The Borough Common

I’m part of a church community called the Borough Common that meets every Sunday night. Over the next 6 weeks, we are running sessions that explore the concept of “community”. Last Sunday, people shared their experiences of the community and this prompted me to write a bit about mine. So here’s a bit about my church: 

We call ourselves the Borough Common because we believe that church should be common property and we’re based in Borough, South London. If you’re into categorisation, then we probably fit into the category of alternative church (here’s one definition of what that might mean) because when compared with most expressions of church, we do things pretty differently.

We are about four years old and I’ve been going since the foundations with varying degrees of energy and commitment, where commitment can just involve attending, whereas energy is about getting stuck in and shaping things. I get the most out of Borough Common if I can give both.

Tea party for older people
Tea party for older people

We spun out from another evening service called Headspace at Oasis Church Waterloo which is a friendly, creative and experimental exploration of Christian faith.

Most churches have a declaration of what they believe which helps knits them together as one body. Ours is intentionally broad. We say we “want to grow together spiritually and do good in the world around us”. As well as valuing the idea of church as common property, we also quickly realised that inclusiveness is highly valued and we designed structures around this. Every 6 weeks we have an open planning session where anyone can participate in planning a service around a theme, which is also selected together. Here’s some examples of themes…

Leadership, growing together spiritually, stories from the bible, creed, building substance, our local community, Christian saints, taboos…

By having the opportunity to run a service, you can work with others to explore topics in depth, and curate an evening that might be discussion based, practical or meditative – variety is encouraged. Every 4 weeks or so, we have a big meal together. This structure means the church is shaped by the community. 

Sunday morning service in House Cafe
Sunday morning service in House Cafe

It’s a simple way of structuring church that feels right for me. However it’s not for everybody. There are so many expressions of Christian faith with churches formed to house. None can be perfect, and perhaps we shouldn’t wish them to be. We aren’t challenged or motivated when everything’s cosy and comfortable.

Sometimes people have proposed it’s a vulnerable structure. For example, what would we do if we are infiltrated by 30 Buddhists one evening! What type of church might we become then? Well, that’s yet to happen and it would be a great experience if it did. We aim to place value on the importance of being welcoming and engaging with all forms of opinion. This is a space where people can discuss and explore beliefs.

Our 2013 Greenbelt talk. Available to download here.
The Borough Common 2013 Greenbelt talk. Available to download here.

I love being part of Borough Common because it’s an honest community. A community that grapples with issues, seeks truth, and recognises that we don’t have all the answers. We go on adventures. We put on tea parties for older people. We help run homeless shelters. We drink ale. We explore our local community. We try and reconcile our place in the global community.

Borough Common Folk Carols
Borough Common Folk Carols Session

As we stride into the new year and we’re feeling fresh with new hopes for the year ahead, it’s a good time for us to explore this concept of community. When reflecting on something that is important for fostering community, a fellow commoner Jonathan picked out his passion for openness in all its forms. He also described an interesting distinction between complex and complexity. The idea came from this TED talk, which Eric Berlow explains how complex doesn’t necessarily equal complicated. 

Rather that hold a complex set of beliefs as a church, we start with  simple ideas and shared beliefs and from this we find beauty in the complexity that emerges. Life is complicated and no one should be alone in trying to navigate through life. I’m grateful to have good communities like the Borough Common to help me embrace the complexity and help identify some of the simple truths that lie within.