I would have been a disaster in the army At school corps camp I was the only private who left his rifle outside the tent all night.Faced with national service and the prospect of months of saluting anyone that moved and painting anything that didn ’t,I bottled out and worked as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy.
I thought of this as I parked in a street beside the Frontline Church in Wavertree,Liverpool. It is a former Royal Artillery Depot and you can still see the regimental sign of three cannons in the stonework.
Now it ’s the headquarters of a church committed to spiritual warfare on any number of fronts.When the Army had finished with the premises British Telecom used it for a while as a depot for their vehicles.“We bought it for around £164,000,”said Dave Connolly,one of two co-pastors leading Frontline.
Before I had got very far past the welcomers inside the main door I was told that I had probably been recorded on four different security cameras.My wife,Annette and I had arrived about half an hour before the Sunday service began at 10.30.Walking behind the sound desk I suddenly caught sight of my car ’s registration number on the big screen on stage.Would I please park my car in the recreation centre car park so as to avoid upsetting any of Frontline ’s neighbours?Of course I would,and I did.
I had an impression of pastoral and administrative care.I had been sent an information and membership pack.From this I learned that Frontline is a vision led,outwardly focused every member ministry church with a mission statement:‘Frontline exists to glorify God and extend his kingdom.’
“We have four key objectives:1)To repeatedly give every man,woman and child in Liverpool the opportunity to hear and understand,and accept or reject the good news of Jesus Christ;2)To give every new Christian the opportunity to belong to a local group of believers where they are nurtured in their intimacy with Christ,developed in their spirit giftedness and released for service;3)To have Christian values permeating and influencing every sphere of public life in the city,and 4)To release a harvest force into unreached parts of the world.”
So how did my experience at Frontline match up to these impressive objectives?We were made very welcome and given all that we would need for the service,a notice sheet,an address list amendment form,a sheet on which to make notes during the teaching on Satan ’s Traps by Jenny Harding,wife of co-pastor Nic. The hymns and songs were projected on to a large screen.As I prowled about the hall taking photographs practically all of the estimated 400 plus people of every age and colour were so absorbed in their worship they scarcely noticed the intruder.
The church meets at its centre in Wavertree, South Liverpool, a district, which boasts the smallest house in England and is the Beatles’, George Harrison’s birthplace. The centre has a large meeting hall with a stage, smaller meeting rooms, offices and the Front Café. It was formerly a Royal Artillery Depot and premises for British Telecom.
The worship,led by Pete Caulfirld (right), one of four worship leaders began with the thoughtful reading of a psalm and a moving story from a member who had been delivered from a number of potential disasters and wanted to share her thanks and praise to God.The music was both upbeat and reflective matching music to mood.I asked 27 year old primary school teacher and worship leader Christabel Reynolds how she would describe the worship. “I think it reflects the church in that it is very passionate and exuberant.People come with a desire to meet with God in the worship and the team tries to facilitate that.It ’s lively worship and it just reflects people ’s passion for God. There are two worship teams,about 25 people in all.We have two bands,which play a fortnight on and a fortnight off.”
Seven days a week
Does Sunday worship help Christabel through the week?“It does because Sunday is a time to meet with God and to reflect on what ’s happened during the week,to receive teaching and encouragement and then go and take that out with me.What Jenny Harding talked about this morning,avoiding Satan’s traps,had a very practical application so it is practically outworked and relevant in your life.”
Jenny talked very engagingly about the temptation to put football before a cell meeting,about inappropriate clothes,about the dangers of falling into debt.Her teaching was shot through with wisdom,humour and personal experience.She seemed to be ready to listen to what she was saying.I felt less got at than included with her and everyone there.We were all in it together.
Christabel lives within three minutes ’walk and came to this church eight years ago when she was a university student.“I went round looking at some churches and I found this church and stayed here.It was a mixture of people ’s passion for God really and also relationships,and people made me feel welcome.” What would she miss if she had to move away?“The relationships and I think they ’re the most important thing in church.Ultimately Church is people and relationships rather than services and meetings.So if I moved,I ’d miss the relationships that I ’ve got with people in my cell and in church.”
Some way through the two-hour worship I sneaked off to one of the smaller meeting rooms to see what some of the young people were doing.For a moment I thought I ’d walked straight out of Frontline into a television studio during a Saturday morning youth programme. It was bright and loud and the crowd of 11 to 16 year olds were raising the roof.It was about as unlike my recollection of church youth-work as anything I could imagine.Who could eat three cream crackers in the shortest possible time? Who would win the banana split race?
Ignite is just one of the many youth activities devised by Frontline.There are other Sunday morning groups,Wrigglers for the 0 to 2s,Sparklers for 3 to 4s.4 to 11 year-olds are welcome to enjoy ‘fast and furious fun and games ’at Kidz Klub on Saturday mornings during term time.It has been such a success that other churches are taking it up.St George ’s Church of England in Everton is one.There Annie Spiers,the vicar ’s wife told Frontline ’s magazine Dispatches,“It complements our own after-school club wonderfully.Most of our local helpers are not even churchgoers,but they enjoy it so much they keep coming back.”
The Klub in Everton has been running since 1999 and every Friday over 150 children are treated to the ‘manic Kidz Klub mix of music, fun and friendship ’.Mixed in is Bible teaching for both pre-Christian as well as church kids.A key element in the Kidz Klub approach is the regular visit to each child ’s home by a helper aimed at building relationships with the chil- dren and their families.
The 11 to 16 year olds can also enjoy The Edge,a evening of music,entertainment and competitions,also with a home visit element. Kick Start is a twice a week after school homework club supported by qualified teach- ers,computer facilities and resource materials.
Frontline works in co-operation with other churches in Liverpool which also offer a offers a ministry to international students.There is a weekly coffee bar,as well as a women ’s group and a hospitality scheme for students who can feel extremely lonely and isolated while studying far from their home countries.I like hearing about how they clubbed together during the war,how the church was involved with things during the war.It ’s interesting how they love God and how God has really honoured them through a time when it was really hard. We started a bingo session with them.It ’s their afternoon they can do what they want. They wanted bingo with little prizes and it ’s gone from success to success.We get between 12 and 20 pensioners that come regularly through the week.In the winter we get between 10 and 12 because some of them can ’t really come out.We see them on a Friday, which is their social time with us.We go out and visit them two or three times a week in their homes.A lot of people will only go and see them once a week because it ’s part of their job. We love doing it because we want to do it.It ’s an opener for us to go in and pray with them,lay hands on them and actually out work the gospel in their homes.”
Alan Wilson,54,used to think that he would go to church,be saved and not have to do anything else.He belonged to a fellowship in Anfield and one day told God that he thought there must be more to church than just going to it. “A week later this guy Chris Rice came down and was talking about the soup kitchen and I said,‘I can associate with that,being alcoholic ’. I lived rough many years ago when I was younger.This was the type of thing I could be good at.I became involved with the soup kitchen and I gradually started coming to Frontline more and more and there was more going on here than where I was,it was like God telling me it was time to move on.I ended up staying here and becoming a member.
”We ’re on the front line here.This is the whole vision of this place that every member is active,there are no passengers.This place has a heart for God.One of the main cell values is the heart for the lost.I ’m a cell leader.We meet on a Thursday between 8 and 9.30 .We use the 4 Ws,welcome,worship,the word and witness.I get to know my people better than I can on a Sunday,which is so hectic and busy.We get to share and we have a bond. One of the girls had a baby.She hadn ’t been for a bit and she said it was lovely to get back because ‘I really missed being here.I know you ’ve been praying for me and everything that ’s gone on.’She said she felt so close to us.I was nearly in tears myself.”
Dave Connolly (midleweight)was a children ’s nurse for 18 years before becoming pastor at Frontline.“I ’ve been involved from the very beginning really.We run a number of community projects here and we went to charitable trusts and raised in excess of £750,000 to renovate the building.Most of the church finances go into all the different ministries and projects.” These include support those in need,the unemployed,parents as well as work with the young and old.
“We have an oversight team of eight elders. Each department has an oversight member who is directly responsible.The departments report three times a year on what they have done and what they ’re going to do and these are discussed at the full oversight meeting.” Every member ministry is a key to Frontline ’s philosophy.“When people start their journey we want to teach them who God is and what wonderful things God has done for them and to work on the whole reforming of their character.We don ’t just function on what you can do.People need to be able to contribute so that their self worth is in who they are but not in what they do.You can have both but it is something you have to work on.We want everyone to be given an opportunity to be able to function,whether that ’s waiting on tables in the coffee shop or teaching in a home group.It ’s not for the chosen few.”
Meeting people as they are matters.“We don ’t want to meet people as prostitutes,” insists Connolly,“we want to meet them as people because they are mums and daughters of other people we come across.
One church in Liverpool?
What about relationships with other churches?“We have something here called ‘Together for the Harvest ’,a city winning team, like a ministers ’fraternal.It has drawn together churches from many different backgrounds, Church of England,Baptists,Methodists, Charismatic,Pentecostal and whatever we are, because I haven ’t worked out what our label is. We ’re very committed that there ’s only one church in Liverpool and we are part of it.We release co-pastor Nic Harding to work half-time on the city winning team.We supply musicians to the local Anglican church.There are many different expressions of Christ here and we ’re just one.”
Space or the lack of it,preclude mention of the prayer ministry,tithing,the Frontline magazine Dispatches which is not pushed through letterboxes but handed to people face to face, the welcome team who include Downs Syndrome members,Frontline ’s own cd,their work with the ethical minorities in Liverpool, and their missionaries working in South America,Africa and Asia.
Let Dave Connolly have the last word.“Our heart is to be on the front line of whatever God is doing.”