We had dinner with the deacons a couple of nights ago - and I'm still buzzing as a result! We were reviewing our year and discussing where we thought God may be leading us in the future. They were so affirming it was quite over-whelming. I actually think that they were getting more excited that us! Anyway, I was writing up some of the conversation to email to a friend and thought I may as well post it here as well, as much of this relates to u-turn
Before coming to Kings Heath we intended to spend some time simply settling-in. Though we had a number of ideas and possible aims in mind, our initial priority was simply to move house, get to know people, make friends and get used to life on the Estate. So, we have purposefully done just that – walking around the estate, picking the girls up from School, talking to other parents whilst pushing our youngest on a swing at the park, using the local shops, talking to the children/youth who live around the church grounds and learning their names…
Related to the above is our involvement with Urban Expression (UE), an urban mission agency that recruits, equips, deploys and networks teams seeking to pioneer creative and relevant expressions of church. We are UE associates, meaning that we receive training from them and are linked together with a number of other couples/teams in similar situations to our own. One of the UE values is thinking creatively about what church might look like – and how it might function in that community, searching for ways to live out the good news that are sensitive, authentic, appropriate and relevant to local.
This meant that we purposefully did not come here with fixed plans on what we were going to do. As stated, we wanted to spend time getting to know Kings Heath and the people who live here. So, we have spent a year doing that and seeking to discern God’s direction for us and how we might best serve the church (KHBC) and the estate.
Having said that, it was of course impossible to completely ignore our own goals and/or suspicions of what might be best! We wondered if God might be calling us here to plant a new church (as a daughter/sister/partner of KHBC), possibly around the new houses being built. We envisioned this being an informal gathering, perhaps simply a few couples meeting weekly for dinner, that would be non-threatening to those who found church culture quite alien. If not planting a new church, at the very least we suspected that God would lead us to start a new 'alternative' service at KHBC.
A complete surprise to us was our involvement with a large government-funded community development agency. I've been working on their steering group and have also been invited onto the management committee of the group that will take over when they clear off in April: Kings Heath Planning, Organisation and Development (K-POD). Elaine has been involved with the Residents Association, the PTA and has been invited to work with a new Domestic Abuse support group starting in March.
As it turned out, settling-in took longer than we expected. In large part, this was due to the situation with the House and the work that needed to be done. There was also a change of jobs for both of us (Elaine’s to change again very shortly) and getting the girls into school and nursery.
The latter has gone very well and the girls are well settled and enjoying themselves. However, I think it’s fair to say that we have struggled with getting used to being part-time and balancing jobs / church / family / Baptist Union requirements. We are getting slowly better at this (possibly!), but there is still room for improvement.
Church has obviously played a large part in our first year. I've really enjoyed ministering here through preaching, teaching, praying, sacraments and so on. We have both enjoyed getting to know people and already value the friendships we have made.
It has been a blessing how quickly we have felt part of KHBC, due in large part to the warm welcome we have received. (That's been the positive side of settling-in, in contrast to the work on the house!)
Alongside church work, there has been our relationship with the Baptist Union. This has been somewhat less than enjoyable! There has been the frustration of too many meetings, the extra requirements involved with being a Newly Accredited Minister and probationary work, etc.
However, we have known the support of the Central Baptist Association and particularly a Support Group set up to, er, support us. They pray for us and act as a useful "sounding board" for our ideas, etc.
Over the last year, we have felt a definite – and unexpected - change in our priorities and overall focus. We find ourselves more passionate about community development issues and see these as an essential part of our understanding of discipleship, mission, the Kingdom of God and the gospel.
However, though we believe that this is an area that God is leading us further into, we do not see this as distinct from the ministry of KHBC, or our work there. Not only would we like to help the church further explore some of these issues, but we also wonder if any community work that we do will lead to some kind of 'church' as a result.
A fairly major vision that has been brewing in our hearts is the Violence Intervention and Prevention project, that I've talked about here a couple of times now. Having spent much time and energy with a couple who were dealing with domestic abuse and knowing the prevalence of violence from our meetings with the community development agency, we have seen that there is little integration when it comes to dealing with these issues. That is, the issues involved are almost always inter-related: debt, violence suffered as a child, bullying, spousal abuse and so on.
Another idea that we've been pondering for some time is that of ecumenical 'mission groups.' Coming to KHBC has taught us a great deal about ecumenicity – moving beyond the theory into genuine Church unity. We've enjoyed the regular joint meals and have developed a passion for seeing all of the followers of Jesus on King’s Heath – regardless of where (or if) they attend church – coming together throughout the year.
One possible expression of that might be regular (quarterly, moving to monthly?) get-togethers that could sometimes include worship-in-song, food and occasional teaching. Over time, these might develop into different groups with different foci: one might be a prayer-group, one a social action group, one for evangelism, one reaching-out to the Somalian population, etc.
None of this means that we have lost of our interest in those assumptions that we brought with us on arrival. Yet, we now feel lead to approach things from the opposite direction. That is, we were originally thinking along the lines of: planting a church and leading a group of folk to follow the teachings of Jesus, ‘seek the welfare of the City’ and love their neighbours, etc. We now feel that God is calling into something that looks a bit more like: loving our neighbours, 'seek the welfare of the City', teach people to follow the teachings of Jesus (without them necessarily knowing it!) - and see if some expression of discipling community might grow out of that.