“This is the most impressive Church building in Chester that you’ve never seen!” jokes Reverend Graham Shaw of Christchurch Newtown. Surrounded on all sides by buildings and not located on a particular thoroughfare, despite its proximity to the Little Theatre, the building is unknown to many Cestrians. “It looks dead on the outside” says Graham, but the Church plays a big part in community life, with 150 people attending Sunday services with 60% of those attending aged 18- 30.
The Church was built in 1897, replacing an original Church built in 1838.
The Reverend gave me a tour of the Victorian building, showing the mix of traditional and contemporary features. The Church has ornate Victorian decorations, an organ and stained glass windows. The pews are moveable to allow a variety of activities to take place. “We’ve had banquets in here, a barn dance.. we play around with the arrangement. If they’re all facing forwards it feels like a cinema. A church should be a community where you come together.” Modern features on display include a drum kit booth and a projector. The Creche at the back of the church also includes a video link so parents don’t miss out on services. Graham also showed me the original Victorian toilet- “one of the most interesting in Chester ” he says.. “its the largest loo seat I’ve ever seen. Its like a throne!” Being Victorian, the building is quite draughty and expensive to heat. ” We only really heat it on a Sunday” , when the Church is occupied from 9am onwards.
Also of note is an area furnished with armchairs and sofas. This is also used for community events such as the drop in which takes place every Sunday from 3 until 5. The Church opens its doors to all, particularly the homeless and vulnerable, and volunteers supply food, drink and someone to talk to.
The Church has a collection spot for the West Cheshire foodbank. The strapline of the Church is Seeing lives restored through Jesus in a renewed space as we have fun together. “Its about helping people bring their lives back together, seeing lives restored. Where we see need , we wanted to do what we could and bless them. . Food poverty is a real issue and we wanted to help.”
Back in the warmth of the Mission House , the Vicar told me more about how he came to Chester:
“My dad is from Yorkshire and my mum is from Stratford.” His parents were churchgoers and he regularly attended. “You have to ‘make your faith your own’ and that certainly happened for me during my early teenage years when I decided I wasn’t going to have a relationship with God just because my parents did, but because it was something I wanted and had experienced myself…
“I am new to the North. I came here 4 years ago.. my wife and I came with one kid and we have three now. We love Chester. We feel blessed to be here. Its a lovely city, close to North Wales, Liverpool, great transport links to London.”
The Mission House is used for a range of community activities from meetings of Alcoholics anonymous, to a youth club and Church meetings. The Little Theatre also use the space for youth theatre work. Its clear that Christ Church plays a big role in the lives of Newtown residents.
“If you lived here, you would know about it.. All the local youth come to the youth club. You will either come to the Church or know someone who is involved, or you vote here! The Church is used as a polling station. Its amazing when people come to vote, they wander around in a daze!” says Graham. The Church has a big focus on the student community:
“My wife and I felt we could really make a difference. There are a lot of students and I know that depending on your perspective… they can either be a blessing to a city or an irritation. Depending on where you live. From our point of view, for many students when they come here, its their first time living away from home … although they may come across from the outside as confident and “with it”, the reality is, for a lot of them its tough trying to find their feet and their way in life. We believe we can help them with and make good choices. On a personal level I am an associate Chaplain at the university and I meet with students to help them talk though any issues they have. But its really not about me, its the whole community try and do things with students. The key to working with people is good quality friendships.
” A lot of them come on a Sunday morning, we have various lunches after the Sunday services, we have away trips. We have a student worker coordinator and she runs a team who try and meet up with students. We try and have someone them out for a coffee and see how they’re doing at least once a term. I believe that students have a lot to give, if they are given the opportunity. A lot of students help with the homeless drop in or the youth club. We want people to be people who are “giving”. We want people to grow in their faith. Most of the students that come to Christchurch are Christians, but not all are. My point of view is that everybody is on a spiritual journey and we want to help them on that journey.”
With a host of Church activities and community work keeping him busy, the Vicar spends his day off enjoying quality time with his three children. “When I do have time to myself, I’m quite a keen triathlete so enjoy running, cycling and swimming. In the last few years I have completed 3 Ironman triathlons and hope to compete in the Chester Triathlon again later this year.”
Finally I asked Graham if he saw God on the streets of Newtown:
“I believe that people are created in God’s image and hence, wherever there are people, you catch glimpses of what God is like! In the same way that you can learn about a painter by looking at their artwork, you can learn about God by looking at people, His creation. So as I walk and meet the wonderful people of Newtown, yes, I catch glimpses of God here.”
More info about the Church : http://christchurchchester.com/