It’s the 29th June 2019, I’m soundly asleep when I am woken up with a nagging sense that I am supposed to be somewhere. It’s 3am…of course I’m not supposed to be anywhere! So I roll over and go back to sleep. 3.30am. Awake again with the same sense of feeling like I’m supposed to be somewhere. Roll over and go back to sleep. 4am. There’s something going on here and by now I’m a bit more awake and, frankly, a bit irritated about being awake as there’s a long day ahead of the Life Church ‘conference’ and I don’t do too well with a lack of sleep. But I’m awake now so I ask God, full of faith…ish. “What is it?”
Before long, I’m up and sneaking out of the house to avoid waking Jo and the kids and begin aimlessly (in my view) wandering the streets of Woolston just after dawn. I’m trying to ask God what the point of all of this and get a vague sense that he’s wanting me to go up the Itchen bridge. It’s about 4.45am and I’m on the top of the Itchen bridge reading a spray-painted stencil that says ‘You are loved’. And now I’m starting to cry. At the top of the Itchen bridge on my own, looking out over the water. A few cars drive past, a few people walk past on their from nights out or on their way to work and there’s a hint of concern in their eyes as I would have when presented with that sight. The one person that stops is happy to leave me be when I tell them that “I’m alright but I can see how this might look!” As God affirms to me that I’m in the right place, I finally realise that I’m at the ‘somewhere’ he’s woken me up for!
God had been speaking to us as a team for a while about buying a building and we’d been looking around and we’d even put in an offer on a building that hadn’t worked out. And then it all made sense, as far as I could tell. We’d been looking at the wrong type of buildings. But just down below me there was a building that said ‘Marine Skills Centre’. It wasn’t very pretty, it wasn’t in a particularly nice part of town but it was a place you could learn and launch from. It was an early start just to see a fairly plain building but God speaks out of the very ordinary things of life in extraordinary ways.
You may know that God has often and persistently spoken to us about being like a life boat as a church. That means that we’re on a mission to rescue those who are drowning in all sorts of areas of life and primarily to offer them rescue in the person of Jesus Christ. I sensed that God was actually calling us to buy a building more like a boathouse; a marine skills centre; a place to launch all sorts of rescue craft from. Rather than looking for a building to gather everyone to, it was to be a building that we could send many out on mission from. For that to happen it needed to be somewhere functional. Somewhere with space to equip, train and release people into rescue mission. A place where the crew could be looked after, could receive care and different types of ‘craft’ could be maintained, serviced and send out on to the water again to rescue when the call came. Like a Marine Skills Centre. A Boat house.
The Boathouse (the building we purchased at the end of 2021) is not a central place to gather the whole church, it is not the destination nor is it the mission in and of itself. It is a working boathouse for the crew of Life Church to be sent out from, for the various vessels that form the rescue fleet of Life Church to be well maintained and for the crew to be well looked after and patched up as the realities of life on the open water inevitably takes its toll. It is a place for co-ordinating the mission, for training, equipping and releasing each of us into the good works that God has planned in advance for us and to gather to hear the call of God as we go again and again into the realities of rescuing those drowning in our world today.
There are better-looking church buildings, there are church buildings that look more like ‘a church’ and there are more glamorous places we could be in the city but God has led us to this place, at this time with you as part of the crew. These gift days, the aim is to get deck 3 looking ship-shape and Bristol fashion – don’t miss out on the adventure.