Moortown Baptist Church, 204 King Lane, Leeds LS17 6AA. Map Tel: (0113) 2693750 A member of the YBA. A registered charity No 1128960. Terms of use

Sharing Life and forging life-long friendships: Part 6 of A Short History of MBC

8 March 2012

Our next pastor, Rev Stephen Ibbotson, came to Moortown in September 1991 having spent the previous fourteen years in Peterborough.  During that time Stephen had picked up a good deal of experience in church planting.  Aware that in his new surroundings there were certain relationship problems between the ‘plant’ and the ‘mother church’, Stephen immediately set about promoting the idea of a corporate identity and a church logo.

However, church planting – which fell under the heading ‘developing holistic mission’ was only one of the topics on the agenda when in January 1992 “Preparing for Growth” a four part action plan was launched.  The other three were: replacing Youth Pastor Jonathan Hayward who after four years at MBC was seeking Ministerial training in Manchester, the setting up of a small leadership team separate from the diaconate and a review of the character and purpose of Sunday services.

Simon Hall

Finding someone to take over from Jonathan proved to be both a quick and painless process; Simon Hall a young man converted through Moortown in his teens and fresh from theology training at Oxford was unanimously accepted as his successor. At the 1992 AGM Michael Flowers, Andy Hobbs and John Sloan were approved as the first members of the new leaders team, whilst the following year the by now ailing pipe organ that occupied much of the rear platform was removed immediately freeing up more space for seats.

Whilst more seating helped to ease the problem of overcrowding the debate about the ‘style’ of MBC’s worship continued.  One idea, 3 in 1, the setting up of three alternative evening services in different parts of the building was seemingly deemed so innovative that it featured on BBC Songs of Praise.

In the meantime discussion around Stephen’s idea for a corporate image and logo had produced a symbol and the phrase ‘Sharing Life’ and it was under this heading that a new and varied mission strategy was developed.  At the heart of this was Roots, a project to contact people with former connections with MBC. Alongside Roots the church ran its first Alfa course, it began using gap-year students to help with youth work, there was another round of house to house visiting and even Cabaret in local pubs and clubs.

As all this was going on it became apparent that although ‘the church’ now met in two different places (King Lane and Street Lane) for quite a number of people a truly ‘local’ church would be one situated in Chapel Allerton.  When this was discussed at a church meeting the proposal to plant another congregation attracted unanimous support so following a period of time in which they met as a house-group Chapel A met for its first Sunday worship on December 5th 1993 in a local Primary School.

People being people it hardly needs saying but such rapid expansion did cause problems; the question of what to call this new and rapidly evolving organisation being one.  Was it still Moortown Baptist Church some were asking, if not what do we call it?

In answer to this question the leaders and deacons proposed that the Church be known as ‘Sharing Life Church’ i.e. one church with three constituent congregations.  As you can imagine opinion was sharply divided. Some insisted the word Baptist must be included whilst others argued that was unnecessary and that the recognition the title Sharing Life had already gained justified keeping it as it was.

Eventually a compromise was reached and Sharing Life – a Baptist Church Network was agreed.  As a multi-congregational network Sharing Life was to exist for eight years (March 1994 to March 2002) during which time there was growth in total membership, the addition of two further church plants, the addition of four new pastors to the team, the separation of one congregation and one pastor and an impressive range of new ministries and activities.

At MBC no mention of the early nineties would be complete without reference to MrsG.  MrsG or to give her her full name the Moortown Romanian Support Group first came about as a result of a trip Paul and Jean Hicks made to Romania in 1990. Having previously visited the country in 1972 – on a mission to take theological books and Romanian bibles to a local Romanian pastor, Paul and Jean had kept in touch, by post, with a number of people. However, by 1990 following the recent ‘collapse of communism’ they took the opportunity to jump on a plane and converse with their friends face to face.

Paul Hicks meets up with some of his Romanian friends at MBC in 2010

On their return the inescapable notion that MBC ought to link up with their Romanian brothers and sisters would not leave them, and when this was put to the church its response was both immediate and wholehearted.  Within weeks over £7,000 was raised to help finance a new church building whilst at Easter 1991 Rod Russell, Howard Dews, Trevor Trout, Dave Newell, Helene Haque and Bill Moody transported food, clothing and medicines overland from Moortown to Cluj.

The rest as they say is history. And although the nature of MBC’s support for Romania has changed the fact that regular two-way visits continue, that Zsuzi and Andor have chosen to ‘honeymoon’ with us ahead of moving into full time ministry and that each year we still help out financially demonstrates that at both a collective and an individual level MrsG has done a fine job looking after her family.

Back on the home front as Moortown, Street Lane and Chapel A continued to minister to their own membership and communities there were still many ways in which the network functioned as a whole.

For instance in response to the Toronto Blessing phenomena Stephen, Michael Flowers and John Sloan made a brief visit to Canada and Open to God a regular Friday evening meeting came about.  Beta was added as a follow-up to Alfa. Paul Hiley introduced a Debt Counselling service while others developed the Pathways Counselling Service.  Church holidays became a regular feature (one year at Moorlands College in Dorset the next at Ashburnham in Essex).

Another thing that operated across the whole network was youth ministry.  However, in May 1966 Simon Hall announced his intention to leave Sharing Life and concentrate his efforts on something called Revive. Revive had grown out of the 3 in 1 project and it was particularly attractive to older teenagers and people in their twenties who were looking to ‘do church’ in such a way that it might appeal to young people with no church background.  Within twelve months Simon was being supported for BU recognition as pastor of a Revive congregation working in and around Hyde Park and Burley and using pubs as a venue for worship.

The Gathering

Another feature that held the different congregation together was The Gathering. The Gathering took place every three months and by the time all three congregations were present it very often filled the main hall of Allerton High School.

By the start of 1997 another plant… what was is now Meanwood Valley Baptist Church was already meeting in a local Working Men’s Club and Simon Hall’s Revive had become a fully recognised Sharing Life congregation.

This brought the total membership of Sharing Life – a Baptist Church Network to 380. However, with a further three hundred people regularly attending services and with more than five hundred children and teenagers connected with it through countless outreach projects it became obvious that maintaining and administering such a huge operation was becoming increasingly difficult.

When it was then suggested that a further group be set up in Armley, and that a ‘cell church’ be started Stephen countered by telling the church that as he felt his role was to oversee the network and extend its vision what was now needed was an Assistant Minister for Moortown.

By the autumn of that same year staff appraisals had been introduced, the first of which recommended that Stephen should be granted a three month Sabbatical from September 1998 by which time a new Moortown minister should be in place.

Next time we will see how the search for a new minister led to the calling of Rev Gordon Hindmarch, we’ll examine the end of the Sharing Life Network and how the new millennium brought new challenges.



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