In Earlsfield, south west London, a pioneering new venture has started that seeks to build a mission-focused, new monastic, fresh expression of church. Johnny Sertin is the lay pioneer who leads it.
Earlsfield is a melting pot of diverse cultures. It’s known as ‘nappy valley’, with many young families ‘camping’ here until they migrate out of the city when they want a ‘better’, and often more expensive, education for their children. However there are two other more historical social groups that make up the bulk of the community which are perhaps initially less obvious. Firstly local indigenous families, many who have lived here their whole lives and have an extended family network in the neighbourhood. Traditionally they come from a more working class culture. Many now are affluent through exercising the right to buy council owned properties during the boom of the housing market in the 90’s. Many too have done well pioneering small start up businesses with bespoke labour skills as their service. However there are still some who are less fortunate from this indigenous group who have struggled with the changing landscape of their area. Finally there is the influx of people from other nations who have been coming here for the last fifty years as the colonies of Britain’s Empire folded and immigration laws were relaxed. Many of these families arrive all together and live on the housing estates peppered around the hub of Earlsfield. There are real social issues on some of these estates. Just in the last two weeks there have been two drug related shootings on the estate near to our home.
Three years ago my wife and I came to this area of London to explore mission spirituality through a communal rhythm of life with others. We began our own journey living in an extended household for two years, trying to practise a pattern of life together. From then a small community has come together which now orientates around five households. We are exploring how we could live out the Christian faith in practice. We have a central rhythm of life, seeking to focus on our individual spirituality, work and home lives. We focus on ‘mission life, discipleship and open community’. The Friary itself has four key values: ‘mutual rhythm, mutual Christ, mutual support and mutual mission’. We are not into becoming a specific ‘intentional community’ living all together. Instead we seek to become a ‘community of intention’ by the way we choose to live as a network of people.
We gather weekly on Mondays for prayer and on Thursdays over a shared meal and to break bread together. We are very much linked into the Church in the local area too, with some of us worshipping at different services on Sunday mornings.
As we have looked at embracing a mission spirituality, we have landed on two things that are the essence of Jesus’ own ministry. Though seemingly simple they have been profound in our own story. Jesus was committed to eating together with others, and healing people. With that in mind there are three things we are involved with missionally at the moment:
First we are starting an event each year called LOVEearlsfield. This is in partnership with the Churches Together network. The aim is to host a party for the neighbourhood over Harvest and allow people to meet and converse in a safe and hospitable environment. We are also using the funds raised to support youth initiatives the area.
Second we are supporting a local Anglican minister who runs a youth club on the housing estate where recently the shootings took place. We are volunteering at the club on Wednesday nights, trying to raise funds for the kids, developing programmes for change to help them out of the poverty trap and support the logistical needs of the minister.
Lastly we are trying to help each creatively in how we practise a mission spirituality not only in our local area but also in the spheres of life we work in. We are talking about how to do this and what this looks like. How do we support each other if I am a stay at home Mum or Dad, work in the media industry, education, and so on?
This year we hosted a learning community for a group of people, helping to shape their thinking on faith and vocation. This is called make believe and was run with our partner CMS.
As to the future, many ideas keep coming and we are processing them regularly. However like all pioneering environments, the valleys have been as much part of the journey as the mountaintops and we have shared equally in both. Real transformation is dependant upon how we personalize change in our own walk of faith and allow for the person of Christ to both break and shape us into becoming our true self. It is in this process that all missional endeavors can embrace the importance of being salt and light. Salt to preserve the goodness of creation and resist a gravitational pull to rot. Light to open our eyes to see beyond the limitations of what we think we know.