Urban Expression: The story

1997-2003

Urban Expression was launched in April 1997 through a partnership between Spurgeon’s College and Oasis Trust. These organisations were already working together to run a Church Planting and Evangelism training course. Neither organisation is now directly involved with Urban Expression, which is an independent trust. The director of this course, Stuart Murray Williams, who had planted a church in the inner city in the late 1970s, initiated Urban Expression in order to explore new ways of planting churches in inner city communities.

Juliet Kilpin, a graduate of the training course, was appointed as part-time co-ordinator of Urban Expression and worked with Stuart to establish this new mission agency. She and her husband, Jim, led the first church planting team in Shadwell, which began in September 1997. She completed her three-year term as co-ordinator in March 2000 but was reappointed on a one day a week basis in October 2002 with responsibility for promotion and recruitment. Juliet currently works three days a week for Urban Expression with responsibility for equipping and supporting the teams. Jim works two days a week with responsibility for recruiting and deploying teams.

Urban Expression concentrated on church planting in East London in the first few years, deploying four teams in the borough of Tower Hamlets and two in the neighbouring borough of Newham. Our seventh team was deployed just south of the Thames in Kidbrooke.Since then we have deployed a number of church planting teams in other cities (including Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Stoke and Bristol), as well as London, from which new churches are gradually developing.

2004

In response to several requests, Urban Expression Associates was formed as a network of church planters and others involved in urban mission who share our core values and want to participate in a learning community.

2005

In partnership with Workshop and 614UK (The Salvation Army), we launched the Crucible course to equip people involved in urban mission, church planting and emerging churches.

Because Urban Expression is a church planting agency, with no ambition to oversee churches once they are planted, we anticipate that the churches planted by the teams we deploy will at some stage become independent of us and build relationships with other churches for mutual support. Remaining team members can transfer to our Associates’ network or become Mission Partners so that they are still connected to us, or they can be redeployed to plant another church.

In November 2005 we celebrated the first such ‘graduation’. One of the teams in Newham decided that the time was right for them to become Associates and for the church that they had planted to find its own way forward.

In 2005 the first team outside London was deployed in the Newton Heath area of Manchester.

2007

In 2007 Urban Expression Netherlands was formed as a sister organisation working in various locations in The Netherlands: see www.urbanexpression.nl

The Kidbrooke team ceased operations because of the way in which the community in which it was working had changed: the anticipated regeneration scheme had in effect depopulated the area and changed its demographic make-up.

During this year, three of the teams in Tower Hamlets decided that the churches they were planting should merge and form the E1 Community Church and the ‘graduation’ of these teams and the emergence of the new church was celebrated the following year.

In 2007 the leaders of the first team in Glasgow were appointed to recruit a team for Possilpark and a second team emerged in Manchester in Levenshulme, in partnership with Levenshulme Baptist Church.

During this year Jim & Juliet Kilpin were appointed jointly as co-ordinators, officially employed for the first time by Urban Expression, supported by a grant from the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

2008

With several of the original teams having graduated this left us with only one team in East London – Hope Asha has grown out of the work on the Ocean Estate in Stepney.

The complete Possilpark team began their work together in this community of Glasgow.

A third team began work in Manchester in Victoria Park.

During this year we introduced Urban Expression Mission Partners, a third way of belonging to Urban Expression (alongside team members and associates).

2009

In the autumn of 2009 a new team was formed to work on an outer housing estate in Harold Hill on the London/Essex border.

Two teams began the work of Urban Expression in Stoke, one in Stoke-on-Trent and the other in Cobridge and a team also began in Shard End in east Birmingham.

Mike Pears began to initiate the work of Urban Expression in Bristol this year, networking with people in the south and east of the city, laying the foundations for teams to emerge.

Urban Expression North America was formed as a sister organisation with plans to work in various locations in the USA and Canada and to initiate a North American version of Crucible called Watershed. See www.urbanexpression.org

Daniel & Becky Frank were appointed by the Glasgow steering group for a year to do some research and recruitment for Glasgow.

2010

During a year of recession, funding surprisingly became available to fund three regional coordinators for one day per week. Mike Pears, Angie Tunstall and Jo Fitzsimmons were appointed to coordinate work and support teams in Bristol, Manchester and the West Midlands respectively.
Stuart Murray Williams was funded for one day per week for his continuing coordinating work for Urban Expression.

This was a year of consolidation after the deployment of a number of teams in the previous year.

2011

One new team was launched, in Openshaw (Manchester) and the team in Glasgow transitioned to form Clay Community Church (in membership with the Scottish Network Churches). Conversations with several people indicate that further teams will be deployed in the following year.

Jo Fitzsimmons stepped down as West Midlands regional coordinator and Doreen Westley was appointed as UE administrator. Urban Expression Sweden was launched and a steering group formed to oversee its development. See http://urbanexpression.se

Crucible Elements days were organised in various locations – stand-alone training days that also provide entry points into the main Crucible course.

2012

New teams were launched in Hackney (East London), Ellesmere Port, Birmingham and Eccles.

A conversation took place in June between representatives of the Urban Expression networks in the UK, The Netherlands, Sweden and North America.

In November a special weekend, called Diverse:City, celebrated 15 years since the founding of Urban Expression and the recruiting of our 100th team member or mission partner.

2013

Rachel Jay and Rowena Wilding were appointed as the new UE administrators.

A new team was launched in Mitcham (South London).

Juliet Kilpin’s book, Urban to the Core, was published – reflection on incarnational mission from past and present team members.

2014

A new  network of people exploring and researching new approaches to mission, called Urban Life, was founded in Bristol, with Mike Pears as director.

With growing interest across the country, the core team of coordinators and development workers was expanded – Simon Jay (West Midlands), Phil Warburton (East Midlands), Barney Barron (South Coast) and Alex Ellish (national).

UE also began to explore a new partnership with the Church of God of Prophecy, with Natalie Chen being invited to work alongside us doing some development work.

2015

New teams began in Nottingham, Brighton, South Wales, Wolverhampton as well as two new teams in London. 
Carmel Murphy (UE Stoke) was appointed as development worker in Yorkshire.

2015 also saw the very first youth weekend for teenagers growing up in UE teams, which was organised by young people (Naomi Warburton and Elspeth Barron) for young people. It was such a success that it was decided to make it an annual event.

2016

Rae Pears became the co-ordinator for the South West, after Mike Pears stepped down to continue with the success of Urban Life.