Motivated by faith, working for justice
What does it look like when Christians are seized by a gospel imperative to respond to something they know is unfair? Three stories of how Baptists are bringing God’s kingdom to their communities (with a little help from Home Mission)
Chelwood Baptist Church, Stockport
Members of Chelwood Baptist in Stockport reckon they belong to a church which “punches above its weight”, and it’s not hard to see why. Chelwood has a small congregation (membership around 30), is based next to an area with high indicators of social deprivation, and is supported by Home Mission funding.
Yet In recent years the church and its members have become involved in a range of activities to help huge numbers of people in genuine need in their community. Launching a foodbank in 2012 has proved a catalyst for much of the work. The inspiration and driving force was the late Marc Godwin, described as “a champion of the under-privileged and homeless in Stockport” when he died last year. In a short film on the Chelwood Foodbank website, Marc can be seen explaining how the Foodbank came about.
“Initially the idea was going to be very simple,” he said. “People would come along, need a little bit of food. If we had a bit of food in stock we would provide it for them.
“But it mushroomed into a giant project. We became aware of other factors and decided it was in our calling to do something about it.”
Chelwood has now become the foodbank hub for the Stockport South region. Opening each weekday across three locations, it serves up to 700 people each month and works with more than 60 referral agencies.
Called Chelwood Foodbank Plus, it’s not simply in tins and packets of pasta where the church and its volunteers assist. As they learnt more about poverty and its causes, the foodbank began to provide pots, pans, plates, cutlery and electrical items for those in need, plus sleeping bags and warm clothing.
From April 2013 members began to pitch up in Stockport town centre to serve food to homeless and disadvantaged people as part of a street kitchen initiative called Loaves and Fishes. From small beginnings around 20 to 45 people now turn up. There is a small worship time where the team prays for the homeless community, especially for those who want a church, but not a traditional one. They are also in the process of launching new projects, such as a jobs club with Inspired and a money management course.
All this in spite of Marc’s tragic death, aged 55, on a business trip to Glasgow to raise funds for the work in 2014.
“Marc’s death was a huge shock, and we’ve all been trying to pick up the pieces,” said Chelwood member and volunteer Anne Jones.
“But we are – we see it as God’s work. We are doing it because God has told us. You don’t have to look too far to find poverty and people who are struggling.
“It’s easy to become complacent about troubles and pain, but we are following a need and trying to do something about it. We are a small church but this is what we can do.”
The church has received a number of anonymous and extremely timely donations, underlining the sense of truly living out its strapline of “Serving God in the Community”. A cheque for £12,000 enabled the building of a storage room to house the food, which has proved vital.
“The scale and speed of the growth of the foodbank has amazed us,” said Steve Hough, former minister and project manager of the foodbank.
“We're still coming to terms with it - where it's going, what it means. But what we keep on saying is that we're living out Matthew 5 (In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.)
“This is all part of being the gospel in a practical way.”
Photos: Terry McNamara: http://www.terrymcphotography.co.uk/
Luminary Bakery, London
Bread is one of life’s staples, and baking your own one of its pleasures. But for a number of women in east London it has come to represent so much more.
The Luminary Bakery is helping those for whom the basic ingredients for a life of dignity were once an unattainable goal.
Yes, it produces high quality baked artisanal goods, but its main focus is to give opportunities and purpose to vulnerable women who have experienced crime, prostitution, and abuse. This became a reality when in September it launched its first six-month baking training course, which teaches everything needed to obtain a job in a bakery or other food establishment and hopefully a long-term stable and alternative source of income.
Luminary’s vision is “to see all women in East London provided with opportunities to leave their vulnerable situations and be released into a positive future”, explains co-ordinator Alice Boyle.
“Luminary is a welcoming and safe environment where women can nurture their innate gifts and grow holistically – encouraging ambition, restoration and second chances.
“We aim to empower and equip these women to hope for a future, and give them the tools to obtain it. By investing in and releasing them to realise their dreams we can break the generational cycles of abuse, prostitution, criminal activity and poverty.”
Luminary is a social enterprise birthed from Kahaila Café, a creative church planting initiative in a commercial coffee shop. Since it opened with Home Mission funding in Brick Lane in 2012, it has always been more than just a place that serves great cakes with a warm welcome: in many ways Luminary is a natural outworking of the Gospel at its core.
“How do you make disciples in a place where people are unchurched?” says Baptist minister Paul Unsworth, the man behind Kahaila.
“We really felt that to achieve that was by keeping to the Great Commandment: Love the Lord God with all your heart; Love your neighbour as yourself.
“But what does that mean? When we hear stories from Alice about vulnerable women, we can’t just say “thanks for sharing, have a nice day.” It was: “What can we do?” And how do we empower the people called to Kahaila into what God has called them?”
This commitment to the Gospel means Alice’s passion and ideas for helping vulnerable women have in effect “become flesh”, something real. Currently Luminary’s creations are sold in Kahaila and a number of other outlets. At the time of writing it is operating two days a week, but there are hopes it will become a full-time, sustainable business which over the years will empower hundreds of vulnerable women to escape the chains of prostitution and abuse and live the lives they were intended to live. There are links to Pret-a-Manger, which has shown an interest in employing the first graduates of the course.
It has really grown since January 2014, and Alice says she is in her “dream job”. As the first course began, she said,“It’s such a privilege for us to be able to be a part of this process alongside them.
“We’re excited for what the future holds.”
Amigos Project, Norfolk
Low pay, long hours, cultural differences and language barriers can combine to make life difficult for the economic migrant to the UK – not to mention the prevailing political wind that seeks to be ever tougher on immigration.
In these conditions the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger is both entirely appropriate and counter-cultural, and a Baptist-led initiative in Norfolk is showing what happens when this is lived out.
In the course of the new millennium a large Portuguese-speaking community was being attracted to the region by jobs in farms and factories. When they heard about this growing community at the Baptist World Congress in Birmingham in 2005, Brazilian-born church planters Jorge and Hermelinda Damasceno felt called to work among them.
Arriving in the market town of Dereham in 2006, they quickly became aware of their needs. They set about creating the Amigos Project with Home Mission and BMS funding, an initiative providing services and Bible studies, a food programme for those facing financial difficulties or new to the country, English language lessons, and just generally a listening ear for people to share their problems and concerns.
The focus has always been to help people integrate, as well as provide for their spiritual needs.
“If they don’t integrate, it’s difficult to assimilate themselves, to find their way around the UK, to understand something about the place in which they now find themselves,” Jorge said at the outset of the project.
“We have met many Christians who have spiritually gone downhill and feel far from God since moving to the UK. But many of the people we meet are not Christians. We’re not here to Christianise anyone and tell them they have to go to church. We are just here to share what God may do in the life of anyone who believes. I hope by our deeds they may be able to see God in our lives.”
That has certainly been the result. People have not only settled in the UK, but found faith. Jorge and Hermelinda planted a Portuguese-speaking congregation right away at Dereham Baptist Church. Over the years this has grown and flourished, and has its own pastor. There are further congregations in Bishop’s Stortford and Great Yarmouth, with another potentially to come in Norwich. Many who belong to these congregations were not Christians in their country of origin.
In addition, working so closely with Jorge has impacted Dereham Baptist Church and its awareness of the marginalised, says minister Chris Densham.
“The whole process has helped us to have more understanding of the outsider, it has really helped us to reach out,” he explains.
“It must be incredibly difficult being an immigrant in these days, especially with the rise of UKIP. Here they have found somewhere that has welcomed them, and allowed them to express their culture. Missionally this has been very effective.”
All three stories feature Home Mission, the Baptist family purse. For more examples of how Home Mission is helping Baptist churches and individuals reach their mission potential and bring the love of God to their communities visit: www.baptist.org.uk/hmstories
To support Home Mission, visit: www.baptist.org.uk/hmgiving
This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Baptists Together Magazine
Chelwood: Terry McPhotography (www.terrymcphotography.co.uk)
Luminary: Luminary Bakery
Amigos: Dereham Baptist Church