Friendship Centre is a community; centred on meeting on Fridays in our church hall for a low-priced, wholesome, cooked lunch. We aim to seek a relaxed environment where mainly, but not exclusively, older men and women can enjoy friendship and a sense of family, as well as have the opportunity for conversation about matters of faith, if they wish.
The Friendship Centre is served by a team of folk from Holland Road Baptist Church who have a heart for encouraging people, building relationships, and providing a friendly, safe environment in which to share experiences, challenges and good times with others. The team, all volunteers, includes some members who come early on Friday mornings to prepare food or set up the hall, and others whose main role is to welcome and mingle with our visitors.
Our visitors, currently numbering about 30-50, come from streets nearby on foot or by bus from across the city. Some have been coming for years, but there is also a steady inflow of new folk week by week. Visitors often belong to Holland Road or other churches in the city, but many have no particular faith commitment. Just a very short talk or testimony between main and dessert courses is the only formality, but opportunities are available for follow-up should that be what a visitor wishes.
As one visitor comments on social media: “No one in attendance should ever feel in isolation… it is clear that the time is not just aimed at church folk… the short talk is someone talking of the source of their faith or giving insight into a certain scripture… folk are sometimes given the opportunity to talk further but no one is compelled to do so… a highlight of the church putting its faith into practice.”
The main course is served between 11.45am and 12.15pm, and this is the best time for people to arrive; the short talk is from 12.30pm and after this desserts and tea/coffee are served. This two-course meal plus free drinks typically costs £3.30, and the church hall is open to all Friendship Centre visitors between 11.30am and 1.30pm.
Our Friendship Centre team continually welcomes those who can give time on a Friday to help with any aspect of preparation in the kitchen, mingling with visitors in the hall, or a mixture of both. Please do get in touch with Sean Avard, Maria Nwanwene, Pauline Lawrence, Mike Baldwin, Debbie Varney, or any member of our team you know if you feel you could help us, for however long or short an amount of time you can give.
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Just before Easter, we held the final meeting of our current alpha course. We gathered together to celebrate all that God has done in people since we began in mid-February. The strongest emotion felt by many was a clear indication of what God had done in creating a sense of extended family amongst a disparate group of people.
God’s activity during alpha has been incredible and far exceeded both my expectations and those of the alpha team.
In particular, the launch night will remain with me for a long while. Only two weeks before we launched we had only a handful of guests. At a Sunday evening prayer gathering I asked the church to pray that God would double this number, which would take us to just below the mid twenties. Within two weeks we were bursting at the seams. We launched with 26 guests [mathematicians will note that this exceeds the figure we prayed for], which spread us over seven tables!
In fact, I believe that God graciously brought just the number of people that we could handle at the time. There were certain points when we were very stretched for people trained and experienced enough to lead tables. So stretched, in fact, that some of our trainee table leaders were given the unplanned opportunity to lead tables by themselves! God came through yet again and helped them tremendously.
This was one of the biggest courses we’ve ever had and exceeds, by a long way, anything that we have seen in recent years.
By the first week of the course God had actually grown our numbers to 31 guests!
Week by week we had dinner together, explored a subject such as, ‘Who is Jesus?’, ‘Why did He die?’, ‘Why and how do I pray?’ and ‘Who is the Holy Spirit?’, and had time to openly and honestly discuss these subjects.
As is natural for alpha, some of those who began decided that it was not for them and decided not to carry on. But throughout the course our numbers remained strong, and by the time we finished we were seeing a solid core of people each week. Many of those who came decided to follow Jesus, either for the first time or as a re-commitment.
We had the privilege of seeing some of those people baptised on Easter Sunday, and many more are planning on doing this in the near future.
It has been a great joy for me to lead the alpha team once again and see so many of those who completed the course want to carry on meeting together to keep asking questions and grow in their faith.
Alpha takes a tremendous effort on the part of the church to make happen. Although I lead the alpha team it is something that only happens because of a huge number of people who work both behind the scenes and upfront to give sacrificially of their time. Volunteers graciously lead tables, cook, preach, serve food, shop, listen, love, challenge, wash up, clear up, pray, do admin, run presentations and PA, host, clean, invite friends and come each week with them.
Thank you to everyone who has helped make this course such a success.
In Jesus’ well known parable of the sower He talks about the various ‘soils’ people can be at different times and says,
“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
As alpha has now ended please continue to pray for all those who have decided to follow Jesus that they would be good soil, yielding one hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown in them.
We run alpha twice a year, in February and October and our next course will be launching in October 2014.
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“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35
What is the key to a healthy church? What do you look for in a church, and in what ways do you assess how things are going at Holland Road?
According to Jesus it is not the worship, the preaching, the ministry programmes, the outreach and mission strategy, the gifts of the Spirit, the doctrinal basis, or the numbers of people, all of which we know are important. No, Jesus points us to something both simpler and yet harder than the things we often tend to focus on.
Jesus says that the foundational issue to the health of any church is the presence or absence of love amongst the people. If you have been listening to our current series on 1 Corinthians you will know that this love that Jesus talks about is not a worldly love, but is the unconditional “agapé” love that God shows us. God has been speaking to us as a church and challenging us to embody this love. But how is this possible?
Firstly it is only possible in the context of real relationships. God wants us to see our relationships with one another through the lens of an extended family: “Pointing to his disciples, Jesus said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’ ” (Matthew 12:49).” The word oikos, which refers to ‘household’ or ‘family’, is what is used to describe the church in the New Testament. Unfortunately, too often the church can operate like an institution or organisation rather than a family. Two essential elements for a family that Mike Breen highlights are play and purpose, with a balanced combination between them.
“Families play together and have fun, both through planned events and through things that happen organically, things you can never plan. But they also have a very clear purpose for why they exist and what God has called them to.” – M. Breen, ‘Real Love’.
Secondly for “agapé” love to be present in these communities we need to be a people filled with God and empowered by His Holy Spirit. I am all too aware of my inability to love in this way and my tendency is very often to just try harder rather than seek more of God, the real source of real love. We must set aside time to seek God both alone and with others. This is what leads to “a community that attracts attention and raises questions that need an explanation” – Julian Rebera (Pastor of New Life Church, Moulsecoomb).
This is the heart behind our communities at Holland Road; that we might become extended families on mission. Sharing our lives with one another with the purpose of seeing our friends, neighbours, colleagues and others experience the Kingdom of God. This is what the church is called to be:
“Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1928).
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United is our community for international people, based around café on a Wednesday evening. This is usually visited by around thirty students from the many language colleges within the city, but it’s open to all international people living and working in Brighton and Hove. We have students from all over the world, covering a broad age range, though the majority of students are under thirty.
The countries most strongly represented are Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Brazil, although we’re also joined by many students from Asia and other parts of Europe. It’s great to have such a diverse group and everyone gets to experience lots of different cultures and people!
The café is somewhere where we can connect with students who are only here for a short time, letting us bless them by giving them a safe place to come and spend the evening. It’s a relaxed place where people can practice English with us and each other. We also have games, such as table tennis and pool.
Every few weeks we have a themed evening. In November we had a ‘Brighton night’, learning all about Brighton; a ‘fireworks night’ with sparklers; and an ‘international pudding night’ where we all got to eat some wonderful desserts!
United is a place where people can make friends and, if they want to, find out about how to get more involved in church. One woman who has just gone back to Spain got really involved in the youth work. She said she was so grateful for how United introduced her to church and made her feel welcome.
For some people who come it is the first time they have been inside a church building and we are the first Christians they have ever met! It is amazing when we often see these people’s views of Christianity change for the better as a result of our service and love towards them.
We meet at 7:30pm on Wednesday evenings in the church hall and anyone passionate about serving international people can come along and join us!
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