebration on 9 April. The congregation has continued to meet there each Sunday at 10.30am.
We feel strongly that God has been in this process from the start, writes Sarah. We’ve been looking for a solution to the challenges we had with the building – huge premises and a congregation much reduced in size and increasing in age – for a long time.
When we embarked on the process, we couldn’t have envisaged this outcome as it had always seemed as if we’d have to share the building and give over parts to non-faith activities just to make ends meet. HBC will be able to continue its journey in more suitable premises while at the same time knowing that our current premises are also going to continue to be used for the glory of God and the furthering of the kingdom – this was the condition we put on the future use of the building to honour the sacrificial giving of past members of HBC.
HBC has always been on the move, originally meeting in a rented house in Rowley Road (now Thornleigh Avenue), before moving into a ‘tin tabernacle’ on the Gloucester Road, then purchasing land on Brynland Avenue and building its first church, and then buying up an orchard behind the church and building the premises on Gloucester Road. This move not only keeps us in the same community but continues that journey.
We are excited about the future and we now have to discern what God is calling us to do in our new premises.
We should acknowledge the invaluable help we’ve had from Mike Southcombe from the Baptist Union Corporation and Alastair Watson from Reveal Projects who came to us originally through a project of whole church discernment, and discussion facilitated by Spatial Perceptions based at Spurgeon’s College, and the help and support we’ve enjoyed from Gary Woodall, regional minister from Webnet.
This is a story that goes against the grain and we believe this is a witness of God’s leading and faithfulness. God has a lot in store for both communities.