Last week, looking to complete the diary’s year-long survey of all of the faith and worship communities in these Allen Valleys, I had a lovely chat with Chris Daniels, who with Brenda is a member of Hexham’s Community Church, and also leads an outreach, satellite programme in Allendale. I wanted to know more about the activities of the Community Church session that’s held on the 3rd Sunday evening of the month at Allendale Village Hall. Just about every month except December, as it turns out, so not today, as December is always such a challenge to cohere folks around.
Chris was very obliging to chat with me about the worship session (‘service’ sounds too formal, perhaps, and he wanted to stress that the Christian worship experience on these evenings was very informal). Folks, typically several dozen, but the number varies up and down, he noted, arrive at the hall from 6, and enjoy tea or coffee and a bit of catching up, before they join together in contemporary Christian songs and music in the main hall. In the hall, no trappings of Christian symbology are present, as attendees participate in a loose semi-circle. Much of the worship is in the form of songs, Chris said, and they might sing for half an hour, as long as the spirit moves them. The singing is accompanied by a band of musicians, which can make for an enthusiastic response, a joyful praise that, as Chris has said before, is often anything but quiet!
Then, being so informal, and seeking to follow the leading of God amongst them, different members of the congregation might bring concerns or local matters to the attention of the group. A prayer session might then coalesce around these concerns, as the attendees seek to maintain the long tradition of group prayer developed by the Methodists, and even the Society of Friends, in these parts. One regular member of the group is particularly beloved for her ability to arrange the thoughts into a coherent prayer offering. While there may not be a formal sermon, someone might feel prepared to bring the thoughts and concerns of the evening together in a kind of informal homily, with reference to the Bible and Christ’s teachings. I gather there is no ‘collection’ or ‘offering’ at these sessions, though participants happily contribute toward the costs of the tea and coffee.
And then, usually by about 8pm, the evening draws to a close. Chris wanted me to share the warmth of welcome anyone would feel if they cared to arrive at 6 some third Sunday evening at the hall, though enquiries are also welcomed at (01434) 683109. The practice of worship may be informal, but the intent and aspiration is quite mainstream Christian, following charismatic concepts. But the songs that are sung aren’t typical hymns; rather they’re of the sort many contemporary Christian churches enjoy these days, and some are even written by Chris himself.
Members of this outreach group are keen members of Allen Valley Churches Together, participating for example in the Christingle service at St. Cuthbert’s on Advent Sunday.
The Community Church session, now known as ‘The Valleys Group,’ has been held at Allendale Village Hall for some 8 or 9 years now, Chris said, as our chat came to a natural conclusion, but before that for some 3 years it had been held at their home at The Hagg. Something like the sort of ‘House Church’ sessions I was familiar with, growing up in Pennsylvania, perhaps. Additional monthly sessions, Chris informs me, are still held at The Hagg. But now, in a move to open up to others once a month, the hall has seemed to be a more public venue. The sessions in the hall bring people together from all around the Tyne Valley, providing an opportunity for group praise and worship that people might be missing, otherwise, in their lives. Chris reiterated the defining words, ‘Proclamation, Praise and Prayer’ as we said our good-byes.
I thought, as I put the phone down, that this outreach programme is yet another example of the diversity of folks in this patch, an intrinsic part of what makes these valleys, this community, so special.