Circuit Mission Day

On 9th April people from around the Circuit gathered at Hanwell to begin thinking about the shape of our future mission. About 25 of us came together from most of the churches in the Circuit.

The day was introduced by Rev Sue Male who gave a brief overview of our Lent course ‘Unless the Lord Builds the House’ which had led up to the Mission Day. The course had encouraged us to look around our local areas thinking about the kind our housing there is and what services there are – transport, parks, libraries etc and then to have conversations with people on what they felt was good and not-so-good and what they liked and didn’t like about their areas. Leading on from that, we can begin thinking about what our circuit and churches might do in response taking account of what is already happening and whether there are any gaps that we might seek to fill.

The first speaker of the day was Mark Dishley from Christians Against Poverty (CAP) who is the Centre Manager of their Ealing & Acton Debt Centre based at the Oak Tree Fellowship in Acton. Mark outlined how he had grown up in the Ealing area and, although he had felt led by God to work in a number of countries, he had been involved in local initiatives such as the St John’s Soup Kitchen before working with CAP.

CAP was founded in 1996 and since then has become a nation-wide charity offering debt counselling and practical help with getting people out of debt. When someone contacts CAP for help the following happens:

  • To begin, a Debt Coach and a support worker will visit the person in their own home and will gather as much information as possible about their financial issues.
  • CAP head office in Bradford will then put together a realistic budget prioritising the payment of essential bills. Cap will also negotiate affordable payments with each creditor and take action to stop unfair interest and charges where possible.
  • The Debt Coach will then make a second home visit to explain the budget and the payments the person will need to make.
  • In most cases, a ‘CAP Account’ will be set up for the person – rather like a simple bank account. The person pays an agreed weekly or monthly amount into the account to cover bills and debts and CAP then pays the creditors.
  • If debt is severe, CAP will help people with insolvency options such as petitioning for bankruptcy and will help with the necessary forms and, if necessary court proceedings.

How can churches help? Mark explained that one option is for people to volunteer to ‘befriend’ people struggling with debt. This would involve occasional phone calls just to see how people are doing and offer a friendly listening ear. There are other ways churches can help on the ‘get involved’ pages of the CAP website.

Throughout his talk, Mark stressed the need for churches and people to come together to do things and that everyone can have a part to play in that. God had challenged him to do things he had not foreseen and may challenge us in a similar way. In that, we need to be open to being ‘changeable’ and to embrace change.

You can find out more about CAP by going to https://capuk.org. Note that in addition to debt counselling, CAP also runs Job Clubs to help people with practical help in finding employment and Life Skills courses to help people to get their most from their finances.

Our next speaker was Marie Newstead from Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter (ECWNS). Marie has direct experience of homelessness and knows ‘what it is like’ - some of us will remember her as a night shelter guest a few years ago. She was made homeless in 2017 and struggled to get help. At the time Ealing Council was unable to offer support although she did receive help from Crisis in Brent who found hostel accommodation for her in Harringey. Despite her struggles, Marie volunteered with the Salvation Army and with Build on Belief (which helps people struggling with substance use). Eventually, she and her partner found a studio flat that they were able to move into. Then, the opportunity came up to work with ECWNS as a Shelter Worker. Underpinning her work is not only her own experience of homelessness, but also the network of contacts she built up with the various organisations she had contact with during that period in her life.

A number of our churches have worked with ECWNS providing volunteers and venues for the night shelters. This all came to a halt when the pandemic began. Fortunately, Ealing Council found accommodation for homeless people in Ealing which rather solved the problem, if only for a time. Although some churches in Ealing were keen to re-start for the 2021/22 season, the risks were still too great. Just one guest or volunteer testing positive would have caused the whole night shelter to collapse as multiple people would have had been at risk and would have had to self-isolate. In practice the operation would then have had to shut down.

A solution was found when the opportunity arose to take 10 places in a small B&B hotel in Southall – the Broadway Hotel – from 1st January to the end of March. This gave guests their own rooms, TV, WiFi and the ability to self-isolate if necessary. The hotel had a small kitchen with a washing machine and churches delivered food for evening meals on a rota basis – Ealing Green provided one meal a week for 7 weeks and Kingsdown provided 2 Sunday evening meals. In addition, a Saturday breakfast was provided by the Church of Our Lady of the Visitation in Greenford – something that is continuing although the shelter has now closed.

Marie has worked closely with shelter guests helping them sort out a whole range of issues. Apart from providing accommodation during the winter months, guests are also helped with such things as GP registration, getting them glasses as well as complex issues such as replacing passports and obtaining ‘settled status’.

The plan for next winter is not yet clear. As Marie explained, the hotel was good and worked well but lacked anywhere where the guests could meet together. Guests liked the flexibility of the hotel in that they could come and go as they needed but missed the community that being in church halls gave them. ECWNS are now exploring the way forward for next winter.

Marie pointed out that in many ways the homeless are ‘hidden from view’ In 2020 St Mungos estimated that there 13 people in Ealing Living on the streets. However, this took no account of people sleeping on friends’ sofas and having to move from place to place. They are also to be counted as ‘homeless’. At least there is no reason for people to go hungry in Ealing – there are soup kitchens and places where people can get free food open every day.

In conclusion, Marie asked for continuing prayers for the work of the night shelter.

Our third speaker was Janet Fletcher from Ealing Foodbank. Referring to the title of our Lent course, Janet began by saying that her image is that of a dry stone wall rather than a house. The blocks needed to build houses are typically all of the same size and shape whereas in a dry stone wall all the stones are of different sizes and shapes. Each has its place and each is important in keeping the wall together.

Ealing Foodbank began in 2013 (although foodbanks in general date back earlier than that) when there was a growing consensus among churches that there was an emerging need within the borough. With growing economic pressures, benefit changes and the impact of the pandemic more and more people are finding they need to use the foodbank.

Poverty is often described as a prison, a trap into which people fall. The foodbank recognises that the issue goes beyond feeding people and has come up with an acronym for its work - ‘FEED’ – Focus on Ending Ealing Deprivation centring on:

  1. Food
  2. Fellowship
  3. Funded Advice
  4. Forums
  5. Finance

1. Food – from April 2021 to March 2022 the foodbank supplied 3-day food packages to 31,898 clients and fed 600 – 800 people each week.

2. Fellowship – as a result of the pandemic it has not been possible to offer people coffee, cake and a chat when they collect their food. Two of the centres are looking at how they might re-start offering fellowship in some form. However, the numbers of people using the foodbank poses issues for providing fellowship in the 2-hours that they are open.

3. Funded advice – the foodbank has received a high level of financial donations and has been able to fund the involvement of Crosslight Advice which provides advice on money and other issues to foodbank clients. The foodbank is also looking at a new advice service to help people adjust their lives to meet the issues posed by their current circumstances.

4. Forums – working through such forums as Ealing Business Expo 2022. Businesses in Ealing have a huge impact on people’s lives. The foodbank is working to encourage businesses to consider their levels of pay and moving towards paying at least the London Living Wage (currently £10.55/hour) rather than the National Minimum Wage (£9.50/hour from 1st April 2022).

5. Finance – the foodbank needs to be good stewards of its resources and is looking at how it can professionalise its fund-raising.

The foodbank shows what can be achieved when churches work together – the same can also be said about ECWNS. In conclusion Janet posed a question as we think about the Circuit’s future mission – “Is the Lord asking us to build new houses or an extension to somebody else’s?”

At this point in the proceedings we broke for lunch. Sue Male summed up the needs of the organisations we had heard from as follows:

  • Christians Against Poverty: Prayer and volunteers to become ‘befrienders’
  • Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter: Patience as they work out how to operate next winter.
  • Ealing Foodbank: Prayer and resourcing to help with skills advice.

Sue Male also mentioned Hanwell’s Wednesday coffee mornings which coincide with the foodbank sessions at St Mellitus opposite the Methodist Church. Hanwell makes conscious efforts to draw people in and people using the foodbank do drop in for a coffee and a chat.

The speaker for the afternoon session was Sharon Nugent from the London District Learning Network who spoke about ‘mission’ more broadly and the initiatives the Methodist Church is currently promoting.

Mission begins with God. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has put it, mission is “finding out what God is doing and joining in”.

Most church mission has focussed on what Sharon called the ‘attractional’ model, ie trying to draw people into the church, to ‘come and hear’. On this model, the best place for mission activity is the church and church-sanctioned meetings. Sharon contrasted this with the ‘incarnational’ model as used by Jesus and the Apostles. This involves going out to where people are to engage with them and build relationships. “Every Methodist wherever they are is a part of mission”. Mission is about living out God’s love in the world and our wider communities.

Sharon briefly described the Methodist Church’s mission initiatives since 2000 – Our Calling, Fresh Expressions, Mission-shaped Church. However, society has continued to change and there is an increasing degree of disengagement from church in our society.

New Places for New People (NPNP) is about projects focussed on forming new Christian communities for those not yet part of an existing church. This may involve projects in, for example new towns or new housing developments, among students or families with children. Projects could begin anywhere in very diverse contexts. In part, NPNP is about reclaiming Methodism’s missional DNA.

Allied to NPNP is Church at the Margins which is more closely linked to nurturing new Christian communities amongst marginalised people. This links in with projects directed at people who live on the margins of society – the homeless, those struggling with poverty and debt etc. To quote Deacon Eunice Attwood, the Methodist Church’s Church at the Margins Officer, “social justice and evangelism are deeply intertwined”.

Every circuit is being asked to imagine and begin sustaining something new. By 2025, all circuits should include Church at the Margins in their mission action plans. There will be some central funding available for projects although this will not be for a while yet.

In sum, we are encouraged to go out, to re-discover, to re-connect, to go to where people are, to build relationships, to listen and to take the love of God to meet people out there wherever they are.

To find out more about New Places New People, go to:

https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-work/our-work-in-britain/evangelism-growth/new-places-for-new-people/

A series of webinars is being organised for each Learning Network region to introduce Church at the Margins – watch out for dates for the London region.

Rev Ajay Singh brought the day to a close. While we had heard some interesting and inspiring things, he was concerned that the number of people attending the day was fairly low (25 out of a total Circuit membership of 372). In itself this gives cause for thought and reflection as the Circuit seeks its way forward.

Thanks go to our Deacon, Theresa Simons-Sam for her hard work in organising the day and to Hanwell for providing the venue and lunch.

 


First published on: 24th May 2022