The Story So Far
Our heritage begins in the 1960s when Aubrey and Lily Parish were walking through fields on the eastern edge of Yeovil, Somerset. They saw a boy kicking a can, and Aubrey remarked to Lily, "Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the young people had somewhere to meet with God?"
A short time later a building was built in that very field and in the spring of 1964, with the help of Vicarage Street Chapel in Yeovil's town centre, a group of Christian believers opened Sunningdale Gospel Hall with the purpose of "raising a gospel testimony" in a "vast new estate."
Over the coming decades the surrounding area grew into a dense estate and the people of Sunningdale Gospel Hall (later known as Sunningdale Church and Sunningdale Evangelical Church) shared the gospel with an innumerable amount of families. Such was their impact and the Biblical foundations that they laid in people's lives, throughout Yeovil and surrounding areas are numerous church leaders and elders that grew up in Sunningdale Evangelical Church and are now an active part of leading other churches in sharing the gospel to their communities.
Unfortunately, as time went on, the church struggled more and more to connect and share the gospel with the growing and hurting community around it; which meant that the church itself struggled to grow. However, a couple of years into the 21st century, with only a dozen or so people left in the church, full of Spirit-led humility and wisdom, the elders went to an organisation called Counties UK for help. Counties' solution to the growth problem was to plant a new church in its place through a daughter organisation called Church Planting Initiative.
So, in November 2006 Church Planting Initiative handed Sunningdale Evangelical Church over to Matt and Claire Merriam, and Kelton Black (a friend of the church and nearby minister who acted as a mentor to Matt & Claire for the first couple of years); and Birchfield Church was born.
From the beginning, the heart of Birchfield Church has been to connect to those not yet a part of church, and to help families engage with God. This led to a number of important and difficult changes that had to be brought to what we did as a church and how we did it over the first few years. We started a house group, opened a youth drop-in, created a kids club and changed the style of Sunday morning services to better connect with those families and unchurched.
Both out of necessity and calling, in May 2011 we appointed the first eldership and leadership teams at Birchfield Church. We used this as an opportunity to re-evaluate who God was calling us to be as a church, and felt God emphasise the need to stay committed to being relational and help families engage with God together. To help facilitate this, we changed our Sunday services to a more all-age, "café" style, with small groups sitting around small tables and engaging together in prayer, discussions, and activities throughout the service in addition to the worship and Bible teaching that was already happening.
The years since this have been fruitful, with baptisms and seeing lives transformed by the Gospel, but they have also been hard. As time passed, we began to realise as a leadership team that we were reacting more to the "storms" that came our way, than intentionally setting a course and following it. So, in 2014, we decided to seek God again about who we are meant to be and how we are meant to be it, and we felt him emphasise four values that needed to be at the centre of Birchfield Church that you can read here.
We are continuing to pursue, with obedience and passion, being the church God is calling us to be. 2015 seems to have been a year that God "shook" the "shakeable" to place us more fully within a kingdom that cannot be "shaken" as it says in Hebrews chapter 12. At times this was difficult and painful as we tried to embrace a more relational model of church that encouraged everyone to be investing and gave more space to connect with families in our community. God gently led us to say goodbye to long-trusted ways of being church to give room for his new ways. Despite the difficulties, it was exhilarating to begin to discover a new church rhythm that is centred around sharing our whole lives together.
There is so much more to our story that God has yet to write. Please pray for us to continue to have the courage to pursue his plans for our church and our community. If, as you read this, God is beginning to light a fire of desire to be involved in what he is doing in the Birchfield area of Yeovil, please get in touch!