Stewardship’s church planting team, still in its infancy, was set up to serve those who feel God has placed a call on their heart to start a church. When statistics seem to show a decline in church attendance, it’s amazing to hear stories of people stepping out in faith to build God’s house. Pastors like Pete and Rachel Whittaker from Freedom Church Preston are leading the charge.
I met Peter and his wife Rachel on a Zoom meeting at the start of May. They lead a small congregation, currently gathering online, who had previously been meeting in a missions centre in the Ribbelton suburb of Preston. It was very quickly evident that they both share a passion for two things: Jesus and motorbikes. They talked excitedly about both and how they’d found ways that they could share the gospel in their community through biking groups.
I asked Peter what their Sundays look like and he shook his head, “We have about 45 members in our congregation” he explained, “but only about half a dozen are in full time work. We started serving breakfasts on Sunday mornings because half the congregation were showing up hungry. I said to myself, how can you speak to people about Jesus when there are people here that haven’t eaten in three days?”
It was a powerful statement, and the harsh reality of it lingered in a moment of silence on the call as we reflected. Poverty isn’t always a word that we hear used in conjunction with the United Kingdom, but that is their reality. For me, having grown up in a predominantly middle class church in Kent, it was a sobering thought.
I wanted to see how Stewardship might be able to help and enquired about how they were financing the ministry. Naturally, many of the congregation were not in a position to give large amounts. “We both work full time,” Rachel explained to me. “Peter teaches engineering and I work for the council in HR.” They shared that they’d been funding the ministry out of their own salaries in order to put on the Sunday morning breakfasts, amongst multiple other community outreach programmes. When I asked how much that was costing them, Peter simply said, “More than a tithe.”
For some, this struggle to help see people released from poverty could leave them feeling bitter or resentful, but in Peter’s manner there was nothing but care for the people he serves. In describing an incident where some bikes had been stolen from the front of their church property, he spoke not with anger or frustration, but with an air of one who believes in the people in his community and wants to make a difference for them.
It’s church planters like Peter and Rachel that we are able to serve through the generosity of our community of givers at Stewardship. We work with them to ensure that their church can continue to grow and reach more people, feeding the homeless and those who are unable to afford basic amenities, providing a safe space for people to come to (pre-coronavirus) and providing hope by sharing the gospel with those in our nation who are most in need.