Celebrating Gospel Vision
It’s been 20 years since The King’s Centre opened – a pioneering partnership between Chessington Evangelical Church and a local authority in Greater London. Trevor Archer looks back on the last two decades and reflects on a recent anniversary service to mark the milestone.
“It was never simply about the building.”
This was the repeated theme at the anniversary celebrations in May which marked 20 years since the opening of The King’s Centre.
The Centre is a remarkable story of the providence and provision of God to a local church in the South West suburbs of London.
25 years ago, the Local Authority (The Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames) approached Chessington Evangelical Church with the offer of an acre of land on a new housing estate.
In God’s providence, the church had already been engaged in some radical thinking as to how to best use their resources to reach their neighbourhood. Therefore, when the kind and unexpected offer came from the Council, the equally unexpected response of the church was to ask if the Local Authority might consider an alternative proposal.
A radical idea
Instead of one acre of land, would the Council give both acres of land designated for ‘community use’ to the church? The church would then incorporate the required sports hall into an integrated, multipurpose church and Community centre wholly owned, run and managed by the church. A radical proposal!
Mark Gilks was the Council’s Director of Development at the time and in his own words was “surprised, delighted and inspired” by the church’s vision and boldness.
Nothing like this existed in Britain, so the project required a good degree of ingenuity and trust on the part of the Local Authority. At the Celebration in May, Mark Gilks – now retired from public life and investing his time as a Methodist lay preacher – spoke of how, in hindsight, he realised how God had kept him in post to help facilitate the development and completion of The King’s Centre.
Mark’s role at the Council was just one of many remarkable provisions that the Lord made to help bring the Centre to fruition. The church was given the two-acre site on a ‘peppercorn’ 350-year lease for £1 and in addition, the developers contributed £950,000 towards the construction of the Centre in lieu of building their own stand-alone sports hall.
The previous site of the church sold for twice the estimated value. So it was that piece by piece, the £2.4 million-pound budget was gathered.
Ray Finch, a Christian Architect, designed the Centre to reflect the church’s heart that the space inside the building – except for the café and toilet areas – should retain a “multi-purpose multi-usage function that would give the best possible flexibility of use”.
But as Ray himself reflected to the 500 folk gathered to celebrate the landmark anniversary in the Liddell Hall (named in honour of Eric Liddell):
“I was never in any doubt that The King’s Centre was never simply about the building, but rather an expression of the church’s heart to use the facility to engage with and serve their community.”
A home for the community
Over the past 20 years the Centre has been home to countless School Speech Days, Youth Sports awards evenings, gospel concerts with Stuart Townsend, Keith and Kristen Getty, Joni Erikkson and the London Gospel Choir; Election Counts, Christmas and Easter Journeys (a brilliant presentation for schools from the area), Christian church and mission conference days, NHS training events, a Foodbank and much more besides.
On top of this it also houses all the regular activities of the church and her ministries.
As he had done at the opening in May 1997, Dick Lucas was asked to preach at the Celebration. Now in his nineties, Dick preached in his familiar and distinct way to encourage the church to keep doing what they had been doing for the previous 20 years and before. Namely: to preach the gospel, teach the Bible, love one another, evangelise and invest in the next generation. A video produced for the occasion reiterated this desire and the heartbeat of the church.
The Centre has, in a very real sense, been “a home for the community at the heart of the church” running and housing activities for all ages, fostering a sense of a safe environment where care and help is in the DNA. Every week hundreds of local people come into and make use of the Centre and many folk from the church are engaged not only in running the Centre but also in the activities themselves, providing many opportunities for the gospel to be shared and taught.
The church has also seen 12 couples trained and sent out to serve the Lord in pastoral and youth ministries all around Great Britain as the Lord has laid on the heart of the church the need to invest in the next generation.
To Him be the glory! Long may it continue!