Andy Wilson, Church Army pioneer minister, shares how he came to open and lead Share Matson – a fresh expression of church on the outskirts of Gloucester.
Share Matson offers a space where people can come, as they are, and receive a friendly welcome. It offers a community space where they can feel part of something.
Andy says, “Years ago, Emma [my wife] had a picture of me stood with a shepherd’s cross under a tree and there were sheep around me. It’s interesting, being in Matson, that sheep are allowed to roam freely and there is a huge oak tree in the middle of Matson. So, a lot of that picture is being lived out.
“For years, God had been stirring some stuff about reaching out and helping people who had never been into a church to know that God loves and cares for them.”
Andy followed God’s calling and trusted that he would be equipped to succeed in the founding of Share Matson. They started by linking into FareShare, a project which collects good-quality surplus supermarket food and distributes it to those in need. However, the pandemic put a stop to much of the personal contact, so Andy had to find other ways to connect with people who were now all isolated from one another.
“We set up a Share Matson Facebook page and two or three families who liked the page shared it with others and it grew from there.”
The page became a source of support for people in the area during the national crisis.
As the pandemic restrictions eased, Emma set up a social enterprise café, The Long Table – a community canteen where everybody from the community is welcome and pays ‘as they can’ for the food and drink served.
One member, Vicky, recalls how she felt when she first came to The Long Table. “I had no money, no food and no company. Someone suggested coming up here to get food. I met Emma and she was just so friendly and easy to talk to.”
Share Matson offered a way for those who had joined up online and who had been connected with through the FareShare project to start meeting together and eating together in person. Through these connections and growing relationships, people have opened up about their lives and how the Bible and faith relate to life today.
Andy says, “In a general conversation, one person said they wanted to read the Bible but didn’t have anyone to read it with. So, we set up a Bible study. We bring questions, reflections, thoughts. Over time, there’s been an openness to share more about the struggles of life … and how the Bible is really speaking into some of those situations.”
Andy records a Thought for the Day live on the Share Matson Facebook page every morning. Every other Sunday, they eat together at the café and are now exploring different ways of ‘doing church’ on other days of the week.
“It’s about setting the environment for invitation, for challenge, for questions and for helping people recognise the journey that they’re invited on by God and helping them take step by step movement on that journey,” says Andy.
Lisa, a regular member of Share Matson, adds, “Having that smile as you walk through the door and being offered a drink takes a weight off your shoulders. I feel like I’m part of a family again, and that I’m not on my own.”
Watch Share Matson’s inspiring story, recorded by CCX, here: