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‘We want to change perceptions’ 

 

Esther Day has been pioneering a new chaplaincy in Lowestoft - and explains more in this interview

 

Lowestoft 16th march

 

What’s the background to your chaplaincy role?

Having worked as a community worker (at London Road Baptist Church) for 14 years I felt God was calling me to something new, something outside a building, connecting with people who have no contact with church or Christians.

Neal, my minister was eager I explore it and almost instantly I discovered that God hadn’t just been speaking to us about this, but also to the Community Church, a couple of other Anglican churches and the Salvation Army! Obviously, we know it is God’s heart for people to encounter him but when he speaks to us across denominations about the same thing, maybe he is calling us to come together?

Lowestoft is a large seaside town, with a population of around 60,000, but with the seasonal economy and lack of good transport links the town has high levels of multiple deprivation, including above average rates of depression. As with most places, church attendance is low but people identify as spiritual, and so we decided to go as a team into the town centre, and offer prayer and a space for people to talk.

Lowestoft1

 
How would you describe the chaplaincy and its aims?

If anyone asks, chaplaincy is a team of Jesus followers from the local churches whose aim is to introduce people to Jesus, through emotional, physical and spiritual support. Around 20 of us go out into the town (although only about six at a time!) on the first and third Mondays, and alternate Fridays offering prayer and a way to connect with God.

We hope to introduce people to Jesus, not to convert them or get them into church, but to respect their journey, listen to their views, share ours, and offer ways that they can encounter Jesus for themselves. We know that many people have a damaged perception of Jesus, church and Christianity, and they see Christians as only interested in them to ‘get them into church’ and so we are careful to change perceptions and not be associated with people pushing religion.

We also believe strongly in the dynamic power of the spirit to meet people, speak to them, heal them and change their lives, and so we are careful to be in tune with him
 

What do you do?

On Mondays we offer a Healing on The Streets model where people can receive prayer. This is a loose model, and sometimes we have live art going on alongside, ask The Miracle Question or ‘Gossip the gospel’ in Starbucks! On Fridays we are intentionally creative in our approach and do lots of random acts of kindness where we give out freebies or do art installations people can interact with.

Lowestoft bags of blessing


How has it been going?

We have prayed with so so many people and enjoyed chatting, connecting, breaking down barriers and changing perceptions. Lots of people don’t want to engage with us, and let’s be honest, sometimes that is hard. But lots of people do and are really responsive, either just accepting what we offer or stopping, sharing their stories and receiving prayer.

The council and the Police have welcomed us as well as they recognise there is a need they cannot meet. We are careful to distance ourselves from any institutional religion that people are suspicious of, and although, to the core, we are all about Jesus, we connect through relationship and bringing the spiritual to people.
 

Can you tell us some stories of what’s happened?
 

  • One of the first times we did HOTS (Healing on the streets) in about three hours we prayed for 25 people!

 
  • Prophetic Art has really spoken to people and has led to prayer and people feeling that God is speaking to them through the art. We let them take it home when it’s finished!

 
  • A Christmas prayer tree in the street with free hot chocolates engaged lots of people. We wrote on the baubles words like love, peace, hope etc and asked people what they need in their lives. This prompted lots of conversations and prayer.


 Lowestoft baubles 151217
 
  • At Halloween we ran a Light Tent alongside the town pumpkin trail and had 250+ children come through the tent, and more than 45 people prayed for as they lit candles for someone or themselves. All took home sweets and a candle with messages of God’s love on them

 
  • We made bags of blessings to give out and asked God to show us who to give them to. A member of the team felt God said, “Rainbow, man, Waterstones”, and when we got into town, a man in a Rasta hat was outside Waterstones. Our lady got to give him a bag, say God had told her to go to him and talk to him about God’s love.

 
  • On Good Friday we ran “Free Art Friday” where we put out more than 100 pieces of Easter-themed art all over the town centre and seafront which people could take for free. We used social media to publicise where people could find it and in three hours all of it was taken - paintings, poems, crochet, cards, magnets, painted stones, angels, keys and tags with encouraging verses on them. At the same time we walked alongside the town’s march of witness, which is largely irrelevant to people, and we engaged the town, giving our blessings, freebies, cakes, and biscuits.


Lowestoft 30th march tag

People ask: but don’t you want people to become Christians or come to church or know they are sinners? The answer is we want them to encounter Jesus, and when they do, his spirit will be at work in them and we will be there to guide and support them on that journey.
 
 

Esther is Lowestoft-born and has worked at London Road Baptist Church since 2004. Her community chaplaincy role began in September. She is currently training with The Light Project in Evangelism and Theology.

Find out more about community chaplaincy in Lowestoft through its Facebook page (@chaplaincylowestoft)
 

 

 

Baptist Times, 30/05/2018
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