We’ve had a lot of exciting change at Peter’s House lately, moving into our office in Richmond and starting to work full time with each other as a creative agency for projects in the Church. All this change got us in a reflective mood, so we sat down with our friend and Peter’s House CEO, Nazar Alsamarai, to ask some questions and write up our story of how we got here.
Personally I’ve always had a strong association with Saint Peter, he’s probably the first saint I ever learned about. The first thing I learned about him was his name, meaning ‘rock’, which seemed really cool to me when I was a child. I also remember being really young and hearing a sermon about how Saint Peter always seems to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and finding that funny and identifying with that a lot.
Back when I was first thinking about this concept of bringing creative friends together for the sake of doing great things in the church, I picked up my bible and I came across 1 Peter 4: 9-10 which says:
‘Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.’
And it was this combination of hospitality, the use of gifts and this idea of being faithful stewards - it tied directly into this idea that I was having.
Well, the coffee shop had certain specific elements to it that fitted with that vision. It could be a place where people were comfortable and felt at home, it could be a platform for creatives and talented individuals to grow and share their work, a place for new people to encounter Christ through the work of others and the example of friendship - and it wasn’t self serving. The whole point was it was never supposed to be there for the sake of someone getting rich but as something that would be there to benefit the wider community. So, at first, I saw all of those things embodied by the idea of a coffee shop. In a sense, none of these fundamentals ever changed, it was just the medium that changed.
The concept of opening a coffee shop in London quickly went out the window once I started looking at the price of a tiny space down a back alley somewhere. But meanwhile, the idea continued to grow and change through conversations with friends.
Well, it became a creative agency because the conversations with friends quite quickly showed that basically what we had to do was to support the various missions of the church - to begin with the local church and then later the Church with a capital ‘C’.
And so the question became where is the Church under-resourced? Where are we best suited to support the Church? And when we brought together the talents we had it looked like a creative thing, that could be called upon when needed. It looked like a toolbox, or by today's standards a creative agency.
I’ve always been very enthusiastic towards new opportunities - I say yes a lot more than I say no.
When I was studying at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, I found myself in a situation where I had to fund my degree. So I looked for opportunities to do what I was good at and fund my degree at the same time - and at the time that looked like working for a short period of time for the local church. So I began helping some local churches around building websites and quite quickly realised that this wasn’t the most sustainable thing. I then put those things on hold and started working in a coffee shop - coffee is another big love of mine. But whilst I was working there, my mind was fixed on trying to create something bigger.
I decided one evening that it would be a good idea to set up a company - I was studying Business Management at the time and it was a bit of an impulse. I called it Peter’s House because I didn’t know what form it would take but I knew that that name still spoke to me. The morning after I thought ‘I don’t know why I’ve done that’ - it cost me £12 and that felt like a waste of money at the time.
A month or so passed, I’d come to the end of my second year and I decided to leave working in the coffee shop. This was mostly because I was kind of convinced that I would manage to come up with something through the summer and I was feeling disheartened by doing the same thing every day in this shop with no real development towards a future prospect even if it was helping me fund my degree. So I handed my notice in and I remember the day I left wondering whether or not it was a good decision.
That evening when I got home I had an e-mail asking if I would come for a meeting in central London to discuss a project by someone who knew one of the priests that I had built a website for. It turned out that this meeting would be to discuss taking on the online side of the Newman Canonisation.
Before that meeting, I realised that I didn’t really know what I was doing and that the Canonisation of John Henry Newman seemed beyond what I could do, so I called a friend. We talked through a lot of practical stuff, but I remember him saying ‘this is a really big deal and it we have to treat it as a really big deal.’
So it was at that meeting that it became apparent that Peter’s House had to pull together a team for the first time. We were being asked to basically publicise and manage the first canonisation of an English saint, who was not a martyr of the reformation, in over half a century. So I just remember praying and thinking that I needed to call in my friends. And that's where it started.
The whole concept of Peter’s House came from watching friends grow into a really strong creative team and into individuals who gelled really well together. From filmmakers to writers, photographers to designers, web-builders to project managers. A lot of these friends I already knew through working on church projects and because we were already friends we could chat together and laugh together and also be really challenging to each other in ways that really encouraged growth. As Peter’s House grew at the beginning, it wasn’t based, as much as I wanted it to be, on a business strategy, but it was this team organically growing together in friendship - being inspired by each other and challenged by each other. Nothing’s changed and I hope it doesn't.
The church doesn’t need Peter’s House - we as a Church, have a duty to live out The Great Commission, to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’. Peter’s House is a way in which we have come together to live out that Great Commission, to share our faith through beautiful art, good design, and testimony. We do this in the language and through the mediums that the majority of the world uses to communicate with today in the digital world.
I'm excited to see people continue to be inspired by the way in which we live that out - as a part of Peter’s House or through doing their own thing. One of the biggest things for me was a message we got on Instagram from a guy in Peru. He’s a designer and had always wanted to use his creative skills to support the Church in Peru but had never pursued it because he had never seen it done well so he didn’t consider it an option. His message said that for years he had this conflict and after seeing our work he wanted to pursue this, supporting his vocation to marriage and helping the church with good design locally. That kind of epitomised for me what Peter’s House is about - inspiring others to live out the Great Commission - to share the mission of Christ with those around them in the way that they know how.
Every day is pretty surreal at the moment. The conversations I have, the opportunities we have, still blow my mind. Because it's so exciting and weird to think how much we’ve grown over the last couple of years. I think for me the most surreal moments have been the times when I looked at something really incredible we’d done.
One day before the Newman Canonisation we were all together and there were thousands waiting to collect tickets - people wearing T-shirts that we had designed, praying with prayer cards we had created, people talking about videos we had filmed - and I just remember looking over at all the team stood together and being amazed by the impact this small group had had, just through friendship.