In 2018, Duncan and Lorna were released to plant Epsom Vineyard, but their church planting journey began many years before that. We interviewed them about how they got up to this point!
When did you begin to start thinking about church planting?
We met at a Vineyard church in 1995, and over the years have watched and released many of our friends to plant churches in different places. We’ve thought and prayed about the possibility of church planting many times, but we’ve never really had a clear answer, and so in 2014, when the idea came up again, we decided to set aside some time and really ask the question: Was God asking us to plant a church? If we’re honest, we were just a bit fed up with “maybe” being the answer. If we felt like God said no, we knew that would be fine. But we decided that if we felt like God said yes, however scary that would feel, we were committed to giving it our all!
To help us answer the question, we got plugged in with Hub (the VCUKI Leadership Training Programme) which was really helpful. During that summer, we also headed to the New Wine Summer Festival with our family, and over the week, took part in the Church Planting seminar stream. We heard from a number of incredible leaders, including Vineyard’s very own John and Debby Wright. At the end of each session, the team would ask us, “What’s God said to you?” and then, “What are you going to do about it?”. Through this time, we both felt like God was speaking to us about moving to Epsom (we were living in Worcester Park) before we knew whether or not we were meant to plant a church there or not. The funny thing was, we always thought it would be the other way around!
What happened when you moved to Epsom?
Six years ago we moved into Epsom, and felt like God said, “Get to know your neighbours”. It seemed pretty simple because that’s one of the greatest commandments in the Bible! But bizarrely, we couldn’t seem to make any sense of it. It really helped us to read Jay Pathak’s book, The Art of Neighbouring, and we realised that in the church, we often talk a lot about loving our neighbours, but it can stay quite theoretical. We don’t always do a lot about it.
We found it pretty difficult at first. We started by baking and delivering cakes for everyone on our street. Lots of people thought we were a little bit weird! We knocked on neighbours’ doors to invite them to BBQs – some people said yes, others said no. We then realised that Halloween was a huge deal on our estate, so we started to think about what we could do.
As Christians, we don’t celebrate Halloween and really wrestled with how we can engage with our neighbours with integrity. But we suddenly had the epiphany that Halloween would be the first time our neighbours would come and knock on our door! They were going to come round anyway, so why wouldn’t we just take this as an opportunity to bless them?
We decided that if we were doing this, we were doing it well! We iced and wrapped over 100 fairy cakes to give out as ‘treats’, put a fire pit out of the front of our house, bought loads of marshmallows for kids to toast, baked pumpkin cake to share and gave out mulled wine to the parents. We sat outside the front of our house, and it was a great opportunity to get to know loads of our neighbours – once the kids were toasting marshmallows, and the parents had a glass of mulled wine in their hand, we found that they’d stay and chat for a while!
After the success of the event at Halloween, we asked, “What’s next?” and thought Christmas would be a great opportunity to do something! We asked our neighbours, who were really up for gathering, and flyered as much of the area as we could, inviting people to bring mulled wine and mince pies and join us on the green to sing Christmas songs together! I (Duncan) got out my guitar, we borrowed a few friends who were musicians, and over 100 people turned out to sing Christmas songs with us! We began the night singing ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’, and finished with ‘O Come Let us Adore Him’! Every year since (apart from Christmas 2020) we’ve held the same event. Our community just loves it!
So, you’d been getting to know your neighbours! What happened next?
All this had happened, and we hadn’t even ‘planted a church’ yet! In 2018 we were officially released to plant Epsom Vineyard. A team of 12 of us planted out of Sutton Vineyard, simply with the hope that we could make an impact on our town. God had begun by just asking us to love our neighbours, and that hasn’t changed since.
In everything we do, we’ve tried to sow into local people, and through it all, God has changed us and grown us. We’ve tried all sorts of things – from random giveaways at Easter to running the Alpha Course in a local coffee shop, to litter picking, and working together to do up people’s gardens. We know that it’s important to love our town by loving the individual, one person at a time.
Through the Multiply Network, we were connected with other local church plants in our ‘church planting cohort’, (a group of leaders from across the Vineyard movement at a similar stage of church planting) which was so encouraging and so helpful. It was great to be able to connect with other people processing the same questions as us, and hear all the stories!
What happened in lockdown?
When lockdown first hit, we thought about just tuning into another church’s live stream as a congregation, but God soon spoke to us about doing something different. We felt like he invited us to start live streaming ourselves! It felt pretty scary, but we soon realised that if we did our own thing, our neighbours might tune into what we were doing themselves.
We’ve found that to be true! All our neighbours want to know how the church plant is going! In the middle of the pandemic, we’d chat to them about it on our one daily exercise a day. One of our neighbours, who doesn’t normally engage in church, shared with us that she just found herself stumbling across the feed on Facebook. She said that “It was just so peaceful”, and asked us to pray for her nan who was isolated and miles away. We’ve had other opportunities to pray for healing for our neighbours, which has been really encouraging.
The risk is definitely much higher with our neighbours, compared to doing a giveaway or a litter pick for the wider community. Whatever we do, we’ve got to live next to these guys for a long time! But our prayer, through it all, is that our neighbours would come to know Jesus. Not so that we can tick off that ‘box’, but just because it’s the best thing you can do!
This past year, we were sad not to be able to gather with our neighbours to sing Christmas carols in the way we usually would have, but we were determined to do something! We managed to record some different Christmas songs and got some other community groups to do so too – from a local band that one of our neighbours is in, to the Stagecoach acting school and choir our kids are part of. We called it the ‘Doorstep Carol Sing’, and encouraged people to play the stream on their phones, stand on the doorsteps and sing along with their neighbours.
It was brilliant, and some other streets around us joined in too! We heard that one person even plugged their phone into a speaker for their whole neighbourhood to listen to. An event that normally gathered about 100 people in person, reached so many more! And our church live stream carol service the next week was really well attended too.
At the start of lockdown, if we all showed up there were 30 of us. We had only just begun meeting on a Sunday before March 2020. Now, a year and a half later, we have 60 people who are deliberately involved with what we’re up to. Before lockdown, we were a church plant, but now we’re coming out of the pandemic as a church! We find ourselves asking – how has that happened over Zoom?!
We have no idea what church will look like for us in six months. At the moment, we’re on a mission to work out what a gathered church looks like, alongside loving our community. In this season, it would be so easy for all our energies to be sucked into finding a new venue for our growing church, and all the practicalities of a Sunday, but we want to really work out how we love Epsom well as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.