What, or who, is Informal Church and where are you based?
'Informal Church' is a worship service based at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in the heart of London's West End.
How did you begin?
'Informal Church' emerged from the dying embers of the existing evening congregation at Bloomsbury. Ruth and I (the
co-ministers at Bloomsbury) have been members of the Anabaptist Network for many years, and find great inspiration in the
Network’s core values. We had also recently read Multi-Voiced Church by Stuart and Sian Murray Williams and began to wonder if the time was right to start a multi voiced, overtly Anabaptist evening congregation in the centre of London.
What are your main activities/expressions/gatherings and what happens at them?
We always start with food – nothing dramatic, but a light, buffet-style meal. We meet in the sanctuary, which has fixed pews, and we set up a couple of tables at the front for the food to which people can help themselves. People are welcome to keep eating and drinking through the service if they want to. The service follows a fairly regular pattern, although there is
scope for considerable variation within the framework. We always read scripture, and we always pray. Our prayers are multi-
voiced – whoever is leading offers a repeated bidding, e.g. 'today we give you thanks for...' or 'today we pray for...' leaving
space into which prayers are spoken. We also have a time of silent reflection based around the questions: 'Where has God been / not been for you this week?' We usually sing a couple of songs, and we try to vary the musical style and genre of the songs. Someone usually spends a few minutes offering some reflections on the passage, or introducing the topic – less a sermon than a discussion-starter. This is then followed by an opportunity for people to respond, often through discussion, but sometimes through creativity (drawing, or making things), or silence.
In what ways do you draw on the Anabaptist tradition?
The theme/topic for each week is drawn from the seven Core Values of the Anabaptist Network, which we cycle through
over a two-month pattern (with communion repeated each month, and fifth Sundays a service of wholeness and healing). This ensures that we are continually drawn back to the Anabaptist tradition, but are free to explore it in a variety of ways. Our communion service is based around the Anabaptist 'leaderless liturgy' that Stuart and Sian developed. We all say the words in bold, and anyone can say the words in light type. This means, for example, that the words of institution are said by whoever gets there first. Which can be very interesting, given the demographic of the congregation. We had expected to attract students who might want a discussion about topics such as non-violence, economics, or politics. What we have ended up with is a highly eclectic group which includes some students, but also ranges from a philosophically anarchist entrepreneurial banker, to some who are sleeping rough on the streets of the capital. All are equally welcome, all speak, all pray, and all share in the leading. The equalisation of power that results from a multi-voiced worship service means that some of those who worship with us are able to move from their normal role of 'service user' (i.e. disadvantaged people who receive help from more advantaged people) to equal members of a worshipping community where their innate humanity is
valued and they are welcome at the tableThis seems very right, very Anabaptist, and very much of the kingdom of God.
What are your hopes for the Anabaptist Network of Communities?
We hope that the network will facilitate the sharing of good ideas, generate the inspiration for new ones, and enable
collaboration across communities inspired by the Anabaptists.