Grace Churches, Birmingham
Tom Barlow and Malcolm Stevens have been involved in the network of communities since it began. They are leaders in two Grace churches in Birmingham.
We invited them to introduce their churches and the tradition from which they come.
What kind of community are you and where are you based?
We are two independent evangelical churches in two neighbourhoods of Birmingham. Grace Church Shirley has existed since about 1989 and is now under local leadership. Frankley Grace Community Church started nine years ago and is led by a multi-cultural leadership team of North Americans and British.
Both churches were ‘planted’ by American missionaries from the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC USA). Our ‘branch’ of the Brethren tree traces its roots back to 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany. A team of about 25 Grace Brethren missionaries works alongside Europeans in several countries – including Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom.
What are your main values, activities and priorities?
Historically, those who founded our group tried to keep together elements from Pietism – focusing on personal spiritual experience with God – and the Anabaptist commitment to the Bible as the inerrant, authoritative Word of God (many of our values are in line with values of the FIEC). Today, this is manifested in a solid commitment to the Bible, a strong emphasis on reaching out into the community, and disciple making. Practical love towards one other is a hallmark of our fellowship.
Our main contacts with the community are via clubs, which we either run or heavily support. Examples include: guitar clubs, speakers’ club, film club, English conversational classes and the Goldwing Club (for bikers).
As churches, we hold a number of events which attract good numbers from the community, e.g. Fish and Chips quiz night, barn dance, treasure hunt, Christmas Eve and gospel services.
In what ways do you draw on the Anabaptist tradition?
The primary place given to the Word of God (rather than human or church tradition) is the biggest element from the Anabaptist tradition as we understand it. There is also a strong belief in the priesthood of each believer, simple spiritual ‘households’, discipleship at the heart of all we do, and shared leadership.
What are your hopes for the Anabaptist Network of Communities?
As smaller spiritual communities without a great deal of support structure or broader fellowship, contact with likeminded brothers and sisters in Christ could be quite helpful. Unfortunately, many in our churches are not entirely aware of their spiritual heritage and do not always see the value of broader fellowship, so it can be difficult to motivate them to invest time and energy, which is already quite limited, in wider networking.
We profit from the resources which the Network produces from an Anabaptist perspective – and hope that can continue, especially as western societal trends become increasingly difficult to navigate.