St Marys London

10 questions with John Peters

John Peters@St Marys London john peters (centre) with his team

John Peters is the Rector of St Marys, an Anglican church in the heart of London. It began meeting in 1997 as an initiative of Holy Trinity Brompton. St Marys has grown to over 1400 people and the average age is around 26.

I attended the St Marys refresh conference recently and interviewed John about the growing church planting movement that is springing up around St Marys.

1. Tell me about St Marys?

It's an Anglican church strongly influenced and founded on the principles of the
Vineyard movement with a commitment to growing by conversion, a commitment to ministry in the power of the Spirit, and a commitment to an unreligious ethos.

2. How did you get into church planting?

I always thought we'd get around to church planting one day, but because of the way in which our church began we had to overcome considerable challenges at the start. We had to raise
£3.7 million to renovate an historic building in the heart of London and move into it.

As soon as we had overcome that challenge God brought up the question of church planting. I felt a strong call to plant churches. But I dispute that you need a call. All churces are called to plant churches.

I recall a day of prayer and fasting. God spoke to me through his promise to Abraham, "I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing to the nations." I saw the nations as people groups. Some had churches and others didn't. I felt God wanted me to set up a loose affiliation of churches.

It was for our benefit. We need to give ourselves away—money, leaders, and people.

3. What are you learning about church planting movements?

As with most things in life what begins as a carefree spontaneous love affair has to become a marriage. You need to set up training and support systems. You need to employ people to help with the set up and administration.

We employ a leader, a project manager (not just an administrator), a youth leader, a worship leader and children's worker. Ideally they are employed positions from the start. In addition there is a wider team.

4. What new initiatives are you working on?

I'm thinking about Hollywood at the moment. Hollywood is the worst place I've ever seen. It's overtly influenced by the occult and it's overtly sexualized.

We'll start with three gathering meetings. We'll look for a good size core group. We'll run our LIFE course and do some teaching about the Holy Spirit. We'll provide a pneumatology that is neither Pentecostal or formal or dead. Not mad, but real.

We'll run three gathering events in next eighteen months. We'll cast a wide net and look for the right people to build a team and build partnerships with local leaders. Wide net and look for right popel for the team. We'll be looking especially for God's leader for the church plant.

We have church plants and friends of St Marys in Florida in the US, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany (partnerhip), Uganda and Exeter. We have a Spanish church plant in London of about 100 people.

We're looking at Australia and Hungary.

5. What are you learning?

I'm learning it has to be the Spirit who is doing it.

I'm learning the more maturity you can get into your leaders the better.

I'm learning the more they inhabit the values of our movement the better.

I'm learning that leaders need a lot of support. You can't just spit them out and leave them. You're in it for the long hall.

I'm learning that church planting is incredibly life-giving when it works. You also need to accept the possibility of failure.

I'm learning you really you can't pay enough for the people who "get it". How do you get crazy people who connect with lost people. We need people on the edge. You can't train it into them.

I'm learning you need to find hard core adventurers. You need to invest in them when they are young.

6. Who is going to win the FA cup?

That is a question of no consequence.
Arsenal, the supreme expression football excellence, has been trampled under foot by the Russian mafia. The only thing now is to look forward to next season.

7. What are you reading?

An excellent series of cartoon books called "Daddy: what's it like to have small children?" I read them in the loo.

8. What's your relationship with the Anglican church?

One of the reasons I became an atheist as a young person was my Anglican church experience. But my current experience of Anglican church leadership has been positive.

We receive strong support from the Bishop of London. I regard him as head and shoulders above most leaders in the English church. He is a blesser of life. He has never succeeded in saying no to anything we've done.

Mostly I get on with doing things without the need for asking permission.

9. If you were in your 20s, starting all over again, what would you do?

I wouldn't change a thing.

10. What legacy do you want to leave behind?

I believe that God has called me to have multitudes of descendants. Despite all the problems and struggles of my life, God has repeatedly spoken to me through the story of Abraham.

10 Questions for Jon and Jo Soper


I recently caught up with Jon and Jo Soper. Three years ago they were sent out by St Marys London to plant a church in Exeter. The outcome has been the birth of the Exeter Network church.

1. How'd you get into church planting?

For many years we had a conviction that if the church can multiply itself in diversity it could reach a diversity of people. I found church monochrome. One size fits all wasn't working. I wanted to lead a church that would be normative in fifty years time. I wanted to develop a church model of diversity reaching a diversity of people.

Jo and I were on staff as associate vicars at St Marys London when the opportunity to plant a church in Exeter arose.

2. How has it gone?

We've just come through a ‘bloody phase'. After our initial gathering phase we were confronted with some serious pastoral issues.
Three of our young people were diagnosed with cancer and a young woman in the church who took her own life. All of this happened around the same time in the second year of the church plant.

I remember a significant moment feeling at my lowest. I had just visited the mother of the young woman who committed suicide. I followed that with a phone call to one of the young woman's friends to tell her that her friend had died. Her friend was one of three people diagnosed with cancer—a very aggressive cancer.

I had to inform her that her closest friend had not only died but had taken her own life.

3. What hit you at that moment?

I felt, “Is everyone going to get slaughtered here?” Three with cancer, now a suicide. Most of these people were part of the core group of our church plant.

4. How did you get through that?

I'm not sure if we're through it yet. But this is how we're getting through it.

The community of believers are called towards each other at a time like this. The situation has increased the love and care between our people. There has been a lot of prayer—public prayer, prayer for one another and prayer for those who are suffering.

Looking outwards has also been important. We've kept our mission before us.

We recognize that we are all broken but we are all engaging with God's agenda for the world.

5. How have you seen God at work?

We've seen God at work touching people's lives who are not yet Christians. We encourage all our people to ask people, “Can I pray for you?”

Two examples come to mind:

A woman came to an artist in Exeter to have her portrait painted. The artist's wife, Joy, attends our church. As part of the process of having her portrait painted, the woman shared her story. It was a story of relationship breakdown and heartache.

Joy asked, “Can I pray for you?”

A couple of days later the woman called back and told her, “This prayer stuff works! My life has been transformed. I can't believe it, but God forgives me for my past life.”

We have another woman, Betty, who works in local government. Someone in her office became gravely ill and was taken to hospital. Betty didn't know the woman well but overheard someone say, “This woman needs a miracle!” So she went to the hospital and laid on hands and prayed for her to recover.

There was no improvement and it looked like she would die.

The office boss, an atheist, heard Betty had been to the hospital and prayed for the woman. She asked Betty to go back to the hospital and pray for her again.

The woman was eventually released from hospital and visited the office. She made a beeline for Betty and a gave her a huge hug. Then she turned to the rest of the office and shouted, “It's God, God has done this!” She's not out of the woods yet. But she's alive and thanking God for that.

God has used Joy and Betty in amazing ways because they made themselves available.
That's why we continually encourage all our people to go out into the highways and byways and ask, “May I pray for you?”

6. What are you learning about church planting?

I'm learning we're at our best when we don't know what we are doing. I like setting up patterns and rhythms for ministry. God sometimes says, “Forget your systems. Forget your strategies. I want to do it.”

My job as a church planter is to create a framework that gives enough coherence to our ministry without boxing in God. Part of me wants to control what happens. What we need is a framework with enough freedom to see God work through his people.

7. What does Network church look like?

As a church we want to be strong at the core, blurred at the edge. We're committed to discipleship and grace.

The basic structure of our church are 4mation groups. Four people meet for an hour each week. That share how they are following Christ and what they plan to do this week to follow Christ. It's like a spiritual gym card. A plan backed up by accountability.
We have two congregations that meet most weeks in a school. A total of about 250 people attend weekly.

We also have a group of about twenty that meets in a fish and chip shop in a housing estate in a local village. They're doing Alpha weekly. Once a month they worship in the preschool. It's called “God and chips”. Just recently they've distributed 850 fliers throughout the estate inviting people to come along for a free bag of chips to hear about Alpha.

We're in conversation with a Christian social action group in another housing estate. They're highly respected for the work they have done in the estate. We want to support the good work they are doing and help them build a worshipping community in the estate.

8. What else do you do?

Once every month or two we have “Edge Sunday”. We stop our regular Sunday gatherings and encourage everyone to get out into the community.

Here's what they do:

a. Social events
Our people run tennis tournaments, they host meals, they organize jogging groups.

b. Serving the community
Recently a group of our people baked a bunch of cakes for the elderly and distributed them. Some of our folk were deeply challenged by the experience.

c. Prayer walking
They walk the streets and pray for the community and community institutions like the police and universities.

d. Prophetic evangelism
This is only for the brave. They visit cafes and pray for the people they see there. They ask God to speak through them to these folk. Sometimes they sense him speaking and they ask permission to share what God is saying. You'd be amazed how positively people respond.

The week after Edge Sunday we gather again and tell the stories of what God has done.

It's all part of a continuing process of turning people outward. Many of our people were ‘de-churched' before they came to us. You've got to turn them outwards.

9. What's your relationship with the Anglican church?

We were planted with the help of St Mary's London and we are part of the network of St Mary's churches.

Initially we held discussions with a representative of the diocese about planting the church as an Anglican church. They wanted to wait a few years. We were ready to go. So we had to start up independently, even though I am an ordained minister with the Anglican church.

We are still working toward formal recognition as an Anglican church. The Bishop of Exeter has just decided to give me permission to officiate in this diocese. He has also agreed to designate us as a misson order of the Anglican church. It's a new concept just approved by General Synod which allows a bishop to find a mission priest and plant them in any parish, even if a local church objects.

10. How has being a part of the St Marys network of churches helped?

Having a “mother ship” supporting us has been crucial. The most valuable aspect has been the friendship we have with St Marys and the growing number of churches in the network in Britain and around the world in New Zealand, Uganda, the US and Germany.