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Hope for Devonport and Stoke

Michael Shaw reports on a developing unity in a particular area of Plymouth, which culminated in the first ever missions week

With its dockyard, Devonport used to be one of the wealthiest areas in Plymouth.

Hope DevonportThe war changed that. Devonport took the brunt of many of the German bombs and was levelled. After the war three decisions were made that impacted Devonport in a dramatic and cruel way.

Firstly, the majority of the money that would be used to rebuild the city was spent on Plymouth City Centre, leaving very little to rebuild Devonport, secondly the Royal Navy, with the Cold War looming sectioned off much of the area, including what was the old town centre placing a wall that ran right through the heart of Devonport and would divide the community in two.

Finally, the churches left the area, the three Baptist churches were moved, two Anglicans churches were never rebuilt, and an area that was the base for Wesley when he went to preach in Cornwall lost all of its Methodist churches.
Over the years more dramatic things happened: the housing stock that was rebuilt was uninspired grey breeze block housing, which quickly deteriorated. The dockyard, which used to employ so many, gradually decreased and the workers needed became more and more highly skilled, so that the ordinary working man was forced to find work elsewhere.
It all means that Devonpart, an area of 6,000 people, now has 50 per cent household unemployment, a life expectancy almost ten years lower than anywhere else in Plymouth, and a crime rate that is double that of the city average.
The churches have not always helped themselves; church leaders did not get on, did not speak to each other, and had no relationship with each other, until a few years ago when the Salvation Army and one of the Anglican Ministers started talking with each other. I came to Devonport two years ago and was welcomed into their embryonic group, and since then we have been joined by an Anglican Mission worker and the Methodist Minister. We formed Churches Together in Devonport and Stoke.
Hope Logo copyThere were plans a foot for a Mission week, but there were a few things that had to be put into place, as churches we had never had a joint prayer meeting or even a joint service together. On the first monday in January this year 25 people crammed into the Baptist church's house to pray; in February we had our fist joint service.
We have just finished our first ever mission week, with the help of a team from Through Faith Missions and in partnership with Hope2014. We called it Hope for Devonport and Stoke”. During the week a Messy Church has started, a new toddler group formed, there have been hot potato evenings, BBQs, music nights, quiz nights, a fun day, and joint services.

It has been a really awesome week of working and sharing together. In the process God has started to move, there have been commitments, recommitments, prayer ministry and also lots of fun together, lots of food together and lots of being together
For a community that has seen 60 years of division, the churches are leading the way in unity.  

Michael Shaw is the minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church

Baptist Times, 26/06/2014
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