“I Need a Church!” – WiM 2015

Firstly, if that title doesn’t immediately make you want to burst into song, please watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwpTpPEAUps. Possibly several times.

Done? Good. Humming to yourself? You should be. I am and I wasn’t even at that WiM. As 2014 travelled along and no WiM venue applications appeared, I think that “I Need a Church” was a song stuck in most of the National Team’s head. WiM is the most important event on the Rev calendar. We needed a church that could host us – somewhere where everyone could fit, with space for rehearsals, sleeping and eating, with places for chilling, studying and praying, with a room for late night fun that wouldn’t disturb the people already in bed. We needed somewhere with good transport links and parking easily available. There are a lot of churches in the UK, but finding a WiM venue can be surprisingly difficult.

Venue applications are generally voted on at Forum in June. I had been thinking about possible churches before that – we try to have WiM near at least one choir and I live very close to Bristol Rev. They’d never hosted WiM before. I was imagining being able to get to a Rev event in less than two hours (the time it takes me to get to Piazza – the closest regular event to me –  by train). It took me two hours to get to London WiM, five hours to get to Warrington WiM, about eight hours to get to RESITS. Yes, I liked the idea of having WiM in Bristol.

The problem was, I didn’t really know any churches in Bristol. There’s St Mary Redcliffe which is probably a little outside of what we want and that’s the limit of my knowledge. I did some half-hearted trawling on the internet, but I wasn’t really sure where to start. I wasn’t too worried. I was sure there would be other venue applications anyway, so it didn’t matter if I made a proposal or not.

There weren’t any venue applications to vote on at June Forum. I went away thinking hard. I didn’t know churches in Bristol, but WiM didn’t have to actually be in Bristol. Cambridge WiM was in Histon, a village just outside Cambridge. My hometown of Weston-super-Mare is only half an hour from Bristol. That sounded a perfectly reasonable distance to me. How about I try and find a church in Weston?

For several months, all I did when I walked past a church was try to calculate how many revvers I could fit in it. I looked at every church in Weston town centre. Many were large, but that space was mostly taken up by the main hall. There weren’t many other rooms. Then, one day, whilst in the car on route to town, I drove past Milton Baptist Church.

It wasn’t the first time since looking for a WiM venue that I’d driven past Milton Baptist. I do so regularly. It’s on the main road that runs from Worle (where I live) to Milton to Weston proper. It’s also where I went to preschool and where my secondary school choir regularly performed their yearly carol service. Plus it’s huge. It should have been the first place I thought of, but until that point it just hadn’t occurred to me as an option. It was too obvious for me to notice.

On a Friday evening in June, I e-mailed Milton Baptist. I didn’t say “I’m from this choir you’ve probably never heard of that would like to use your church” I said “I’ve sung in your church before with my old choir and would like to do so with my new.” I also included the Rev “Guidance for Churches” document which handily explains things so you don’t have to. On Monday, they e-mailed me back to express their provisional interest. I couldn’t quite believe it. Never underestimate what a personal connection with the church can do for your application.

As well as the details of my personal connection with the church, I included the most pertinent details about Rev in that initial e-mail. I emphasised that we’re a Christian-based organisation (obviously churches like this). I talked a lot about how we’re unauditioned and aim to help everyone find their undiscovered skills on and off stage (who wouldn’t be inspired by that?). I made sure that they knew forging community links was one of the most important parts of WiM – singing in a nursing home, busking, and putting on a concert for local people – to make sure they knew we weren’t just strangers who would do nothing for them.

When the church saw Rev’s budget figure for hiring the church, they told me that that amount would normally pay for one room for a couple of days. I had to play up that we’re a little-known charity with a membership that is mostly poor students and recent graduates. If their figure was too high, we wouldn’t be able to afford Milton Baptist. Again, to my surprise, my argument convinced them. We were still on track.

There was quite a bit of negotiating, but also a lot of waiting (not entirely helped by the fact that after their initial expression of interest, everyone at Milton Baptist went on their summer holidays and I didn’t hear from them for over a month.) I had to explore the church properly and make sure it did have all the facilities Rev needed. Just because it looked big from the outside and had lots of other groups running didn’t mean it had all the rooms we required. I also had to convince the still doubtful minister that he wanted us to visit his church (though he retired before WiM came round so he didn’t have much to do with it after all). He had a lot of practical concerns over things like money and whether we had someone catering who was trained to not give people food poisoning (we did). Then the minister had to convince the rest of the church leadership to vote for us at their meeting (which wasn’t until September). When I first met the minister, he hadn’t even told the rest of the church leadership about my proposal. I had no idea how they were going to react.

Of course, it wasn’t just down to the church. I also had to convince the rest of National Rev that Milton Baptist was suitable for us. I swear, showing National people around the church I’d picked and hoping they’d approve was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done in Rev. I watched them measuring the main hall where we’d have the concert, drawing up their plans and speculating on possible room use. It sounded like they were enthusiastic. Still, they had to convince all the choirs to vote for the church at Forum (which wasn’t until October). I couldn’t make it to that Forum, so I sat at home and waited for a friend to text me the result. As you’ve probably guessed, they voted yes. Despite all the worrying on my part, everyone seemed happy with my choice of venue.

Things to learn from this story? The earlier you start looking for a church, the better. The more personal connections you have with the church, the easier it is. If you phrase your communications just right, you can win over the most sceptical minister. It might look daunting, but it’s not actually that difficult as long as you put in the time. We’re currently looking for a church for 2017, so you’d better start thinking. Maybe your town is the perfect place for WiM next year.

© Devon Hazel 2016