East London, UK
Imagine being shot at with an air rifle in the first few months of your new job. Welcome to the world of Cris Rogers, pastor of All Hallows Church in Bow. Faced with one of London’s toughest and most complex neighbourhoods, Cris spoke to Alpha about how he’s used the example of the radical lifestyle of Jesus to build an innovative church that feels like family.
60 Seconds with…
‘The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into.’ – Shane Claiborne.
Most inspired by?
Fr Duncan, the Anglo Catholic Priest working next door to us in the East End. A few years ago, he had to go through months of rehab after being stabbed by a guy in the street. Some time later he had a knock on his door. It was the young man who had attacked him. Duncan opened his arms and hugged the young guy who, by now, was sobbing.
What makes you laugh most?
I have quite an off-the-wall sense of humour. I laugh most with the people from Church. We sit around on a Sunday night – often it’s wild and silly but I love it.
How did you become a Christian?
I grew up familiar with Christianity, but I often had this sense that what I saw happening in the church and what I saw happening in the streets were totally disconnected. I thought, ‘surely if Jesus is true, then he’s true in the church building and out of the church building?’
When I was fifteen or sixteen, a whole set of things happened that began to make me feel like life was just starting to fall apart. I started reading the Gospel of Matthew. The Jesus that I found in the Gospels was so compelling, he was so rebellious. He did things that the Jewish rabbis of the day would never do. I was uncomfortable with the‘Christian’ label, but I found the idea of Jesus offering us something radically different so powerful that I felt I could follow Jesus.
Why do you think it’s important for the church to be creative and engage in contemporary culture?
Whether it’s in art or in music, the church has always captured something breathtaking using the creativity that’s around. Take the organ, that was originally a progressive instrument, it was seen as the ‘devil’s instrument’ once upon a time.
God is creativity. As you read the story in Genesis, God puts Adam and Eve in the garden and says, ‘Look, I want you to look after it, I want you to create, I want you to make.’
What have been the biggest challenges for you in leading this church?
Very early after moving here, somebody shot at me with an air rifle. We had a murder twenty yards from our front door two days before Christmas. Two weeks ago a brick was fired through our bedroom window by a catapult from one of the tower blocks.
One of the things I recognised is that we will just run out of steam unless we spend time each day trying to find out what God wants us to do. Every day God gives me new eyes for this community, to see the beauty in the brokenness.
So there have been serious challenges. What about the highlights?
A friend of ours who works at the local housing association recently said, ‘since you have been here, this community’s come back to life again’. That’s the most encouraging thing I’ve heard, as I think Christians should be known for their life, their vitality and their joy. We just want to be known as that church: the party church.
So we’re out a few times a year, we do barbecues, we do a Halal barbecue. Over the summer we held one and served 300 burgers to our Muslim community. If the kingdom of God is like a party, then we need to start living that now, and not waiting for it to happen.
How has Alpha worked in your church?
I would say two-thirds of our church have been on Alpha, and most of them have come to faith through Alpha. Some are people who had been Christians, abandoned faith, and then rediscovered it on Alpha. But most of them are totally new Christians, which is what’s so exciting about it.
Alpha has worked for our church as it creates a space that most people don’t normally have to be honest and ask those honest, difficult questions. In a normal day-to-day context, they haven’t got time to stop and think about it – they’ve got a few seconds, or a little bit of a conversation, then they push it back and it’s gone. At Alpha, I think people can really chew on an idea that they wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to voice.
Interview by Yosola Olorunshola
Photography by Luke Williams