Cathedrals and Commerce

Jonathan Evens
Nov 14, 2017

In common with Stir to Action’s Unlocking the Next Economy initiative, HeartEdge is interested in finding new ways for churches to engage with their local communities while also creating revenues to help them survive. That’s because St Martin-in-the-Fields, which has initiated HeartEdge (a growing ecumenical network of churches and other organisations in the UK and beyond), has developed a model for its ministry that sees diverse congregations involved in commerce, culture and compassionate community activities. 

St Martin’s success has come out of adversity, out of near bankruptcy. In the 1980s the church woke up to the fact that the sums didn’t add up. The costs of the building and the extensive outreach ministry far exceeded the (albeit significantly under-tapped) potential of congregational stewardship. The answer was to create a commercial enterprise. The results have been remarkable. The top-line result is that St Martin’s has been able to maintain and expand its ability to extend its mission well beyond the imaginations of its wealthiest and most generous members and donors. 

But there’s more to it than that. Originally the food services, retail, events and commercial concerts were seen largely as a worldly cash cow to underwrite the lofty spiritual mission and ministry of the church. Commercial operations were seen a necessity until we discovered they were a blessing to teach our community the disciplines of sustainable life together. 

St Martin’s now offers a unique range of cultural, commercial and charitable programmes rooted in a vibrant congregational life. It’s a vision of a civil economy, of what work and play, friendship and worship, social concern and evangelism, diversity and identity might look like. So, for us, the financial imperative proved to be a good thing: it renewed the church. And the business is now an integral part of our life.

As a result of these experiences, HeartEdge has been initiated to support churches in blending their ministry around four key areas (the 4C’s):

  • Congregation - inclusive approaches to liturgy, worship and day-to-day communal life;
  • Compassion  - models of outreach which serve local needs and address social justice issues;
  • Culture – art, music and ideas used to re-imagine the Christian narrative for the present moment; and
  • Commerce – approaches to developing commercial activities that not only assist in the financing of mission and ministry but also creatively extend and enhance mission and ministry through different degrees of social enterprise.

This integrated model, rooted in a vibrant congregational life, means that the wider operations (of compassion, cultural expression and commerce) are not seen as secondary or simply instrumental to mission, but as creative and challenging forms of church in their own right.

St Paul Old Ford, based in Bow, is an example of this happening in practice. A £3.5 million refurbishment project has resulted in an adaptable meeting space for 250 people, with the original interior now including four storeys of flexible rooms. Partners using the space include Ability Bow a gym for people with complex needs; IntoUniversity, supporting young people in accessing university and St Paul’s café, a social enterprise open each weekday. The building welcomes 30 to 40 community groups per year hiring out space or offering for free – from Zumba classes to NHS clinics, neighbourhood forums to children’s parties. St Paul’s has become a central resource at the heart of the community it serves.

We believe that churches can do unbelievable things together by starting with one another’s assets, not our deficits. We believe churches and communities thrive when the gifts of all their members are released and they build one another’s assets. Sharing our particular assets (skills, experience, insights and ideas) with other members fosters a wider understanding and models the practice of hospitality towards others. In HeartEdge, this sharing happens through introductory events, peer-to-peer mentoring, consultancy days, sharing sessions, mission model workshops, and annual celebrations.

We have organised an autumn series of regional HeartEdge introductory events, all with Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin’s, plus guests, in which churches can explore mission by sharing ideas, uncovering solutions and finding support. The last session is in Edinburgh on the 21st of November at Greyfriars Kirk from 10:00 till 15:00 (follow this link to book a place).


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