The Bless Network began its life in 1995 as a dream of just two people. Gerard and Chrissie Kelly were experienced youth workers who had served churches in the UK and in France. They were convinced that more could be done to engage young people in God’s mission on mainland Europe and began by leading short-term teams from their home church in the West Midlands to Croatia and France.
Fifteen years later Bless has a core team of 10, based in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands, and 800 people have engaged in training, prayer and short-term service initiatives. During these same years churches in the UK and across Europe have become painfully aware of their ‘missing generation’ – the absence, from their ranks, of those in their 20’s and 30’s. Our response through Bless is not so much to promote mission to young adults as to engage in mission with young adults. Through partnerships with local churches across mainland Europe, we are forging a mission generation.
In 2009 the Kellys moved to Bethanie, a former cider farm in Normandy, France, to establish a permanent base for training and prayer at the heart of Bless. They have been joined by two other couples, and this small missional community are creating a centre equipped to welcome 300 people per year. Bethanie has accommodation for 30 and training facilities for 60 when lodged off-site, and a permanent prayer room focussing on European mission.
Bethanie offers a stepping-stone into mission in France and beyond. Here young adults gather from several different nations: for teaching and prayer; to listen and learn and to consider together the challenge of mission. Through links with local churches our community seeks to be a blessing to Normandy, to France and to Europe. Our programmes are shaped by extensive research into the missional needs of Europe. We are acutely aware of the pressures on young adults seeking to express faith in a postmodern context. We have developed a core curriculum that responds directly to contemporary cultural conditions.
Bless first came into being as a UK project, enabling young adults to take advantage of the genuine cross-cultural experiences available ‘just across the Channel’. Our work soon expanded to include participants from beyond the UK, and to date our students have also come from France, the Netherlands, Australia and the USA. Many come to us with deep questions about faith, church and the purpose of their lives. They find in Bless a new spiritual family able to help them to a place of confidence and purpose. Many discover and develop new gifts. Many set doubts aside and embrace deeper faith. All report an experience that has challenged and changed them. We call this process ‘missional formation’.