Mission Template in the Shadow of the Olympic Park
For a small inner city church with limited resources Victoria Park Baptist in Bow is having a busy Olympics
Not only has it opened a café with free Wifi, run a children’s holiday club, provided large screen coverage of the opening ceremony (which saw more than 100 people pack out the church) and created both a quiet space and a prayer room, it is also reaching out to people using the Victoria Park Live Site at the end of its road. And that’s not to mention a couple of sports clinics and live performances planned for next week.
Several members of the congregation have taken their annual leave to support these activities, but the key, explained the church’s Geoff Thorington-Hassell, is the partnerships it has been able to build. ‘We are a small church. We could not do what we are doing if not for the support of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), local churches and the funding of the London Baptist Association.
‘It’s all about how and who we’ve been able to create missional networks with. We can do more together than apart.’
The experience is offering a template for future missions. Victoria Park, for instance, is increasingly being used as a major concert venue (such as the Love Box festival), with a capacity of more than 25,000. The Baptist church is on the route to the nearest tube station at Mile End.
‘There has to be a legacy to what we do,’ explained Geoff. ‘One-off events will only take you so far. The Olympics has been a great catalyst, but in some ways this is testing things for what we want to do in the future.
‘We want to develop mission clusters and partnerships that will survive beyond the Olympics.’
One of the church's members to have taken her leave during the Olympics is Rebecca Suknenko, who has helped prepare the church's quiet room. With soft lighting, soothing music and images of God's creation on the screen, it's an oasis away from the outside world, a chance to sit and contemplate and move closer to God, she explained.
'It's an encouragement for people to open themselves to God. We've found busy Christians have really benefited from it, and those who are not yet Christians have been interested, because it doesn't look like church.' On taking her leave at this time, she said, 'I've just been passionate about doing something with the Olympics.It's an amazing opportunity.'
The first week saw the church joined by a YWAM team from Latvia, which helped run the holiday club in the morning and then do outreach around the live site in the afternoon. One of them is Kristina Ecis.
‘The first Olympics we did was Atlanta in 1996, and it was an incredible time,’ she said. ‘Some of the people involved have gone on to be pastors and very influential.
‘We’ve not been able to do an Olympics since then - they’ve been either too far (Sydney, Beijing), or not the right connections (Athens). So we sensed it was God’s call to come to London to serve the church and grow our own leaders. It’s been great so far - we’ve been praying for divine appointments, and been able to have some really good conversations.’