The Springfield Project

Early in the 1990s, St Christopher's, Springfield, Birmingham, experienced a period of renewal and growth. A small group of mums thought that this excitement within the church should make a difference to the surrounding community. They take up the story.

As with so many churches, a commitment to serve was translated initially into the setting up of a stay-and-play session for local parents. What makes St Christopher's different, though, is that the local parish is predominantly Muslim and other-faith.

The stay-and-play group met in someone's home and numbers were so small that the venture was nearly closed after a year. By 2010, however, what is now The Springfield Project had become the primary mission arm of the church.

It provides a professional nursery, family support work and after-schools clubs linking in with local statutory provision from health workers, midwives and social services. Each week, a purpose-built children's centre and adjoining interlinked church host dozens of local families, the majority of which are Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch talk of the need for 'proximity space' as we engage with other cultures. The Springfield's Project's practical vision of service provides a good example of church holding the ring as a very public place of encounter between Christians and those of other faiths.

The project has blurred the dichotomy between 'evangelism' and 'social action'Its strapline of 'God's love in the community', a message that was emblazoned on a banner in the hall, points to an appreciation that the majority of the local community actually recognise a belief in God.

Although Tony Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, may have said that they 'do not do God', most of our neighbours do in fact do God! They are not a a clean slate, on which the church can write answers to questions about eternal destiny. For many in our neighbourhood, God's purposes, moral questions and prayer already figure highly.

This means that for the significant numbers of Christians working in The Springfield Project, their faith is very public. There are regular prayer meetings, information is given about Christian festivals and beliefs, and there are staff days away to affirm and talk through the Christian value-base and how it ought to drive our services. All of these are available for, and discussed with, our non-Christian staff and our users.

The church's determination to see the Christian faith distinctively shape its outreach in a multi-faith context has not led to inter-religious tension and suspicion. Rather, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus have respected the church all the more.

We have been seen to be serious about our spirituality, to pray, read the Bible and be confident Christians. Muslim staff have said that they feel more comfortable, being people of faith themselves in an often threatening, secularising age.

For St Christopher's members, then, church does not stop when the vicar dismisses the congregation with a blessing on a Sunday morning. Monday through Saturday, there is prayer and worship around and alongside very practical provision for our local community.

We have had the privilege of praying with and for those of other faiths as we have openly shared our lives, while always rejecting the manipulative exploitation of vulnerable users of our services.

St Christopher's is not ignoring the very real differences that exist between faiths. It is paying attention to context so that our engagement with the community is able to respond to some of the vital connections and similarities that exist.

On any given day, St Christopher's and The Springfield Project are vibrant hubs of conversation, service, interaction and prayer between Christians and those of other faiths: good news in an age of inter-religious bad news!

Sidewalk

Inspired by a year working with Metro Ministries in New York, Barry and Camilla Johnston are connecting with non-churched children and youth in their area by going to where they are.

Every Saturday for eight months of the year (spring/summer/autumn), they take their yellow Sidewalk van to the same local park where local children gather to play. The team run an hour of activities that include songs, games, a memory verse, a drama based on a Bible story, three object lessons and a life lesson (cartoon story tying it all together). Though aimed at the children, parents and older siblings tend to watch from the back. Some are increasingly helping in minor roles and making suggestions of what would make it better.

For all the children they befriend, appropriate longer-term discipleship of those who want to know more about the Christian faith is one that the Sidewalk community takes responsibility for. They make regular visits to the families of the children that come and are starting to look to establishing a community house as a base for some who are involved.

Sidewalk LogoThe Sidewalk community who facilitate this ministry meet weekly for food and fun. They meet in the park to continue to build relationships with families there and then gather in a team member's home. In terms of the fresh expressions journey, they are now preparing for the stage of what kind of worship will sustain them. What kind of deeper spiritual disciplines or input is appropriate for the community that is made up of seasoned Christians, new Christians and not yet Christians that all play a part in making Sidewalk happen?

Being a multi-cultural area, they have found many of the kids coming to Sidewalk are from Muslim families. As cross-cultural mission engagement with Muslim children and their families is not common, there are limited resources available for this kind of ministry. Therefore, they are pioneering something very precious and learning as they go.

Christ Church Brighton

Christ Church Brighton is a fresh expression of church in Brighton, established in 2005 under an initiative from the Bishop of Chichester. Meeting in pubs, caf├ęs and a school every Sunday morning, Christ Church is a community of a dozen nationalities, from 1 to 85 in age, with a wide of backgrounds – very much reflecting the makeup of Brighton.

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