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Planting a Church in the Middle of a Pandemic – What now?

Thetford Vineyard

Back in 2020, we shared the start of the story of the Thetford Vineyard. As the journey of this new church plant unfolded, we wanted to celebrate the next chapter in their story…

Microbiologist Matt and primary school Teacher Tor launched Thetford Vineyard Church in the middle of the pandemic last July. They have lived in Thetford since 2007 and the new church was planted from West Suffolk Vineyard Church in Bury St Edmunds.

Monthly community meals began back in 2018, but it was over the summer that the couple were formally commissioned into their new role as church leaders.

The pandemic has meant that compassion projects and not church services have been at the heart of what the new church has been doing since then, including a GrowKids clothing project, schools project, helping neighbours and a church allotment.

Tor said: “It has been amazing – Thetford Vineyard church is going to look completely different because of being planted in a pandemic year. Right from the start, we have had to decentralize and meet and work in groups of six. It has forced us to be creative and to think outside the box – the relationships people have made with each other and the journeys they have been going on with God have been completely different from what they would have been.

 “In the long term, I believe it will really benefit the church and the town. The Kingdom will be spread further because of the forced scattering of our people. God turns everything to good in the end.”

Matt, who is a microbiologist working at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, said: “We believe that God is calling us to a very different expression of church in the community. It would take all of our energy to do online church on a Sunday, so we decided very early we did not have the capacity to do that. Instead, we have focused on community and serving side-by-side. We have also been meeting to worship, share stories and pray via Zoom and have found it very powerful.

“We want there to be a lot of grey areas where people do not know if this is a church thing or a community thing. We don’t believe in separating the sacred and the secular. We simply believe in investing in our town, getting behind anything that is good and inviting the Kingdom to break into those areas,” said Matt.

“More than half the GrowKids team are people who do not know Jesus but they want to see the same things we want to see (what we would call the Kingdom of God). At some point our intention is to also introduce them to the King – we have done an Alpha Course during lockdown and have a prayer room. We do not need to get people into a building to invite them to meet Jesus – we take Jesus out with us.

“Pretty much everything we are doing at the moment is community-focused – and that is our heart. We have done lots of projects to support schools and let them know that people are behind them – Tor is herself a primary school teacher and knows how difficult it has been for schools.

“For me it comes down to Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbour. If we just love God we have missed half of what God told us and it becomes very inward-looking and stagnant. At the same time, if all we do is love our neighbour then we are just another charity. We want to bring the two together. For us they are inseparable,” said Matt.

Tor said: “We have made fantastic links with the other local churches such as the Salvation Army and Methodists who have made us very welcome. When we do meet in person at the end of whatever comes next we will be meeting some people for the very first time.

“Lots of people have really struggled during this time, including us as we have been spinning so many plates. But we have a hope which many other people don’t – Jesus. We have to carry on and believe that through this we will see the Kingdom of God come and our communities changed,” said Tor.

The couple’s view of the current situation is neatly summed up in a vision that Matt had during lockdown.

“Mid-way through the pandemic I had a vision of a real storm that we are in. We have two choices. Either we take the lifeboat we are on to safer waters and just ride it out, or we sail the boat straight into the storm,” said Matt.

“We have a responsibility to people who are already in the boat, but if you look around us there are people in the water. People who are drowning in isolation, loneliness, poverty, abuse and who are drowning because they don’t know Jesus. If you see people in the water you have to go and help them.

“We believe that the church is made for such a time as this – there has never been a better time to plant a church or be a church”.

To find out more about church planting, head over to our Multiply pages and connect with our Multply Vineyard team.

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