Chris Lewis, minister of Mount Zion Baptist Chapel, Bonymaen, tells how their garden project has been renamed Living Here – Working Here.
Living Here – Working Here is in continuity with the tradition and ethos of Mount Zion, which was established in 1924 and known locally as The Mission. Its history was one of community engagement through the familiar activities of Sunday School, meetings, Girl Guides and Brigades.
Bonymaen is an old settlement on the eastern edge of Swansea. The maen (pronounced like ‘mine’) – the standing stone – is on the green in front of the Bonymaen Inn. Bonymaen, where both English and Welsh are spoken, has developed as an urban village with a lot of social housing. Overall, it is a deprived area and is the location of Welsh Government-funded Communities First team.
To the west of the village, across a busy link road, lies the enterprise zone in which there are bank offices, the main Royal Mail sorting office, car dealerships, wholesalers, retailers and numerous other businesses. Many people commute into this part of the ward. The renaming of the project expresses an ambition to make contact with people who work in our area as well.
Living Here – Working Here is about:
- showing the Gospel simply through being with people. We want to share Christianity as a way of living an abundant life (John 10.10), which is fundamentally based on relationship (Leviticus 19.18; Matthew 22.39 and parallels; John 13.31 ff.) from which stems a concern for mutuality and justice in the present and a responsibility to those who will come after us.
- working cooperatively with those whose objectives and desires for good are similar to ours (Mark 9.38ff; Luke 9.49f) and that the Kingdom of God is greater than our localised conception of it (John 10.16).
- being 'ordinary'. A paradox of the Gospel is that there is strength in weakness (1 Corinthians 1.27). It doesn't matter that we're small, rather like the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29) we look for salvation just where we are.
Over the last four years, we have been making a 'learning garden' to regain the skills of growing fruit and vegetables for home consumption to save money, reduce food miles and support health. This is gaining us a growing community of interest, simply because we are open regularly. Our garden has also been useful as a volunteering opportunity for Welsh Baccalaureate students from our community secondary school, Cefn Hengoed, and we've benefitted from their hard work.
Our public profile is increasing and we are being taken seriously as an agent for change; a councillor and a council official have asked us to think about how we could expand our work and I have been invited to join a campaign for fair credit in the Swansea Bay region and to speak at a rally on Christian ideas about the exploitation of poor people by lenders who charge high rates of interest.
People contribute to what we are doing by working, sharing ideas, making gifts and conversing. Some of them are people who have been alienated by institutional expressions of religion; finding them marginal or irrelevant to their lives.
In our original story on the Fresh Expressions website we said,
our project definitely has a missional purpose but exactly how it will work out is not clear yet. The base is a small and traditional Welsh chapel congregation which may continue in parallel with a new congregation.
A lot has happened since then and we are gathering people, not to our Sunday services so much but to the garden project because we are seen as 'putting good stuff in' to Bonymaen and we're being taken seriously as a people who speak for justice in the city.
The focus is on listening to, serving and engaging the community and whatever emerges must emerge from that. I hope that we will become a renewed congregation, one that accepts people whose culture (as it were) is different to that of traditional Welsh chapel. Mount Zion accepted us and I became the minister; I hope that acceptance will go on – a transformation – but I think salvation has to be understood as starting here and now.
People respond when they witness transformation; a neighbour with no church connection said to me recently about the chapel, 'you're turning it round'. That was an immensely affirming statement.
It's all about gaining confidence to be who we are and applying our Christian values to make an impact.