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Ten years in the making 

Guildford Baptist Church has recently completed a major redevelopment of its Millmead Centre premises. Senior pastor Ian Stackhouse gives an insight into the decade-long project - and reflects on the reality of it coming to fruition now 


One Wednesday afternoon in June, about 10 years ago, I sat on a pew in the somewhat iconic Millmead auditorium trying to imagine what a new building might look like. Next to me was Stephen Lampard, the senior partner of an architectural practice in nearby Alton, who, by a strange providence, did actually remember the building when he used to come as a child with his parents. Over the next year we put shape to a comprehensive plan that would make the tired 1970s building that Millmead had become into a place that was lighter, brighter and more hospitable.

In truth, the process of redesigning Millmead, making it fit for purpose, began about a year earlier when Graham Ball, who eventually became our centre manager, urged us as leaders to think not so much about the building but about the ministry and mission of the church. It is so easy, he argued, to think bricks and mortar, but what we really needed to work out was what we wanted the building to achieve. Although it slowed us down, this was vital work. Through a series of consultation groups across the church we eventually ended up, as best you can of course, with a brief that would inform the kind of conversations Stephen and I were having on that Wednesday afternoon.

Being a phased project, there are so many challenges to face, not least keeping the interest of the church over such a long period of time. In many ways it would have been easier, as well as cheaper, to have knocked the old building down and start again. But then again, a phased project gave us the opportunity to journey as a congregation, letting the new spaces, as they emerged, act as a kind of catalyst for our life together. Building programmes alone cannot do this renewal work for you; we were fully aware of that. You can have a welcoming new building, but an unwelcoming community; just like you can have an unwelcoming old building but a welcoming community. Even so, where there is a determination to become more hospitable as a community, it is possible for a building programme to both provoke as well as reflect, eventually, such an aspiration of warmth and openness. It certainly did in our case, in large measure due to the courage and vision of our elders and our project team – especially our project manager, Colin Henry.

As a member of the congregation, Colin knew the church well. He not only shared the vision for the church, but also had the gifts and expertise to deliver what has turned out to be a £6.5m redevelopment. The day he shared with me that he wanted to offer his services to the church was the day I knew we had a project on our hands. Whilst I carried a vision for a new building, I knew full well that there was only so much I could do to get things going. I am a pastor and preacher, not a project manager. I most definitely didn’t want this programme to become my graveyard. With Colin, however, we not only got someone who had technical expertise but someone who could also inspire faith. It has been a joy and a privilege to work alongside him and to see our dreams become reality.

As with any project that has been conceived in prayer, we have many stories of God’s faithfulness in providing over this last decade– not just monies, but also alternative spaces for us to use when we have needed it. Why the answers to our prayers so often come at the eleventh hour has certainly tested our faith, I can tell you. But when the answer comes, it is all the more wonderful, as I am sure you know. The congregation have simply been astonishing in the levels of their giving, prayer, as well as encouragement to the leadership over such a long period of time.

To say we have finished a building project is also to say we have begun a new chapter in the life of Millmead. In many ways the challenges have only just begun; and the fact that we have completed the final phase now, (a new sanctuary, a coffee shop, a new foyer and a new kitchen, plus a ground floor wet room for people with disability), at a time when we can’t fully function as a church, is one of those strange ironies – some would say tragedies. At a time of crisis, building new seems an odd thing to do. But I liken it to Jeremiah 32, where the prophet is told to buy a field in his hometown of Anathoth. Yes, in one sense it was a foolish thing to do. The Babylonians were about to ravage the land.

But in another sense, it represented a supreme act of hope: a prophetic sign that no matter how dark the days will become, the future belongs to God.


Ian Stackhouse is senior pastor of Guildford Baptist Church 

A loan from the Baptist Union Loan Fund (BULF) played a part in Guildford Baptist Church financing this project. More details about this loan facility can be found here.

The video was created by Jonathan Stocks (Goshawk FPV). The church is awaiting a full version to be filmed when congregation members are all back in the building.

Baptist Times, 05/10/2020
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