We catch up with Keith Hitchman who explains more about the projects he's been involved with and why they are making a difference in the city.
You’ve been pioneer minister in the city centre for a number of years – why is it important we connect and network with that community?
In ‘seeking the welfare of the city’, the focus of River in the City (RitC) has been on outreach within the workplace and among city professionals. RitC is interested in building ‘spiritual capital’, and in this sense functions much like a consultancy service.
Drawing on imagery of ‘the river’, the Church grows in three co-relational ways: Firstly, growth above the surface - that which we can see and measure (numerical growth), secondly growth below the surface (devotional growth), and finally growth across the surface (influential growth).
It is vital that we as a Church look to extend our reach and influence in society. We do this by connecting with people, making authentic friendships, and joining with them in serving the community. It is my experience that as people see the Church in action and in conversation, they are more likely to engage with the Jesus and His message. This approach is not a quick fix. It’s more of a long game.
What has River in the City been exploring?
Over the last five years RitC has adopted a two-pronged strategy. Firstly, to listen both to God and to the city, to discern where and how God is working, and to get into the flow of what the Spirit is doing. Together with our friends in Christian, other faith, and secular organisations we have been involved in Liverpool City Centre Street Pastors, Riverforce & Merseyside Police Chaplaincy Service, Liverpool Green Partnership, and other initiatives.
Secondly, we have sought to put on high quality events, as RitC (City Leaders Breakfast) and in partnership with other agencies (Networking Dinners, Fairness Summit, and Leadership Retreats).
RitC is based in Liverpool city-centre, and has a city-wide remit.
As a result of these connections you have been working with Bay TV on a religious programme. How did that come about?
Initially I was approached by Bay TV to advise on their religious broadcasting after being recommended by city colleagues. I offered to try my hand at presenting!
What is Bay TV – and what is the importance of getting involved with community based TV?
Bay TV is a Merseyside-based community television station. It was launched in November 2014, although content had previously been available on the web since it was granted a local digital television licence in February 2013. The station is transmitted from studios in Toxteth and broadcasts each day from 6am to 11pm.
It is important for the Church to be involved with local television and digital media, because it is simply another way we can serve our city and community. This is increasingly important in our visual culture.
What is the format?
The programme I present, Faith Matters, is essentially a chat show. Broadcasting on Sunday’s and repeated through the week, Faith Matters looks at Merseyside life through the prism of spirituality, faith, and belief. It is sofa-based, laid-back and informal!
How do you chose subjects and guests?
I work closely with this with the programme’s producer, Neil Duffin. We try to choose a range of subjects and speakers, representing both the Christian faith and other spiritual traditions. We are part of a multi-cultural pluralistic culture, and it’s important to give everyone a fair shout.
Is this church? And if so how is church manifested through it?
Church is wherever Jesus’s followers are. The ministry of Jesus is a table ministry. Jesus spent far more time sitting at other people’s tables than He did inviting people to sit at His. Even the Last Supper took place around a borrowed table. Recording Faith Matters, I sit around a coffee table with friends. At this table I am both a guest (of BayTV) and a host. It’s a Jesus thing.
In presenting the programme as a Christian minister, I try to keep Jesus and His message in focus. I always ask guests from other faith traditions a ‘Jesus Question’, which they are more than happy to answer. People don’t mind talking about Jesus.
How does it support our desire to grow the church, support the notion of a bigger church making a bigger difference?
Faith Matters has the potential to make a big impact on a big audience of Merseysiders. Recent analysis of viewing patterns for community TV nationwide suggests that Bay TV’s viewing is high compared with other stations and areas. The station is accessible in more than 930,000 homes across the city-region and beyond. The impact is hard to quantify, but the conversations I am having with people about the show in places as diverse as my local medical centre and supermarket would indicate that it has having an effect.
Is there a danger this is simply a vanity project?
With a public facing role there is always this danger. We all have an ego, and we have to learn to keep it in check. Some more than others! Recognising it is half the battle.
How important is engaging with the secular media – surely they have done more harm than good to the church?
The media have come in for a bit of a bashing recently. It’s important we don’t demonise the media or the people who work in it. The media have an important role as educators and informers. Yes, the media are guilty of many things, but they are also a voice for the voiceless, exposing injustice and holding to account the institutions of state. This includes the Church as an institution. The media help to keep us transparent. By engaging with the media at a local as well as a national level, we can help to make sure that the media are equally transparent in their practices.