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New Chapters: Central London

There’s a couple of shifts taking place at the Central London Service. We sat down with leaders Andy Tilsley and David Stroud to find out what’s happening.

Tell us a little bit about what’s changing.

Andy: Believe it or not, it’s 2 years since we multiplied from meeting in 1 location every Sunday, to meeting in 4 – it’s gone so quickly, but it’s been great fun. But our goal has never been to stay at 4 services. Over the past 2 years, there has been a growing community of people in church living in Sutton (zone 5, south London, if you don’t know where it is!) and there’s been huge appetite to start a ChristChurch service there. Just before Christmas they had 44 adults and 30 children on a regular Sunday and over 100 people at a guest service. Having begun meeting once a month, they then started meeting every other week, and from the start of 2018, the plan is for the Sutton community to continue having bi-weekly Sunday services and alternate socials through to September, with the hope they’ll launch a weekly Sunday service from September 2018. This is hugely exciting, though it means they won’t be travelling in to the Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars any more, and this brilliant community of pioneers will be missed at the Central Service very much.

What does that mean for you?

Andy: My family has been living in Sutton for the past 5 years. We’ve got some brilliant community there. However, whenever Sutton have been meeting and I’ve been travelling in to the Central Service, my wife, Joy, has been looking after our 3 children on her own – aged 7, 5 and 2 – which is a challenge on a regular Sunday, even more when she’s serving. Joy has never complained once (after Jesus, she’s my hero!) – but I’ve been aware that I need to be with the family sometimes. I deeply believe that for me to be the best leader I can be, a huge priority needs to be about being a great husband and father. The team have been hugely supportive, and as Joy and I talked, we felt that for me to be in Sutton once a month or so would be a good next step. The next challenge I raised was whether I could continue to effectively lead the Central Service if I’m not there at least 25% of the time.

When you add to that external speaking engagements, or the fact that when I speak at ChristChurch I don’t actually arrive at the Mermaid Theatre until 11.30am after speaking at the South Service, it meant I wouldn’t be present at the start of the Central service a significant portion of the time. To be honest, we didn’t know what to do initially, and spent the best part of 6 months talking, thinking & praying. Just before Christmas we unanimously felt the best step was for me to step back from leading the Central Service and for David to lead instead, and for me to support him – so from this month (Jan 2018), that’s the change we’ve made.

What does this mean for the Central service? Will we see less of you?

Andy: I’m afraid not! I’ll still be at the Central Service most of the time, and I’ll be involved in Alpha, Welcome, Connect Groups, I’ll be speaking as much as I ever was! I’m also starting a brand new Connect Group for the Central Service in the heart of Covent Garden this term – so in some ways I’ll be even more connected. (And anyone looking for a new Connect Group is welcome!) I’m still very committed to the Central Service, I feel very excited about the vision for the whole of London, and about supporting David  – I just won’t be leading it, but in reality my role will change very little. There’ll just be some Sundays when I’m not around, simply because I’m doing church with family.

So David, how are you feeling about all of this?

David: Firstly, I’m hugely grateful for all of Andy’s hard work and am excited to continue this next phase of the Central Service’s journey. We do see this change happening with immediate effect, but I know I can’t do it by myself! We’re a team and it’s so important for me that Andy is here playing a crucial role in the life of the Central Service. It’s been a thrilling but also a challenging time for us as a service over the last two years, so while we fully support his wise decision to spend more time with his family, we also know that we benefit by having him around at The Mermaid too!

What does that next phase look like?

David: Well I think it’s continuing to see the progression of what God has already been doing over the past year. I can feel a real sense of community that’s been growing, and we’ve had some great testimonies from STEPS, Alpha and our baptism service at Love London which was a particular highlight for me. However, we’re aware that there is more work to be done. We’ve lost a significant part of our community to Sutton, which is on one hand really wonderful, but also presents a real gap that we want to get filled as soon as we can!

Our aim at the Central Service is to create a loving family which experiences the presence of God every Sunday, to see lots of people come to faith, and to care for the whole of the city. I’m praying for the day when every seat is filled, where the sense of family is palpable, where the presence of God is overwhelming and where lots of people are finding Jesus and having their lives transformed. I would also love to think that we will be able to serve what God is doing right across the whole city. Churches in the New Testament like Antioch and Jerusalem, that had influence over a wide area, are a real inspiration to me and I pray we may, in some small way, be able to emulate them.

What are you both most looking forward to in the Central Service over the coming year?

Andy: Without doubt the best bit of doing church in London is meeting loads of amazing new people. I’ve met thousands over the last 14 years, and that continues to be my favourite part of church life. Seeing David’s excitement and vision for the service is also inspiring – it’s going to be a great year!

David: Yes, I’m really excited about what’s coming up! In particular I’m looking forward to Vision Sunday this coming week where we will get to talk more about where God might be taking us and how we can each play our part. And I’m trusting God for an increasing sense of his blessing upon us as we see many lives changed and prayers answered and this city benefitting as a result.

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