A Liverpool Hope University lecturer is leading a quarter-of-a-million pound Church of England project aiming to build new congregations in Lancashire.
Dr Rebekah Okpoti has been appointed coordinator of Choir Church, a major new initiative from Blackburn Diocese and the Choir Church Foundation that will see 24 new congregations launch across the red rose county by 2026.
The project, which received a total of £249,530 of funding from the Church of England, takes an innovative approach to worship, utilising the power of choral music to increase the number of people attending Eucharistic mass.
Dr Okpoti is overseeing the entire scheme, which uses school-based children’s choirs to build the new congregations.
As part of the initiative, a team of choral directors, supported by clergy, will lead the choirs on a weekly basis at after school clubs.
Every three weeks, the choir will sing at a mass held in the school, which is open to all and supported by a ‘planting team’ of existing worshippers.
These services are simplified, 30-minute versions of a traditional mass and take a family friendly approach, using language children will understand.
“I’m really honoured to be leading the Choir Church initiative for Blackburn Diocese and grateful to the Church of England for funding it,” said Dr Okpoti, music lecturer in the School of Creative and Performing Arts.
“As an organist it is a fantastic opportunity to share my passion for choral music, but the aim of this project is much broader than that.
“It’s about making sure that the church is still relevant in its community and it does so by challenging the idea that you can only receive communion in Church on a Sunday morning.
“That’s really important if churches are to better engage with schools and families.”
Still in its first year, Choir Church has already seen an additional 300 people attend mass across Lancashire.
Community organising will become central to the project as it progresses, with these new, school-based congregations required to run a social justice initiative, such as a foodbank.
And, should the project prove successful, it could well be rolled out across the country.
“These first three years are very much a test,” added Dr Okpoti.
“Choir Church came out of an idea at St Paul’s Cathedral in East London, where one person was running two after school clubs.
“I am running it county wide and we are already seeing the benefit, with 300 more people attending mass and thousands more having conversations about faith in school as a result of the project.
“If it continues to prove successful it could serve as a model to be rolled out on a national scale.”