The third church planter we get to meet in this series of posts is Stu Bothwell who works with Redeemer Central in Belfast. (You can catch up with the previous posts that featured Gary Bolton and Lucas Parks).
Stu is 27 and is married to Emma. They’ve just bought their first home in East Belfast and Stu says that one of life’s great pleasures is sharing great food with friends.
Stu comes from a family who are passionate about Jesus and is glad to have grown up in such an environment: he came to faith at an early age. In the summer after leaving school he had what he describes as ‘a significant encounter with God through which I felt called to leadership in the church.’ It came out of nowhere and from then he tried out a number of things including worship gatherings and preaching. He recognises that he was ‘winging it’, but he can see how the risks he took have come to play an important part in his story.
After a spell working in a school, Stu studied for (and completed a MDiv at Queen’s (while making a lot of coffees for Belfast folk); during this time he went along to a gathering of Redeemer Central and ‘instantly felt part of the family.’ Redeemer has provided him with a place to work out his leadership calling. There have been plenty of opportunities for involvement and growth – having interned and preached and become part of the leadership team, Stu now works as Missional Communities Co-ordinator.
Technically, Stu did not plant Redeemer Central: that was the work of David and Trish Capener. However there is a strong team ethos and it is recognised that everyone has played a part.
Tell us about your church: when did it start, where is it, how is it going?
Redeemer Central was planted five and half years ago with it’s first gathering taking place in the Capeners’ front room with two others joining them. The first few years of our story can be marked by our outgrowing of one venue and moving into another. So far, we’ve gathered in a front room, the upstairs of a pizza restaurant, a music venue, the Students’ Union and an arts venue in South Belfast until through the remarkable generosity of an ageing Congregational Church, we were blessed with our current home. We gather every Sunday at the heart of the arts, media, cultural and commercial scene in Belfast, in a historic venue that will soon see thousands of students living and studying barely 50 yards from our space.
However, we don’t want to exist as a church that simply gathers. We are passionate about establishing missional communities across the city and beyond. Currently there are nine City:Groups that are cultivating extended family and seeking to bless many geographical and cultural areas of our city with the redemptive story of Christ.
What do you mean by ‘missional communities’?
Missional Communities are groups of disciples who in sharing their lives together, seek to grow in discipleship and live on mission together. They gather regularly both in organised and organic environments and share a collective missional focus, for instance, seeking to bless their common neighbourhood, or an area in society that they are passionate about.
Tell us about your sense of call and your vision for this new church.
We believe God has formed us as a family of worship, welcome and creativity, who rooted in our identity in Christ, are sent to partner with Him as He establishes His Kingdom here. We long to share our lives with each other and share the story of Christ with our city.
We will always be a church family that loves to gather together to celebrate, as well as scatter across our city as families on mission. As we look ahead, we believe God is calling us to see the multiplication of more missional communities and the planting of other churches across Ireland and beyond. However in all things, we long to be marked as family who centre our lives around the presence and the purposes of the King.
What particular desires and prayer do you have for your church in 2015?
In one sense, we want to continue what God has been doing in and through us over the past few years – seeing disciples making disciples, a family of great grace flourishing and Missional Communities multiplying into new communities and cultural groupings throughout Belfast. Particularly at this time however, one key piece for us is seeing the establishment of healthy, life-giving rhythms throughout the whole family at Redeemer. We are increasingly aware of the correlation between intimacy and action. If we long to be a missional people, we must be a people passionate about worship and experiencing the presence of Jesus in our everyday lives.
How would you like to be able to relate to other, longer established churches in your area
We’ve been blessed with a number of significant friendships with other churches since we planted Redeemer. These relationships, across various streams, have been invaluable to us. As we have been blessed, we desire to be a church that blesses others also, with a heart for what God is doing throughout our nation.
In our journey of launching and establishing Missional Communities, we have had the privilege of equipping other local churches who are seeking to make a similar journey. Through leading learning communities alongside our friends, we desire to continue building fruitful relationships and serve the Church in this nation.
To find out more about Redeemer Central, you can contact them via their website.