Salvation Army Captains Gary and Dawn Lacey came to Ealing in 2013 to set up a prayer centre and develop Christian community there. Dawn tells the story of what happened.
The concept of planting a house of prayer wasn't new to my husband, Gary, and I because we had previously set up centres in Durham and Liverpool. In fact, the vision was very much that we would set up a national network of these prayer houses.
However, almost right from the start in West London, we have felt ourselves to be in a really tough spiritual battle. Church planting, or being involved in fresh-expressions-type work, is never the easiest thing to do – and we've had that calling about houses of prayer over the past ten years – but everything seemed to step up a gear when we came to Ealing.
We still hold on to the prophetic words that God gave us about houses of prayer so whether Ealing is the final one for us to be involved in, and someone else then takes up the mantle, we don't know. We just seek to keep going wherever God leads us. All the settings we've known have been so different. In Liverpool, the prayer house seemed to help disgruntled Christians come back into relationship with God though we did also do much street work there – and praying for the city. In Durham, a lot of young students got involved.
The vision for a house of prayer is to create a place that is based on prayer, mission and justice. Hospitality and pilgrimage, creativity and teaching are also very important to our missional approach. Here, the focus is on serving those in need, people who are experiencing homelessness and those who use the building we're based in during the week. A few organisations rent the space but they are still very much aware that it's a Christian house of prayer. Gary and I pray that we're faithful in simply opening the doors and seeing what God does.
There are four designated prayer rooms, a hospitality area, a community room, spaces for creative prayer and a worship/gathering room.
Our main meeting is on a Thursday evening, we are not doing a Sunday morning service. What's happening is that we are building a community of people happy to meet together on Thursdays to find out more about what it means to be a Christian; it's almost like a home group. We have recently been looking at, 'What does God to say to us in the silence?' That same group will eventually form a new church; there are about twelve of us at the moment – some of us are staunch Salvationists, others go to an Anglican church. It is a great mix of people.
We probably have about an hour and a half together during which time we have coffee and listen to a talk before we leave it open for discussion and just go for it! As a community, we have a daily rhythm of prayer at 10am and 12noon and that forms the basis of what we are about. That very much feeds into this place being somewhere for people to become more effective in the development of a lifestyle of prayer; that's why we have prayer cards out on the table for everyone and teaching on subjects like personal prayer life, spiritual warfare, street prayer and prayer ministry. When people come in and talk to us about experiencing homelessness, or desperation, or whatever it may be, we always ask them if they'd like us to pray for them.
We have a paid worker, who is brilliant, and we have loads of volunteers. We certainly need them because we run a charity shop next door as well. Our café is open from 10am to 3pm, Tuesday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. We've got a luncheon club, a kids' club, and also have a particular call to those who are experiencing homelessness. Our goal this year is just to stabilise everything that's happening because at the heart of everything we do is the desire to see people come to know Jesus.
It's interesting to look back at the history of this place because there was a Salvation Army Centre in this building from 1909. In the past it was a very traditional corps but, by the time we came, there were only about 10-15 people left and they knew that something needed to change; they just didn't know how to make that change. It's all about bringing people into a relationship with Jesus – whether that's done in a traditional or contemporary way.
I totally understand that it can be very difficult to take on board why things need to be so different, particularly if you've always done something a certain way. All I can say, here in Ealing, is that this is growing; people are coming to a knowledge of God because he is doing new things and we have just got to join in!