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Rochford Congregational Church, North Street, Rochford, Essex SS4 1AB
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Rev David Saunders - Senior Minister  e-mail: david@rochford.cc
Rev Andrew Leach - Associate Minister e-mail: andrew@rochford.cc
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Rochford Congregational Church
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Talking with Andrew Leach, Associate Minister of Rochford Congregational Church  (January 20th 2011)
   
Rochford Life: Andrew, would you tell us, first of all, what your role is here in Rochford Congregational Church
Andrew: Well my official title is Associate Minister which involves supporting David Saunders, the senior minister, with particular emphasis on children and young people’s work, and trying to work a bit with the younger families in the church. In April I will have been here ten years. The original plan was to be here three years working alongside David but he’s been spared many extra years on his ministry. At that point he had had a heart attack and was suffering with a cancer, so thing have changed a bit. At that point I might have had to take over as the sole minister here and carry on the good work that David has done but it hasn’t worked out that way and so ten years in, I am really finding my role really. There are many things I get called on to do. When David is away on ministry abroad, then I am in sole leadership, with a team of deacons.   

RL: David’s quite often away?
Andrew: Yes, he goes to America, to Brazil, to India and to Eastern Europe so, yes, he travels quite extensively; he goes to Africa later this year as well, and when he goes away it is usually for a few weeks so I get a good run at ‘being in charge’ if you like.  

RL: OK. What’s your background? Where do you come from?
Andrew: Originally I’m from Rochdale in Lancashire, that’s where I was born and brought up. I went down to the Midlands to train at the Birmingham Bible Institute and through that got placed in a Congregational Church. My original background was Baptist church but I then spent twelve years in the West Midlands in West Smethwick and was then called by this church to come down here.

RL: So your role is with an emphasis on the community?
Andrew: Yes. I’ve been a school governor at Waterman Primary for eight years, so I’ve seen a few changes there. That gives me contacts with adults in the community so I’m not just church-focused and I also do a weekly school assembly with them. |Also because we have chapels out at Canewdon and Pagglesham I go into the Canewdon Primary, not as regularly but from time to time. As well as that we do children’s and youth work on a Friday night called Awesome and Lighthouse and I’m involved in leading that and I  have a team of workers alongside me in it. Children’s work is something I’ve developed into in the last ten years while I’ve been here; I do the youth work as well but again, it’s really not my calling, but because I’ve been here ten years now, my own children – I have two children who were six and eight when we arrived and now they are sixteen and eighteen – have grown through the church as I’ve been the minister to them and their contemporaries and friends. It’s been interesting for in some ways it’s not advisable for the youth leader to be your Dad, but it hasn’t hindered their faith, they’ve come on well.

RL: I believe you also do football?
Andrew: Yes, that’s right. This is an inter-church thing that grew up in the Southend area. We call it the Football League of Churches Flock, because what happened was that some of our boys about six years ago were getting caught up with Sunday morning football, and so to meet that need and help them keep active involvement in church we decided to set up a Saturday morning league and with the help of Richard Verinder from St. Michael’s in Southend who’s particularly been a great help as the league secretary and without whom it may not have got going, and also a chap from Hawkwell Baptist has been involved as the Treasurer. We actually play at Prince Avenue School and so a few hours on a Saturday morning we have this seven a side league, and we draw in boys at four different levels – under 9’s, under 12’s, under 14’s and under 16’s and that’s been a great way of linking up with the community. We have one boy who is still worshipping with us when he can on a Sunday who is at the Academy at West Ham. Our ethos was ‘any boy and whatever their standard’ (and girls have joined in during the last couple of years). Sometimes other leagues without Christian influence can get very demanding and parents can get very irate over what is going on, and I think our atmosphere has generally been better in the sense that there is a bit more respect for each other and a bit more of a community about it really.

RL: Can I ask, what is it that makes this a ‘Congregational Church’? What does that name mean?
Andrew: The Bible speaks of every church being made up of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; that is what church is. But the Congregational Church is about the way we do things as a church, the way we decide things as a church. Basically everything is decided by the members of the church so we don’t make decisions from the top; there is no hierarchy in that sense. We do have leadership but the leadership goes to the members and says this is what we feel and if people are not in agreement, we don’t do it, which can sometimes slow things down but actually it is a good safety mechanism to save us going off the rails. So the main difference is the church government and how that works.

RL: So if someone comes in here they are not going to find you any different from any other church?
Andrew: No, that’s right. We sing hymns and choruses and we try for a balance between the two. We like to think we’re a family church of all ages, and so we do have babes in arms and we have a lady who will be a hundred in a few week’s time. We cover the whole span of ages and just like every family we have different tastes, so we go from the very traditional hymns to some of the latest choruses and try and merge the two together. As a church we also love to talk about the Lord Jesus Christ, to communicate the message of God’s love and what Jesus came into the world to do and so each Sunday we have preaching, explaining what the Bible means, for about 30 minutes. We think it is important that as Christians we need to understand what the Bible says, and so if there are people searching to find out what Christianity is all about, we want them to have time to hear, as well as to sing songs. As well as that we do a little children’s talk and that tends to fall to me. Between myself and David we share the ministry and so on a Sunday morning, if David is here, he will often be the speaker because he’s got many more years of preaching experience. So I tend to lead the Services and do a little children’s talk and then hand over to him to do the preaching, but in the evening Services I’ll often be doing those so we share the work load.   Our morning Service is 11.00pm for a little over an hour, and our evening Service is 6.30pm and lasts about an hour or so with coffee afterwards for people who want to stay and talk.

RL: Just one more thing that I didn’t pick up. Do you have a Sunday School during the Sunday Service month or do the children stay in?
Andrew: Once a month we have a Family Service where they stay in but to the other Services they go out to a Sunday School. We also have a couple of things we call Sleepovers that we have at the church for the juniors and for the teens. They are very tiring weekends but they are worth it as you get alongside the kids and get to know them

RL: Do you do social things?
Andrew: Oh yes, we do have social events so, for instance, this Saturday we’re having a Fellowship Evening which is just like a New Year’s Party, I suppose, where we get all the church together and have some fun and food. There will be a little epilogue talk at the end to  just round things up, but things like that are, I think, important, in getting people together not just in a Service, to get to know each other better

RL: Your hopes and dreams for this church?
Andrew: Because things have not gone the way I envisioned they would, I’ve had to take a rain check on that a little bit. I clearly hope that the young people that we’re working with will come to put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus and want to be part of this church community here. I have a dream that the church will grow numerically and I still have a vision for the family church. I don’t want to a youth church because I believe worshipping together is important. My faith is developing to believe God for more. The church is at a stage, I believe, where we have a ‘holy discontent’, where we want to see more of the Lord at work. We don’t want to be like we are now, next year. We want to see more happening and the people that are here growing in their faith and drawing other people in and making an impact around us really. The church has had rich times in the past where God has done great things and He hasn’t changed so we are still expectant but aware that in the modern climate is often hard and it is a struggle and to some we seem a million miles away from where they’re at.

RL: Is this your church, do you think?
Andrew: No, talking about the church in general, the group of churches we belong to is called the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches and over the years I’ve been part of that and later in the year I’ll be the Chairman of the Committee. There are about 120 churches in the Fellowship but that sense of ‘holy discontent’ we referred to, of the Lord reviving churches, is very much where we are at and it comes over in the prayer requests of the churches. That heart-felt cry for the nation is heard in many of them.

RL: Well thank you, Andrew, we’ll have to see what the future holds. That has been very clear and when David comes back from his travels perhaps I can get to talk to him as well. Thank you very much indeed for that.

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