A church plant that almost failed has taken off and goes independent in January.
Billy, Justine, Gill, Emma, Gary, John, Maggie, Amy are just a few of the many who have come to faith over the past six years at Shepherd Drive Baptist Church on the Chantry and Pinewood estates in Ipswich. If you have never been to the ‘far east’, Ipswich is a historic sea port on the river Orwell with a couple of large marinas full of posh yachts. Now just over an hour from Liverpool Street station in the City of London, it is also a rapidly growing commuter town.
Making a mark for God
Situated at a key point on this expanding housing development, the church is starting to make a real mark for God among the many young families who live round about. It was, however, back in the 1970s that a Christian nurse living on the estate first felt a burden to reach the local children with the gospel. In due time this led to a church plant, which, in spite of sincere efforts and a good building, never really impacted the area as it might have. After a closure of around three years, the fellowship was re-launched in 2007 with a specific aim of reaching the un-churched.
To head up the work with suitably gifted people, the overseeing church at Cauldwell Hall Road had invited Simon and Christine Robinson from Caterham in Surrey and also sent Matt and Sheryl Brett from its own leadership to work alongside them.
Focused on evangelism
Simon’s brief was specifically to focus on bridge building and evangelism rather than assume the role of a traditional pastor. From the outset of the new mission, this was and remains his and Christine’s priority. Incidentally, Matthew, himself a local lad who attended the children’s events in the early days, had subsequently been converted and eventually became an elder at the sending church.
As these things were taking shape, John and Marion Skull, who had just retired from many years in full-time pastoral work, moved to their new home a few minutes walk from the Shepherd Drive building and threw in their lot as well. The leadership team has now grown further with the addition of Peter Newton as a pastor/teacher and his wife Sheri who was previously a UCCF staff worker in the area.
Finance for the mission has been generously supplied from a number of sources, specifically the Particular Baptist Fund and the East Anglian Grace Baptist Association, as well as other churches and individuals. From January onwards it will be a self-supporting independent local church.
It is evident that behind the scenes the invisible hand of God has been at work bringing people to himself, and together, in some surprising ways.
The work has advanced through a combination of straight gospel preaching and down to earth friendship evangelism backed by numerous Christianity Explored courses of all shapes and sizes. There is a massive and vibrant Tots and Tinies group as well as frequent events for the men, usually involving sport and food. A smart sixth form college has also opened a few hundred yards away and a new community centre shares the same car park as the church. All these things, in the providence of God, dovetailed around the same time and give many reasons to press forward.
With around 90 regularly meeting together on a Sunday morning, it is the new converts who give the greatest cause for the church’s thanksgiving.
Here is Gill: ‘My Christian journey started a couple of years ago when my friend Maggie asked me if I wanted to read her granddad’s book about his missionary life in India. It was an amazing story. She then invited me to Shepherd Drive and I felt at ease with everyone right away, as they were so welcoming and friendly. Then, one Sunday morning in 2012, as another friend was giving her testimony, I knew that God was calling me too’.
And Gary: ‘Initially it was money and a good job with a shipping company that led me away from my early church interests and not until 20 years later when my wife brought our son to the Toddler group at Shepherd Drive that everything changed. Here I too found the friendship very real and in due time joined a Christianity Explored group, where I really began to see the wonder of grace.’
Then we have Billy and Justine, an army couple who were initially helped by the padre on their base, but, having moved to Ipswich where Justine (who had once been a dancer on a cruise liner), became friendly with Christine started coming to the newly formed fellowship. Both were powerfully touched with a sense of their sin, baptised and, while now serving in the forces overseas, are looking forward to serving an even higher cause on their return.