Would Jesus be a gentrifier? How Christianity is embracing urban renewal

To a new breed of churches, dilapidated neighbourhoods are the fallen world – and salvation lies not just in prayer but in pop-ups, vintage shops and bakeries

0
Stokes Croft
Stokes Croft / © Rufus Cox/Getty Images

In the 1990s, the Bristol neighbourhood of Stokes Croft was a hub of unchecked creativity. The vast Victorian façades, many of which had been abandoned to the elements, were a ready-made canvas for street artists such as Banksy and Robert Del Naja (also known as 3D), who became household names. Sound systems piled into squats while the police turned a blind eye, fostering global stars such as Tricky and Massive Attack.

Two decades on, and Stokes Croft is increasingly home to artisan coffee shops, burger bars and craft ale pubs that signify urban modernity. The graffiti, once a marker of lawlessness, is now consigned to council-sanctioned tourist sites.

In this environment, the 123 Space, located halfway up the road of Stokes Croft, fits right in. It’s a creative venue for hire, hosting everything from art shows to coffee roastings. Its slate-grey exterior sits comfortably beside the multicoloured patchwork of high-street shopfronts. Inside, under the exposed timber and brickwork, is the Elemental Collective, a community grocery. There are no stained-glass windows and no tabernacle. Nothing marks it out as a church.

But every Thursday evening, its proprietors meet here to worship, where they stand in a circle and smile knowingly at one another: more yoga session than sermon. This is the LoveBristol church. Its members pursue idiosyncratic beliefs within a loose structure – a belief in prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the power of the Holy Spirit in instigating modern-day miracles. […]