If you’ve seen a large purple double decker around the streets of Whitby recently, it’s not the Night Bus from the Harry Potter movies on the lookout for wizards in need.
The vehicle, owned by York-based charity The Bus Stop, is in fact the latest venture from missional community church Hope Whitby.
The idea was to transform the converted bus into a moving community centre, used to teach RE to local school children. It also boasts a games station, cafe and sweet shop.
Pupils from Fylingdales, Hawsker and East Whitby Academy, as well as youngsters from the Eastside Community Centre in Whitby, all got the chance to explore the bus over the past few days – and gave it a resounding thumbs up.
Pastor Leigh Coates, the team leader at Hope Whitby, was delighted with the impact it had made over this past weekend.
“It was ace, absolutely brilliant,” he said.
One of the skaters gave me a pound and said ‘can you bring it back?’Leigh Coates
“We went to the skate park in Whitby and one of the skaters gave me a pound and said ‘can you bring it back?’”
The bus also went down a storm on Kingfisher Drive where 40-50 youngsters packed on board. On Monday, school pupils took part in interactive prayer, while the Hope Whitby youth and children’s club (HYP & HI:5) session attracted a lot of interest in Whitby later in the day.
The bus was bought three years ago by a youth worker, Emily Finch, who had a vision of supporting churches in their work with young people and communities.
Together with some like-minded individuals, the charity was created and in March 2015, The Bus Stop hit the road.
Hope Whitby made an enquiry as to whether they could use it – and it all took off from there. It is one of the things that makes Hope Whitby a bit different.
The organisation doesn’t have a building of its own and doesn’t want the burden of bricks.
Leigh explains: “We don’t meet together on Sunday mornings, although there are some good churches that do. We try to meet people where they are, whether that be in a cafe, a pub, a house or a church building.
“We are trying to give everyone a chance to experience the Christian faith in a way that they can understand.
“When you look around at what we do, you’ll realise that we have lots of different things going on. We like to make people have a sense of belonging, that’s why a number of our groups are in houses.”
The bus is the latest example of this mobile approach to spreading the word of Jesus.
Hope Whitby partnered with The Bus Stop to deliver the bus tour – and dad-of-three Leigh says it is the essence of what they do.
“At the end of the day, not many non-churched people wake up and say ‘who’s going to church then?’ We’ve got to go to where people are.”
As well as the monthly Hope Hub sessions at Sanders Yard restaurant in Whitby, in which you can listen to popular music from the Beatles to the Arctic Monkeys – Hope Whitby has spread its wings further afield, with various community sessions for all ages.
Baptisms in the sea – and three at Falling Foss, in which town cluster leader Janet Robson slipped back into the water, which she took in good spirits – are now also a common feature of Hope Whitby activities.
#Gathering takes place on the first Friday of the month at Costa on Baxtergate. This is described as a contemporary service which draws in people from all backgrounds.
Leigh added: “What started off as five people meeting together has now grown to various different Missional Communities, huddles, Hope Hub, Hope Rocks, a new Hope Youth Project and many other things.
“We meet as small groups all over Whitby, in houses, pubs and cafes.”
Leigh says it is surprising how many of their regulars who are not church-goers say how much they like Hope Whitby. The popularity continues to soar despite a widespread decline in church attendance figures nationally.
“If you are in a church congregation of 20 that’s probably phenomenal,” said Leigh.
“We had 120 in the first few weeks and I would say 50% are non-Christian.
“We don’t get any bad feedback from non-Christians. Basically, what people want is somewhere they can belong.
“We don’t accept people on the precept that they believe; we accept people as they are.
“We make no apology that it’s a Christian organisation. Some people want to belong, they want that family vibe.
“We are not trying to bash people over the head, sometimes they will come for a while and sometimes they will stick. Some may not be so keen on the church side but love the vibe. If you read the Bible, the first church was like that, they lived in their homes but came together for a monthly celebration. As long as we make Jesus known, He will do the rest.”