'For many the project is simply just family and the church building home'
At the beginning of November, New Addington Baptist Church in Croydon held a special weekend of celebrations to mark 20 years since the beginning of its Community Family Project. By Claire Nicholls
The Community Family Project operates as an umbrella for the church's programme of community care and action. Saturday morning saw a ‘have-a-go’ showcase of all the groups that are currently part of the project and the significant work that is done week by week to serve and walk with people in the community. The church invited former minister Phil Jump, who developed the vision of the project 20 years ago, to help to share some of the story and to lead the Sunday services alongside current minister, Claire Nicholls.
It all began when Phil visited a congregation member who had some challenges in her life. As he sat with her, he observed how her and her neighbours in the small group of homes around, all different, all with needs of their own, worked together to support one another in whatever was needed for each of them to face what life was throwing at them. A community that was more like family, where each one needed each other. It was through this observation that the seeds of the Community Family Project grew.
The minutes of deacons' meetings and correspondence between minister and secretary in 1998 tell how the church was seeking to grow some of the work that had been begun, particularly with children and families. They began by talking about appointing a children’s pastor, but as the vision was developed something significant began to emerge – they felt called to employ somebody to work with the church in seeking to establish it as a centre of holistic care for families in the community. The role of Community Family Worker was developed and the Community Family Project was born in Autumn 1999.
Over the last 20 years the project has been sustained through significant, and sometimes surprising funding, and that funding has directly impacted what they have been able to do. At the height of funding the project employed four people. Currently there is a part time Family Project Worker who is supported by a team of volunteers (including the project manager) and the minister.
Needs have changed in the community over time and in the most recent half of its lifetime, the emphasis of the project has broadened to work not only with families, but also with those in the local community who struggle with poor mental health. The church building is a significant place of safety and trust in the neighbourhood and through relationships built through one-to-one conversations and various groups that meet during the week, a place of belonging has been created. For many the project is simply just family and the church building home.
As he told the story Phil commented on how, for an evangelical church 20 years ago, the development of the project was unique and significant and that the work the church was doing was a forerunner to what a lot of churches are embracing today. The project has strong links in the community and works in partnership with the council and community organisations as well as with other local churches to endeavour to be as much as it can be. The work of the project has been key in the community through times of hardship and tragedy. People have have turned to it as a significant place of support. Over the years lives have been transformed and restoration has happened in amazing ways.
Jo Brown, current Family Project worker, told the story of one client who came to the project broken and with poor mental health, unable to cope with life very well. Through the groups that she became part of and the relationships that were built between her and the team, her life has been transformed. It was through the work of the project that she discovered the love of Jesus and she shared during the service on Sunday morning how the greatest thing she has ever seen is the significant impact that the project has made on her (and others') lives.
She still struggles with her mental health, but knows that whatever happens, God will sustain her and that through her church family she will feel his embrace as they stand and help hold her together.
There are many similar stories that can be told about the work of the project as lives are changed and restored – and it is through transformed lives that the glory of Christ shines bright.
To find out more about the New Addington Baptist Church Community Family Project visit www.newaddingtonbaptistchurch.co.uk
Claire Nicholls is the minister of New Addington Baptist Church