The Church in the Haven School

Martin Keenan

Eastbourne! It’s a name that brings many jokes to mind, most of them the expense of the elderly! But the demographics of Eastbourne have changed: there are more people under 25 than over 65; the highest population group is the 40-50 year olds. Eastbourne has a harbour and new housing development that has been in existence for several years and is still expanding and in that housing development is a Fresh Expression church: “The Church in the Haven School”. This is its story.


It began in the 1990s with the Crumbles Christian Fellowship, in the Kingsmere estate. This failed and was followed two years later by the Haven church. The Kingsmere ‘Conqueror’s Hall, opened in October 1997, was booked for a prayer support team meeting as several denominations and church groups were interested in a church plant in this new area. Eventually a committee of Anglicans and Methodists began to make progress in 1997 when Revd. Melvyn Cooke started to work on the project. The purpose was to set up a church that was different. This was to be a church for the unchurched, following a Willow Creek style of service.


The Methodist circuit was determined to plant a seeker sensitive church, but the partnership was with High Church Anglicans. Opposition came from the vicar in whose parish this church was to be planted. He was opposed to evangelism in his parish and to the church being started with Methodists, but when it went ahead, he insisted that the services be Anglican High Church services.


The Haven school was due to open in September 1999 and denominational funding was made available on condition that a church was started in the school. This plan did not have the full approval of the circuit meeting and, in fact, there were some strong objections to the work going ahead. The school eventually opened in September 2001, a year late, due to building problems.


There were thirty-one people from St. Aidan’s Methodist church who had expressed an interest in joining a church plant group. This was not a church planting team chosen because of gifting and calling, but rather a group of people who had a variety of reasons for wanting to leave their church and be part of a new one. By January 2001 this group had reduced to ten people.


I moved to the circuit in August 2001 and on the 14th October we held a commissioning service for the church at the vicar’s house. This was our first formal service with both the Bishop of Lewes and the Methodist District Chairman signing the constitution of the church. As far as both denominations were concerned this appeared to be the beginning of the church, but there was still to be the launch service when we moved into the school. We held our first service in the school library on February 3rd 2002 with a congregation of fifteen. The following week, at 3pm we had 300 people at our launch service. This was followed by a troubled three years during which I resigned and was then asked by the Bishop to stay.


Last September, (2005) the vicar left, we moved into the vicarage and every church service became seeker targeted, based on the Purpose-Driven approach, until Mother’s Day 2006, when we changed to six different services as follows:

1st Sunday in the month

10.00am Seeker Service: This multi-media service especially appeals to those who are interested in finding out about the Christian faith, but there's plenty for those who've been on the way for a while too.

2nd Sunday in the month

10.00am Creative worship: Here the Christians use our God-given talents, gifts and abilities to worship in interesting and creative ways (1 Corinthians 14: 26).

3rd Sunday in the month

10.00am Open Forum: A very popular service where there's time planned to allow small group discussions about the sermon! This meets the intention of the “Time to Talk of God” report.

4th Sunday in the month

9.00am Communion Service: A 30-minute service, non-traditional but reverent.

10.00am Messy Church: A family service with a difference!! For kids 0-100!!

5th Sunday in the month

10.00am Praise Service: Come and join the celebration.


One of the main reasons for the variety was because of current church attendance patterns. We find that people do not attend weekly, every other week, monthly, or in any recognisable pattern, so we thought we would give them a variety of opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel in a way that suits them. We have found that older members prefer the Open Forum, whereas the young families prefer Messy Church (for more on this, watch the first FX DVD!)


Having lost around 18 people from the church when the vicar left, this past 15months has been like a relaunch of the church, this time as a Fresh Expression. In this time there have been a lot of rifts and spiritual attacks, but we are still here and growing.


One our members had this to say, : “I came to the Haven Church because I was looking for something. Although to be honest I don't think I knew this back then. I started to bring my daughter who loves the Children’s Ministry. After sitting at the back quietly listening for quite a while, I started to get involved with the church by helping in the Sunday school and Crèche. And then I found it - or should I say Him - or perhaps He found me?

I guess I'm not your typical looking church-goer (although I'd love for someone to explain exactly what that is!). Well The Haven is not a typical church. There are no uncomfortable seats, no dress-code and no sleep-inducing sermons. Martin's mission was to start a church which defies all preconceived notions of what a church should be - and he has succeeded. Every Sunday service is different.”


Our aim is to enable people from a non-church background to feel comfortable while exploring the Christian faith. It hasn’t been an easy ride. There have been difficulties, nightmares and trouble, but I wouldn’t change places with anyone. To see a church start from nothing to progress to what we today is worth all the trouble. There are still trials and frustrations, but there are plenty of blessings as well. So if you are visiting Eastbourne anytime come and visit us. If not, our website is


Rev Martin Keenan studied theology at The Nazarene Theological College in Didsbury, Manchester and was ordained in the Church of the Nazarene in 1993. His first church in 1990 was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he ministered for four years. When the Troubles ended he moved to Taunton, Somerset, and subsequently to Sherburn Circuit in North Yorkshire having transferred into the Methodist Ministry. In August 2001 he was invited by the Eastbourne Circuit to be the minister of Hailsham Methodist church and to become involved in the planting of the Haven Church. Since September 2005 his role in has been as minister of The Haven with responsibility for Youth Work in the Circuit.

Headline Summer 2007 pp.11-12.