EVERYDAY CHURCH: transforming the ordinary
Opening up the church as a safe place in the community where needs can be met and where God’s love in Jesus can be found.
Stainbeck United Reformed Church, Leeds was built in 1931 and is set in the middle of estates which are diverse both culturally and socially. These estates include socially deprived areas which are ‘hard to reach’ and the churches had little impact on them. During the late 1990”s the church had lost its mission edge and numbers were declining. Confidence was low and the building had become a target for local youth to vandalise. The elders recognised that the church had to change if it was to regain its relevance to the local community.
In 2001 an Interim Minister was appointed (50%) in order to work with the church to discern possible future mission and ministry. Alongside this the local Anglican Diocese had done a Mission Audit in 2000 and identified two of our local estates as being ‘unchurched’. These were set on Stainbeck’s doorstep resulting in conversations with our two Anglican colleagues about ways to address this.
Work then began to establish a local ecumenical project which finally became a reality in 2005 when a Community Worker was appointed. The aim of the project was …… ‘to discover God’s purpose for the area as we learn to share the love of Jesus in words and action.’
Stainbeck began to do the theology: as we shared activities together with others we would build relationships and trust. In this way we would get to know one another and discover those things which were important to us. Out of such relationships questions of faith arise. ‘Why are you doing this?’ These are real opportunities to share what God means to us and why we follow Jesus.
Where did the idea come from? How did it start?
The idea arose from local need and a desire for the church to regain its place within the community.
Who is it for at what needs is it meeting?
It is for everyone and it is about enabling the community to work together for the well-being and safety of all.
What preparation did you do?
We worked with others to identify local needs using statistics already gathered and updates from schools, Children Centres, Council Housing, Police etc. These contacts were made through Community Forums etc and sustained through an inter-agency meeting for the area. This meeting was facilitated by the church.
What resources did you need and how did you find them?
We needed help with funding to make our building accessible with sufficient toilets and kitchen facilities. This was obtained through church mission funds and through the local council and other funds (eg Church Urban Fund). As the church opened its doors funding became available. Community Groups use the building free of charge offering a donation if they have sufficient funds. As the outcomes were discovered so the congregation responded with generosity. In the same way people in the church and community responded with offering expertise and volunteer hours to support us.
Who have been your partners in the project?
Local churches and local agencies.
How did the congregation get on board?
The congregation gradually began to understand the concept of Community Ministry through preaching, teaching and the day by day living of it. It is a ministry of welcome, hospitality and generosity and about creating a safe place for people to come and find a listening ear, help for their current issues and to explore questions of faith when they are ready.
What were the key steps?
It was an ongoing journey for the congregation over the course of 5 years and continues to develop and grow. There were some failures and many learning experiences.
What legislation did you have to deal with?
We had to be professional in our approach to accounting, safe-guarding, food handling, and all Health and Safety regulations. We had to recognize that we could not be seen as ‘amateurs’ in this situation if we were to work with others.
- IMPACT ON COMMUNITY
What impact has this work had on the life of the community?
The community now recognizes that the church is a place where they can find support of all kinds and where they are recognized as people of value and find respect and care.
How has this changed the relationship between the church and the community?
The church is now respected and is valued and has an effective voice in the community. There is no longer any vandalism and everyone feels accepted and welcomed and safe.
- IMPACT ON THE CHURCH
How does the work connect with your faith and mission?
Links are now made with local residents and once relationships and trust grow needs can be met and issues of faith arise quite naturally.
How has the life of the church been transformed because of this project?
Through the sharing of ordinary and everyday activities interaction with those outside the normal church circles is possible. A new understanding grows with those whose lives are different from our own – refugees, asylum seekers, those struggling with issues around debt, homelessness, mental health or perhaps simply a dis-satisfaction with their current circumstances.
Hearts and minds have been changed and it has also encouraged within the congregation a desire to know more about their faith and to have confidence to share their own experience of God.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND WEBLINKS:
Beyond the Good Samaritan, Ann Morisy, Continuum 1994 (and other books)
www.livability.org.uk (Community engagement)
National Church Estates Network (NCEN) http://www.nationalestatechurches.org
https://interactleeds.wordpress.com InterACT: Church and Community Partnership