Major Kathryn Blowers of The Salvation Army tells how Roma churches are developing in Kent.
My husband, David, and I served with The Salvation Army in Prague for nine years. In 2003 we returned to this country when we were appointed to a very large, traditional corps in Margate where there were a number of Czech and Slovak speaking Roma people.
We started some ministry with them, mainly social, but seven years ago we launched a house group involving ourselves and 3 other couples, including our daughter who had married a Czech Roma. From that grew a church which now welcomes in about 120/130 people in all and, two years ago, we also planted another church in Chatham.
Our whole aim is to train and disciple and equip people for ministry; we are not a 'social' church as such so we don't do food banks or mums and toddlers' groups and so on. Those are all great things to do but they're not our particular focus, we do help in the community but it's not in order to 'get people in', our community work is simply an expression of the life of the church. We help people to be saved by God and we then disciple them, nurture them, teach them, develop their ministry and send them out to do it all over again. Evangelism is very much the natural outcome of discipled people living lives which are committed to Christ.
As a result of this approach, our corps programme comprises:
- main worship meeting and children's programme (Saturday);
- family day (no organised programme – Sunday);
- housegroups (Monday) at various locations;
- drop-in (9am) and Bible school (Tuesday);
- women's meeting and a housegroups in Chatham and Gravesend and youth ministry in Margate (Thursday);
- discipleship class (Friday).
On Wednesdays a mission team leads a meeting in Chatham – supporting Chatham corps in ministering to the Roma community in that town – and on Thursdays housegroups are led in Chatham and Gravesend by mission team members.
We've probably got about 40-50 people (including children) meeting regularly at Chatham now and we're also talking about setting up another group in Gravesend. There are five house groups in Margate, about 80 people are included in this house group ministry. Our youth house group has now divided into two and meets on a different day.
I would say that about 95% of the people in our own congregation have been saved in the last seven years. Many of them want to become members of The Salvation Army, wear the uniform and get really committed to it. We also teach very strongly about tithing and the church was in the top 5% of giving in our division, in relation to size.
Many of our meetings currently take place at the Northumberland Gospel Hall in Margate but, in early 2015, we will move into a building on the high street. This is exciting because it further allows us to do what we ought to be doing and we will have another Salvation Army couple with us which will enable us to plant out from that 'hot spot'.
We had a first wedding from the Chatham group on 28th December 2014; this was great news because the Roma people don't normally get married. In their culture it's more normal to live together but we've had several weddings at Margate since the church started.
One of our biggest challenges is answering the rather political question of, 'Why are you doing a separate church for them?' To me, that could also be seen as almost a racist comment; the fact is we're simply trying to keep up with what God has been doing with the Roma people and providing the space for them to come to know him and then tell others. This is truly missional work without going abroad.