Stewardship helped The Ark Church with a loan to build a new church building that reflects their rural surroundings in Isleham. We spoke to one of the Elders, Michael Hawes about the church and their vision for the new building.
Tell us about the history of the church? How did it get started?
Isleham has long been a centre for Christianity and has one of the oldest Baptist churches in the country which was founded in the mid 1600s. Our church was started as an independent Baptist fellowship in 1810, by around 50 local people. A man named William Norman was instrumental in this and built a chapel for the church to use. In 1815 he gave this to the church, and it remained our home for over two hundred years until we moved into this new building. In the 1970s the church was thoroughly changed by the Holy Spirit during the Charismatic Renewal, and in the 1990s we became High Street Church. When we moved into our new building, we decided to be named after it and changed our name to The Ark Church.
Tell us about your congregation and how they got behind the building project?
We have around 240 members who have all been incredibly supportive. Over 13 years they have donated the largest part of the £3.6m needed for the build.
Was there anything in particular that inspired the design of the new building?
We wanted it to look as if it had been converted from barns, rather than coming across as an industrial building. This is a reflection of the area’s rural heritage, and we think gives the building a great feel.
What impact do you hope the church and its building will make in the community?
We hope this will be a place where people can come to meet the Lord, as well as each other. We already have stories of people who have come into the building and encountered his Holy Spirit for the first time, and seen their lives changed as a result.
Why is it important for the church to have a dedicated building?
It is an expression of faith and life in God that can be seen and experienced by the whole community, and it is a place for the church to call home and express its life as the family of God.
How have you seen God at work in the building project and your new premises?
Many individuals and local companies have helped us, such as the crane hire company who supplied a crane and driver free of charge for the erection of the various phases of the frame, saving us tens of thousands of pounds. We have had very little vandalism or theft over the ten years that plant and building materials have been on site. There has been a strong sense of God’s presence in the building for some time now, that has impacted many.
What were your first steps in going about the building project?
Originally, we were going to build with steel, but quickly found that we would need a large sum of money up front. Our church leader, Paul Hedger, had built his house with green oak, and came up with the idea and plans for green oak construction of the church, which allowed us to commence the project and fund it over the period of the build.
How did Stewardship help?
Stewardship provided mortgage funds as we came within three or four years of completion, at a time when the congregation had given sacrificially for several years and we had reached a more expensive stage of the build. I believe at that time it was the largest loan Stewardship had ever made. There was a condition that when we sold our existing chapel, we would need to consult them about paying down their loan with the funds received, but when that time came, they let us use the proceeds towards the build which has really helped us to get to this point.
Were there any particular obstacles that you had to overcome?
Financial – but the Lord has provided, and people have been generous. Technical – a self-build, there were many areas where we didn’t have expertise. Again, the Lord provided the right people to help us, at the right time.
Are there any encouraging stories you could tell us about the recent life of the church?
A guy who delivered materials on pallets over several years was fascinated with the place, and came to the Ark when we first moved in. He and his wife became Christians soon after and are active members now.
What are the current challenges you face as a church in your community?
In Britain people have largely written off Christianity, both as an option for them, or as having a useful part to play in society. Our community is little different, but people are surprised that anyone would want to build a new place of worship. Their curiosity is aroused, and we are largely looked on favourably.
Are there any Bible verses that have been particularly poignant to this project?
‘And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’ Esther 4:14 (NIV). Because so many have come along and been in a position to help us, just at the time we needed them.
What are your hopes for the future of the church’s ministry?
We hope that many will come to us to experience salvation, healing and restoration, and to become part of our family of believers.