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James Gwyn-Thomas

Lancashire people have a real respect for the church and its traditions – but in Buckshaw Village people are equally excited to try ‘church’ in a different context.

James, 32, is from Saffron Walden. He studied drama at Exeter University where he met his wife-to-be; before securing his Bachelor of Theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. While at Wycliffe he had his first taste of life in Lancashire when he had a placement at the vibrant church of St Andrew’s in Leyland in the heart of the County.

He loved it … but didn’t know at that time he would be back once he had completed his education.

For St Andrews is a short drive from the fantastic new community of Buckshaw Village which has sprung up between the towns of Leyland and nearby Chorley.

The land where Buckshaw now stands was the site of the massive old Royal Ordnance factory which had a long history stretching back to World War 2. But the 1000 acre site had fallen into disuse. So plans were drawn up to turn was one of the largest brownfield sites in Europe into a vibrant new village.

Homes are still being built and the current population now stands at around 12,000. It has its own railways station, school, leisure facilities and community hall.

And it’s in that hall where a new ecumenical church plant out of St Andrew’s Church, and laid down in conjunction with the Methodist Church, now meets.

Having already got to know the area, when James heard about the curacy opportunity to lead a brand new church he felt a clear calling to come north. He said: “It was a fantastic opportunity to build from the ground up in a vibrant area where lots of young families were moving in. We are praying for real revival here.

“Currently we average around 100 people each Sunday; many are children and 40% have no previous church connection. We like to think that as the community has grown so the church has been a key part of that growth. As it’s a new community people are looking for ways they can belong.

“Community is very important in Buckshaw. People are buying into a dream of living in a new and modern environment. We want them to see that church can be contemporary and as relevant to that dream as any other part of it.”

Being relevant and contemporary, especially with so many young families, also means embracing social media. James says that for every activity going on in Buckshaw you’ll find a Facebook group. So the church is now operating in the same virtual spaces to ensure its mission work is visible where people are; as much online as on the street. They are the embodiment of a ‘church without walls’.

James continues: “Our house groups have grown in the last year and are an integral part of the way we operate – they provide a supportive platform to secure future growth. We also have a mother and toddler group which is supported by 40-plus families every week.

“I also make a point of being seen (with the dog collar) at every opportunity around the village. They know me in the superstore, the shops, the pubs, the school and even here in the Cowshed Coffee Shop, which opened specially for us in the evening recently so we could run our Alpha course in a setting that all could feel comfortable in.”

At Christmas the appropriately named ‘Cowshed’ has even offered to play host to the climax of Buckshaw Village church’s community nativity!

James continues: “Making a difference as a clergyman in this community – and anywhere – is about relationships. I’ve made a point of getting to know as many people as possible. If you are seen to be willing to roll your sleeves up and get involved, then you gain people’s trust and respect.

“I’m also supported by a fantastic leadership team; it’s very important to me to empower laity to help make a difference in their community.”

And how does he and his family feel about living in the village and in the North West? After all, they are as much a part of that community as everyone else now …

“When I told my friends we were moving to the North West some who didn’t know the region were curious about the attraction of moving here, as we all have perceptions of places we don’t know; sometimes incorrect perceptions!

“We love it here. You can take yourself off into some beautiful countryside in your leisure time and it’s a great place to bring up a young family.”

“Lancashire people also have a real respect for the church and its traditions – but here people are equally excited to try ‘church’ in a different context.”

“But at the heart of it all is Jesus. People have a hunger to know Jesus and we feed that hunger and are seeing growth as a result.”

Diocese of Blackburn Diocese of Carlisle Diocese of Chester Diocese of Sodor and Man Diocese of Liverpool Diocese of Manchester