Richard Higginbottom is wrestling on the frontline of ministry.
We are going through a 'transformation period' with Tulloch NET. The vision to develop a fresh expression of inclusive and indigenous church in Tulloch, north west Perth, had come into being in 2004, three years before its official launch. The aim has always been for that church to be based on relational networking – not traditional ingathering.
The area is a mix of social and private housing with a population of around 4,000. In partnership with several denominations and supported by Church of Scotland seed-funding and grants from various agencies, we have been working hard to build up relationships within the community before setting up any sort of worship centre.
In September, the trustees and staff had a strategy meeting to address recent challenges. Having averaged 20 weekly visits to our Room 4 U drop-in earlier this summer, suddenly we attracted the attention of local primary age children and their parents over a period of six weeks or so.
Now we're averaging over 40 visits per week and are rapidly changing into a permanent holiday club for children! It's a great challenge, but has raised issues like staffing levels, child protection, health and safety, resources, etc. Do we extend our opening hours, change our direction, re-structure? We don't have easy answers, but the Holy Spirit is shifting us, nudging us, unsettling us.
We (our trustees, staff, volunteers) come from traditional church backgrounds. We struggle with such risks and challenges – as do our 'clients' (addicts, children, Forces' veterans, lone parents, ex-offenders) within our changing society in a double-dip recession. More than ever, we need to offer a safe sanctuary to vulnerable local people – while being constantly asked by our friends in traditional church: 'Do you have a Sunday worshipping group yet? Do you know how many converts you have?' The answer is 'no' on both counts. We're still building relationships, gaining trust, having spiritual conversations.
It involves wrestling with being on the frontline in a deprived area of a council estate among totally unchurched people, in troubling times, learning as we go. Yet, Kyra, one of our eight-year-old regulars, recently filled in a Beliefs Survey form and posted it in our prayer box – without any prompting from us. She says she definitely believes in God, wants to go to heaven, believes Jesus is the Son of God and yet is not sure if she wants to know God personally…
It's all scary and yet exciting. And, as we prayed on our strategy day, someone quoted Jesus' words in Matthew 9.35-38 in which he described the crowds as being 'harassed and helpless'. Maybe we're a bit 'harassed and helpless' too but, unlike those crowds, we know our shepherd and we hear his voice… and we already have the harvest workers. Are we just too frightened to heed the call to carry on harvesting?