Salvation Army officer Mark Scott tells of building community, and a Rule of Life, in the London borough of Merton.
My wife, Emma, and I were appointed to Raynes Park Community Church three-and-a-half years ago with a remit to start a missional community in Mitcham. The Salvation Army had conducted some research prior to us arriving because they were working predominantly on the west side of the borough of Merton and they wanted to work more coherently across the borough as a whole.
The borough, in the south-west of London, is very diverse from east to west and Mitcham borders Lambeth, Wandsworth and Croydon.
We live in an amazing part of Mitcham called Eastfields and have loved getting to know our neighbours and people who work in the community. Before we made the move, The Salvation Army hadn't been in this area for about 70 years but their support has been fantastic. The great blessing to us when we first arrived was being given the gift of a time of listening. It was amazing to hear stories and learn what it is like to live and work in Mitcham. We heard about the great depth of history that Mitcham holds; both the documented and that which has been passed on from generation to generation.
A fact that stayed with us was that the name Mitcham comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning 'Big Settlement' or 'Big Home'. A representative of the Jeremiah Project – a Churches Together in Mitcham initiative – shared this with us and it is not insignificant as they have been such an amazing support for us as a couple and now more significantly our church community.
Churches Together in Mitcham is like nothing we've ever experienced before, there is a real heart to work together and serve Mitcham. When we first moved here as a couple with two small children, their love for us was vital and the way in which they welcomed us with open arms for us was a true representation of Mitcham being a 'Big Home'! They've not only shared their love with us but their knowledge and networks too.
Around this time we also spoke to the Urban Expression mission agency, with whom Emma and I had a long-term personal relationship with, and sought to become team leaders. This provided more specialised support for us and a network of people who were able to understand and speak into the life we were living.
After being in Mitcham for 16 months we moved into a house in the Eastfields area and it was around this time that a friend of ours began asking when we were going to 'start our church'. Our friend was interested in exploring faith and who God is after being part of a faith community as a child but no longer called herself a Christian. God had this in hand and, at the same time, brought more established Christians into our field of vision and they, in turn, decided they wanted to support us as well.
We began gathering in our kitchen as a group of eight, sharing in creative forms of worship, some interactive teaching and finishing with a shared meal. This continued for about six months.
As our gathering has developed so has the format, although we have always retained the shared meal, seeing this as a vital part of sharing our lives together. After a further six months, things began to feel a bit more established and so, as a gathering, we wanted to put some structure (although some would see none!) to what we did. I've been very interested in the concept of urban new monasticism for a number of years and it's from here that we became interested in a Rule of Life.
For nine months we carried out research to try and glean how different places were living a Rule of Life before deciding what was applicable to us. The Rule is conceptual in the way we live our lives out but it's practical too – including the scheduling of an annual retreat and committing to laugh together regularly. Our hope is that, as a gathered community of believers, we can continue to learn what it means to 'Seek God' and 'Display his Love' wherever we might find ourselves. I think it's fair to say that we have been changed by the people who have opened their lives to us in the short time we've been here and we hope we will continue to learn from them.
Mitcham is such an amazing place to live; we have felt such openness and kindness since moving here. We love that our children are growing up in an environment that is honest and accepting and while the organic nature of it can be difficult, we’re looking forward to all that lies ahead.