A number of churches were officially welcomed into partnership at the recent Advance UK Conference in Southampton. One of these is Foundation Church, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We asked David Varney to share a bit about Foundation’s story and journey to partnership.
Tell us a bit about your city and the community you are based in?
Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland and is home to over half a million people. It is a beautiful city that boasts a strong heritage in ship-building and culture-making (C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast and spent much of his early years here). However, to most outside of Belfast, the city is infamous for its history of the Troubles: the sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants which lasted for over three decades and claimed thousands of lives.
Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Belfast has begun to emerge from the dark times of the past to discover a renewed vibrancy and hope. Whilst Northern Ireland is the most religious of the four home nations of the UK, Belfast is becoming increasingly secularised – a reaction in part to the negative association between religion and violence of the past.
Foundation Church is based in East Belfast. We gather on Sundays in a local high school, not too far from Belfast City Airport (if anyone wants to pay us a visit).
Tell us the story of Foundation Church and your decision to plant as a bi-vocational leader?
Foundation Church was planted in February 2017 with a launch team of eleven people, hungry to make much of Jesus in Belfast. We are driven to articulate the gospel of Jesus – in word and with deed – to a city that has heard its fair share of Christian rhetoric, but has not experienced its fruit. By God’s grace, and in true partnership with other local gospel-centred churches, we want to see this change. We want to see the power of the Word and Spirit come to bear on our fractured and wounded city so that Belfast may turn to Jesus.
As a bi-vocational planter, I divide my time between my medical practice and church ministry. On a practical level this has enabled me to plant early and to provide an income from outside the church so that I may be flexible in my approach to ministry. I’ve had lots of evangelistic opportunities through work that would not have existed otherwise. But bi-vocational planting has been hard graft, particularly in learning how to balance two intense vocations. There are definitely benefits to doing it this way, but I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone! Maybe I’ll do a seminar on bi-vocational planting one day.
Why have you chosen partnership with Advance?
Soteriology (Doctrine of salvation) is important; pneumatology (Doctrine of the Holy Spirit) is important; ministry philosophy is important. All these things line up between Foundation Church and the other churches in Advance, which is brilliant. Advance churches are refocharismissional as PJ Smyth puts it. But from initial contact in 2017 through to formal partnership in 2019, the standout feature that has most impacted me about Advance is relationship.
There is a warmth and authenticity of relationship that is immediately attractive whenever you come to an Advance gathering. I have been welcomed as a friend and brother. I have been prayed over. I have had encouragement heaped upon me. Advance leaders have opened their homes to me, they have visited me and my city, they have invested time in our church. They have served us well, they have extended generosity to us and they have answered our questions.
The connectedness and relationship between churches and their leaders within Advance feels like something out of the pages of the New Testament. And it is desperately needed if we are to link arms and pool our resources for the advance of the Gospel in our generation!