Where Am I?

I grew up in Streatham, South London, a beautiful place with large commons, wide roads, a unique high street and endless summers. I loved living in Streatham and thought I knew the place inside out. I even joined the nostalgic Streatham Balham and Tooting memories group which celebrates the past glories of these wonderful halcyon places.   Every now and then someone posts an obscure, ‘Where am I?’ photo and we all try and name the place – often getting it wrong.

‘Where are we?’  was the big question we discussed at last night’s excellent church meeting; some bright spark of course answered, ‘Hatchlands Road’ but this question begins an honest assessment of the current state of play at RBC and how healthy we really are.  It’s crucial that we are honest and own where we are as we begin to grasp the length, depth and breadth of possibilities and vision for our future.   A recent survey of Baptist churches revealed that despite some churches flourishing and growing 1/3 of churches are in marked decline, whilst another 1/3 are remaining stable …… but for long? We are collecting feedback and data from every aspect of church as we ascertain whether our focus of time, energy and resource is in the right place.

Three immediate actions lead from these discussions.  Firstly, the CLT are inviting all wider leaders and coordinators to join them in a ‘learning hub’, meeting with leadership teams from other churches to explore whole life discipleship.  Secondly, Mairi and I hosting a few conversations with interested people asking, ‘How can we help RBC grow into a welcoming, vibrant, inclusive community?’  This will be a series of meals at the manse, starting after Easter.  Thirdly, I’m setting up a Sunday review group to feedback on how we are doing on Sundays; my background in retail reminds me that we should always review and improve our shop window, which is what our Sunday mornings are. I’d love that group to include people of all ages (including Mettlers) and backgrounds.

Some of the groups last night expressed the desire to move out of our comfort zone and perhaps even out of the building a bit more often, which led right into our community pastor Miranda updating us on her involvement with the Cromwell Road community.  We’d like to spend a Sunday morning service litter picking and tidying the estate with the residents, as well as help them put on a summer fair in July. 

We would also like to appoint two new elder /trustees to join our new leadership team.  Our hope is that our leadership team will reflect the wonderful diversity of age, ethnic background and gender that we have at RBC, and I reminded folks that Mairi was a deacon at 23, I was a Pastor at 28.

What’s the missing ingredient? Prayer! We must be praying, to discern where God is at work and to ensure these are not just ideas and strategy. Here’s a thought I didn’t share last night, I’d like to explore using our Sunday evenings as more of a prayer gathering, enjoying our hour together following some Celtic liturgy which incorporates song, scripture, silence, space and most importantly supplication or prayer.

Where are we?

Where are you?

How would you answer?

See you Sunday for our Mother’s Day service when Mairi will be preaching on ‘life’s first cry’.

The Odeon Streatham…… happy days

Some days are better than others

‘Some days are better than others’ 

A line from one of my favourite U2 songs from their Zooropa album 1993 and it was certainly a sentiment I was feeling last Friday. Exhausted from a night shift at the night shelter I kept coming up with ‘blanks’ as I tried to finish my sermon prep.  Most weeks everything is ready by Thursday evening, but last week it just wasn’t happening.   In the end I wrote down what was on my heart about my love, concern and vision for church as shaped by my biblical understanding of the type of church Jesus promised to build.

On Sunday the tech wasn’t working well, videos didn’t play, and I stood up to deliver my thoughts on church being more about community than congregation. More about belonging than attending. More about being than volunteering. Also, that building good community might be just as an effective model of outreach than town centre street evangelism and door-to-door visits.  We finished the service by moving the chairs into groups or huddles and serving each other with the bread and wine of communion whilst the worship band played over us. To me it gave a glimpse of a new way of being Redhill Baptist church community.

I am so encouraged by the positive responses from people over the last few weeks and the number of people who have indicated they want to take this further. I’m starting a conversation about community where we can practically think and address the question: how do we build a community that is welcoming, friendly and inclusive? What would it look like to have less meetings together and more meals? I’m inviting people to join a conversation, not a committee, and we will start with an informal meal at the manse where we talk, dream and pray. I’ll send out the details next week.

We’re putting this approach into practice this Easter. I was planning on having our Good Friday service on site before we join the walk of witness in the town centre. However, now we’re going to have a Good Friday Breakfast together instead. A time to eat and share a simple breakfast before we gather at 1o:30am to head down town.

‘Somedays you hear a voice

Taking you to another place

Some days are better than others.’

See you Sunday

Eco Church

A very warm welcome to Ruth Fraser our guest blogger this week. Over to you Ruth…….

Thank you for inviting me to write this guest blog to introduce Ecochurch to you.  I heard about Ecochurch a few years ago, but when Graham mentioned it to the Live Justly group last year, we really felt it was something we wanted to take forward.

Ecochurch is an award scheme run by A Rocha. It provides a framework for the church to care for God’s creation, as we are instructed to do in Genesis, in all aspects of our church life and in our own lives outside of church.

The framework covers five key areas of church life:

  • Worship and teaching
  • Management of church buildings
  • Management of church land
  • Community and global engagement
  • Lifestyle

When we’ve got a certain number of points in each of the five sections, we can apply for the bronze, silver and ultimately, gold, awards (there are only a handful of churches in the country that have reached gold).

The A Rocha Eco Church conference in Islington last Saturday was a tremendous gathering of representatives from churches looking for practical ways to improve our care of the earth in considered, science-backed, faith-inspired ways.

The sessions provided lots of practical advice on divestment from fossil fuels, making our buildings more comfortable (temperature-wise) and looking at renewable energy. There were also sessions on worship and measuring carbon footprints.

We want Redhill Baptist Church to take stock of what we do at the moment, and work out how we can improve. There are lots of things we do as a church already. But we don’t want to stop there, we want to do more, and encourage other churches too. But these are not separate or distractions from our work, they are part of it. Our recent clothes swap with Reigate Baptist and Reigate St Mary’s was PART of our women’s ministry, raised money for Tearfund, and prevented loads of clothes being thrown away, and meant that loads of fast fashion clothes weren’t bought in the first place.

If we were to car share more, it would reduce air pollution, but ALSO ease the space in the car park.

So, is it going to be easy? – yes, some of it! Other bits might take a bit more thought. Others still will mean taking an initial financial hit, or be inconvenient. We are not far off bronze level, and I’d love to get the last few things tied up before about Easter.

I would love to have everyone involved to a degree – either as part of the Ecochurch team, or taking on a specific task – for example installing bird boxes, committing to keeping a bird feeder replenished. If you’re co-ordinating the prayer letter, make sure we have specific prayer for environmental concerns each month.

One thing I’d love to do is a pop-up washing up liquid refill station, whereby you refill washing up bottles from large bottles with environmentally friendly options, reducing plastics use in the process. I’d love to extend the Infinity Foods order we do at Redhill and Reigate Food Group to include some people from church who are interested in a food cooperative.

Eco Church is not perfect – its developers are the first to admit that. But what it gives us is a framework for improving our impact on the environment. We will not ‘save the planet’, but we can do our part personally, as a church and in encouraging others to help reduce the damage we are doing, and protect those least able to protect themselves from suffering the devastating effects of climate chaos.

You can have a look at the framework, including the survey that I’ve done at https://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/

Please come and have a chat if you want to know anymore

Ruth

Belong

It’s 4am and I’m sitting in Room 1 at church surrounded by some of the loudest snoring I have ever heard. We had 10 guests at the night shelter when I came on duty at 10pm last night. One left in the early hours because the snoring was too loud. He preferred to take his chances for rest out on the street. I feel bad for the guy nearest me, he’s trying to get some rest as he must be up earlier than the others to get to work. How anyone can sleep through this noise is beyond me, I’ve never heard anything like it.  It’s like a cross between industrial turbo engines misfiring and artificial alien animal noises, even with my noise cancelling headphones on, the sound is getting through.

It’s never dull here at the night shelter. Two of us have to stay awake through the night, especially as another of our guests has a mild form of Alzheimer’s and gets very disoriented when he wakes in the night.  I’ve just stopped him trying to find the loos in the main church sanctuary, that could have been awkward.  An email came in earlier this evening highlighting the urgent volunteer gaps over the next few weeks, I know lots of RBC folks have been to the training, it would be great if we can ensure that all the vacant volunteer spaces are filled, especially on a Thursday when we host the shelter.

In a few hours’ time, I’ll go home breakfast, shower and rest for a few hours before enjoying my day off.  For these guys though, their day is quite different, they’ll be on the street or at the drop in or somewhere else until this evening; then they have to get themselves to the next venue.  One guest told me last week about how disorientating it is moving from place to place every day, ‘We just feel like scum,’ he said, ‘no one wants us,’ actually he didn’t say scum, you can guess the real word he used.

We’ve gone out of our way to welcome our guests each week and chatting to them confirms they do feel at home, safe and welcome here. But what would the response be if they all turned up this Sunday at 10am, looking a bit worse for wear, carrying their bags and maybe a bit disoriented from the night before? Would they receive the same welcome?

I bumped into an old friend this week, we worked out we hadn’t seen each other for 16 years and apart from a few extra pounds and slightly bigger foreheads we both recognised each other and picked up where we left off over a decade and a half ago. He now has a ministry for alternative people that are journeying spiritually but cannot fit in mainstream church. Deeply spiritual people, seeking God, but they’ve either been rejected by or hurt by churches in the past, yet they are still seeking God.

Someone wrote to me this week and asked the question, ‘If we come to your church will we be hurt?’

‘Not intentionally, but yes’ is the answer, because church is people and people say and do the wrong thing and cause offence without meaning to.  We’re a community of broken people, trying to find our way, so be patient with us and we’ll be patient with you.

The connecting thought is that of acceptance and belonging; all the people and situations I’ve mentioned are looking to belong and be accepted somewhere – as they are and for who they are. Yet all are people who have experienced rejection. This is so counter to how I understand the gospel and how I personally have experienced the welcome and acceptance of Jesus. Jesus who was always criticised for being with the wrong types of people.  It breaks my heart when prejudices and preconceptions lead to people being turned away and rejected from the one community where all should be welcome.

The stories I’ve told are just a snap shot of the encounters and conversations I’ve had with people this week on this theme. I’m feeling particularly challenged in this area of welcome, acceptance and belonging… are you?