We are The Olive Tree Church, a local ecumenical partnership. But my word, haven’t we been on a journey? Can anyone remember when the process began that has resulted in The Olive Tree Church?
Back in the now-distant days of 2014 . . .
Well, back in the now-distant days of 2014 St. Margaret’s Methodist and Blenheim Crescent Baptist were 2 local churches trying to find a way forward as our congregations diminished in number, though not in enthusiasm, and realising that the make-up of our local area had changed in the 75 plus years since the 2 churches had been open.
After an away day St. Margaret’s Church council were asked to approach Blenheim with a view to exploring getting together. We had already done many things through the Biscot Mill churches. The deacons and church members at Blenheim thought this was an idea worth exploring, so under the leadership of the Rev Julie Bradshaw and Rev Mike Thomas the leadership teams of both churches met and at once felt there was a rapport between us and agreed to set up a steering group of 3 members from each church plus the 2 ministers.
There’s not time to give through a blow-by-blow account of the next few years, but the Steering group met on a monthly basis looking at the way forward, considering many aspects of church life like buildings, ministry, outreach, finance. When 2 groups of people look at joining together, each with over 70 years of history there is a lot of baggage and a lot of emotion attached both to church and buildings but we wanted to make sure that we maximised the opportunity of how we progressed so that we could fulfil God’s plan for this area.
I think we could say that we enjoyed those meetings, but they were tough and each of us had to face letting go of things dear to us. We looked at other areas in the country who had undergone a similar process, we looked at selling off one of our premises, we looked at developments on both sites for housing projects and upgrades to existing premises.
After much debate, heart searching and prayer it was agreed by both churches to start worshipping together on Easter Sunday 2016, using each premises for 6 months until we decided on use of buildings. That was a step of faith for which we give God thanks.
2018 . . .
In 2018 the church decided that the Blenheim Crescent site would be the worship centre to be known as the Olive Tree and the St. Margaret’s Avenue site would be known as the Olive Branch, a centre for outreach and lettings to help finance the work needed on the Tree.
We had come so far in those 4 years, and I haven’t mentioned finance, plans for ministry, sharing agreements, constitutions. All this was being discussed, dealt with, discussed again. At this point I must mention and give thanks to both Julie and Mike. Their fortitude, knowledge and wisdom were the bedrock of our journey.
The steering group was soon disbanded and the new leadership team was created. The leaderships of the 2 local churches were also disbanded in part, though there are members who can be referred to in the event of a denominational decision.
During this time Mary Huffman came on board as our Community Worker and is now a vibrant member of the leadership team. Her work has been financed by grants but hopefully we shall soon be able to support her work.
The Branch has seen development as a hub for the Oasis Project providing a good income for the Olive Tree. Other lettings are also helping to finance renovation and upkeep coats of 2 lots of premises.
On the ministerial side we had to say goodbye to Mike Thomas in 2019. Bing Liu then served us for a year while we searched for a Baptist minister. In Sept 2020 Joseph Forson joined us and worked for a year each in partnership with Julie. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to both Julie and Joseph in the summer of 2021. Our search for a Baptist minister continues. Rev Joanne Sherwood is our part-time minister at present, she is supported by Mary Huffman our community worker.
The formal act of being constituted as The Olive Tree Church took place on 21st March 2021. By then the words like corona virus, lockdown and zoom had become part of our vocabulary. But church continued through the challenging times.
So here we are today, celebrating all that has been achieved so far. I think there is an overriding feeling of gratitude to God for his faithfulness, for His planting the seed, for his provision in the leadership of our ministers, and the commitment of members and friends, and through the discernment of God’s will through earnest prayer and dedication of individuals and groups.
Every blessing, Martin Owen