Portrack Baptist Church, Stockton
Area of high deprivation
Developed of a rule of life: Summoned to Serve – God – each other – the community
The people in the estate will not come to church – the church is called to go out and to keep going out…who knows how far…
Linda Donaldson has been at Portrack, Stockton for three years and has just completed her studies as a newly accredited minister. The Portrack Estate is one where she has witnessed starkly different realities; that painted by TV programmes such as ‘Benefits Street’ (when Linda arrived in 2014 the area was being featured in the 2nd series of this show). The council ward is an area of high deprivation, being the most deprived in the borough and ranked 17th most deprived in the country.
While those are the bare facts the other reality is what Portrack Baptist Church sees; a cohesive community where people are good neighbours and where real care happens. But that doesn’t make interesting television. The church enjoys a great relationship with the estate and is frequently asked to conduct child thanksgiving services (although the people from the estate insist on calling them christenings).
The church itself is also a place of contrast: with 43 members and a congregation of 50 on average the age range is 1yr old to 100yr old and every decade is represented; there are people on benefits and people in senior professional roles. Portrack is a church with no airs and graces which is comprised of a body of people who share the same love for and commitment to the estate; and aim to show radical, non-judgemental welcome to all. All 3 of the staff team, Linda and 2 youth workers and their families, live on the estate. The heart of the church is to serve the community.
Following Linda’s appointment as sole pastor at the end of last year and wanting to wait on God for direction they took the unusual step of cancelling all routine church activities for a month. Weekly prayer stations and reflections were developed and built upon each week as they listened to God and to each other. They asked what is the unique contribution that Portrack Baptist makes to the Kingdom of God in Stockton, what does good news look like in this context; why do they exist as a church?
This led to the development of a rule of life: Summoned to Serve – God – each other – the community. To love God and each other but also to love the place where God has planted them. To celebrate what is good there and to listen to God and to listen to the estate to be what God calls them to be there. To continue to ‘listen’ a missional listening group is due to begin on the estate in the next few weeks.
Recently Portrack has been reflecting on ‘Moana’ (Disney film); a story about a young girl who hears and answers a call to “go beyond the reef”, beyond where tradition and habit have always kept her people. Moana is summoned to serve and must answer the call. In stepping out in faith and going out of her depth she secured her island’s future. Portrack Baptist is answering a call to go beyond the reef; beyond the safe borders of traditional practise and the church walls. The people in the estate will not come to church – the church is called to go out and to keep going out…who knows how far…
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