On Saturday, our podcast spoke about why we were launching a church in the middle of lockdown and the various trials and headaches of attempting to do that. You can listen to that podcast episode here.
Yesterday, we went to the inaugural meeting of Rochdale Evangelical Church. The scout hut in which they will be meeting could probably hold about 40-50 people under normal circumstances. With COVID-19 restrictions in place at the moment, capacity was considerably lessened. Much like at Oldham Bethel Church, if the right set of households come, you can fit more in due to seat configuration. If a number of individuals all came, with the banks of seats as they were, there would probably be room for about 7 people. As it was, there were about 15 or so folks in the room.
In many ways, there was nothing showy or especially amazing about what took place. Fifteen or so people gathered, whilst socially distancing, in a pokey scout hut in Rochdale to listen to hear the Bible read, a sermon preached and some prayers prayed. In many ways, if you walked in off the street knowing nothing about it beforehand, you wouldn’t see a right lot of difference between what happened yesterday and what goes on in any other church almost anywhere else.
Yet, there were some particularly encouraging things about it. A core team of people has already been gathered and a number of interested supporters were there too checking things out. That is a particularly encouraging start to see people with a desire to see Rochdale reached with the gospel there to be part – in some way – of doing just that. I was very encouraged by it.
The sermon was from John 3, with the focus on the need for true faith and the importance of being born again. The tone that was being set for the church from day one was the need of people in Rochdale to know true spiritual conversion. The emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ was clear and unmistakable and the desire of the church to be built on and around that message, and for the local area to know it too, was evident. I was encouraged by that.
As the meeting area was being opened up, folks from the local area were already showing an interest in what was being opened. People were enquiring about what was going on and why it was happening. The very fact that a church is opening and meeting was noticed locally and the interest expressed was very positive.
Not only were the local community interested in what was going on, but I am also aware of people around the country praying for Rochdale and, specifically, the work of this new church. I was told, having come back from that meeting, of one church in another part of the country that was praying for them in their main meeting that very morning. I was very encouraged by the desire of other churches – whose contexts and settings are nothing like ours here – praying for a tiny church that is establishing itself in another needy town.
Perhaps from a personal point of view the most encouraging thing – knowing the backstory of how this church has formed and being directly involved in getting it up and running – was seeing people who have taken hits for the sake of Christ, and found themselves in decidedly uncomfortable situations because of their desire to be faithful, open up a new church that intends to go on in that same vein. I was encouraged by the thought that the gospel would not just be spoken from the front with fine words but would be lived out in the community. Those who have taken a costly stand for the sake of faithfulness to Christ have started a new local church on that ground. It is a church founded on importance of faithfulness. Such costly faithfulness will be compelling and, as the local community see it lived out, they will be pointed back to the gospel – and more specifically the Christ – who makes such faithfulness possible. I was very much encouraged by that too.
All in, it was a joy to be involved in the first meeting of Rochdale Evangelical Church. As a daughter plant from Oldham Bethel Church, we will be continuing to support them as they seek to establish themselves over the long term. Perhaps this is something you could be involved in too? Whether partnering your church with them so that they might be financially sustained with some of your missions budget or you might get hold of their newsletter and partner with them through the ministry of prayer. They would be particularly encouraged if you wanted to join them. Perhaps in one or other of these ways, you too could be encouraged by what the Lord is going to do in Rochdale.
If you would like more information about Rochdale Evangelical Church you can visit their website at rochdaleevangelicalchurch.com