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A Place To Call Home

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A Place To Call Home
By Pastor Simon Walker

For the first time in our history, 100 people gathered in our little backstreet chapel. It was only four years earlier that around a dozen churchgoers had tried to make a living room feel full as we launched Emmanuel Church Cardiff.

A handful of us had moved over the border from Bristol to start a new church. We had made a few friends en route, and now we were launching a new church, sensing that God had a plan and that He had brought us together to do this. 

We started small back in 2017, having church in a home, which did have lots of advantages. We could be relaxed and informal; people were more willing to be themselves; and learning and growing was a shared experience. 

I could see in those early days that close friendships were quickly being formed across the generations, trust was growing, and we were learning about Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s presence and what is so precious about church. 

It was obvious that trying to do a few things simply and well was our best plan; and it seemed to be working. One Sunday the doorbell rang and a young couple we yet never met asked rather nervously, “We heard a new church has started meeting here; can we try it out?” A few weeks later, the husband was leading worship. Our church was growing - slowly. 

But, if we wanted to grow more, we had to move – so we did, into a local school. The school hall was a practical venue, but it being tucked away in a suburban part of the city meant we weren’t as accessible as we’d like to be. So, we moved again – this time to a Community Centre, which was a tad rundown but perfectly located for us to reach into the community. 

Then COVID hits
Fun, chaotic, weird, difficult, amazing, unusual, growing, challenging, breathtaking, are all adjectives that could be used to sum up church life at Emmanuel Church Cardiff following March 2020. The coronavirus pandemic did indeed present both a threat and an opportunity. How could we enable our growing church family to thrive and stay connected now? We decided to stay true to what we had been doing before lockdown, like many learning how to fellowship online as we brought the community together on Zoom. 
It was on Zoom one Sunday that we were able to announce that we had been given a building. Kate, my wife, had often dreamed about a church building which was a space for community – where the world outside could come and a feel safe and at home; where refugees and the marginalised would be able to connect and rebuild their lives; where the hungry could be fed. But we were not praying for our own building; it was as if God knew what we needed next. Even during lockdown God’s hand was firmly on our church plant.

Now, able to gather together in person, we do so as a much larger family, with newer members learning the culture and values which were established when we were smaller. You see, all growth requires a ‘value renewal’ so that we are all in the mission together, everyone getting to benefit, contribute and invite the next person along. 

We are all walking through three opportunities concurrently: a new venue, a growing community, and gathering as a church physically after the limitations of coronavirus. In effect, we are replanting the church – together – and the adventure continues.

Lessons learned
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of visiting various pioneering contexts across Asia, learning lots along the way, including that family and community can provide a safe space for learning and growing. I think our over-individualised cultures in the west tend to miss these opportunities, which is why at Emmanuel Church Cardiff we set out to create a culture where we could collectively learn, celebrate Jesus, and find forgiveness and healing. 

What I didn’t anticipate was how much I needed this as much as anyone in our pioneering community. My wife and I starting a new church in our early fifties was not something we had planned, not was it something we had thought God had in mind for us. The move to Cardiff was unexpected and parts of the story had not been easy; we were really a bit beaten up and bruised. 

Paul opens his second letter to the Corinthians explaining that the comfort we receive from Christ resources us to help others. Not only does the goodness of God seep through our cracks for the benefit of others, but we learn through loss and healing what cannot be learned any other way. 

Our church-planting community has been a place where it’s okay not to be okay, a place that offers healing love through our fellowship, learning and gathered worship. 

More About Emmanuel
Emmanuel Church Cardiff is a Newfrontiers church plant working into the city of Cardiff in South Wales. Simon and Kate Walker who lead the church have been involved in leading Newfrontiers churches for over 20 years. In 2017 sensing a fresh challenge they moved to Cardiff from Bristol to start a new church. 

In early 2018 the church plant moved to meet in a local school and then later in September 2018 to a community centre in Cathays in the centre of Cardiff.

This article was written by Simon Walker from Emmanuel Church Cardiff for the Evangelical Alliance’s idea magazine. It was originally published in January 2022.

Walker, S 2022, ‘A place To Call Home’, Idea Magazine, Jan-March 22, no. 1, pp.24-25 | Used with permission |