In our work with churches we have, as a first step, been helping them to analyse how welcoming they are to other cultures.
We have helped them to look at advertising, environment, the warmth of the people, the structure of the Sunday meeting and many other practical aspects. We are doing this by visiting on request a church service and spending focussed time with church leadership.
We are now asking God about the next step. How can we build on this foundation in helping churches to be more accessible to all ? I think the answer must be in the attitude of our hearts and the willingness to die to ourselves. Frankly in the end it’s all about whether we are up for loving people who are not the same as us ! When we do this we begin to give people a welcome that allows them to feel they can belong and make this church their spiritual home.
Sometimes there has been an opportunity to look at how the leadership is working in a church and we believe our input has been an opportunity for change and development within a congregation and also for the leaders involved. This can be a blessing because quite often a leader can feel isolated or unwilling to open up within an unsympathetic denominational structure. We have come with an outside viewpoint, with experience and without strings!
Ultimately we are wanting to see churches working alongside one another in an area to bring the good news of God’s love and salvation to the whole community. So we have been bringing churches together in collaborative projects. An example of this is the ongoing work we established with International students on the University of East London campus at Stratford, and in previous years at Royal Holloway University of London. Volunteers from several Stratford churches, alongside some of the students, are hosting a weekly lunchtime event with free food, live music and a short talk from a Christian perspective. Last year over 150 came along, mostly non-Christians, with a regular crowd of around 40 each week.
Another example has been helping local churches in Rainham to initiate a food bank for individuals and families in crisis. This project will be open for the community in November (2011). People can face sudden deprivation for example while awaiting unemployment benefit. When they come to the foodbank, there is opportunity for conversation and further help. In all this we can see that God’s love will be making divine connections into peoples lives for the volunteers involved.
Community projects are especially helpful for churches who have a heart for the local community but are struggling to break out of being culturally mono-ethnic.
Undergirding the establishment of any kind of project are the relationships between churches. To further this for example in the Havering Borough we have been working to encourage isolated churches and newly planted churches to connect with Across Havering which brings together church and ministry leaders to share news, pray and fellowship. Through our personal invitations to these newer churches, this group has doubled in size over the last twelve months and is now much more representative of the cultural range of leadership in the Borough.
The networking days on Multicultural ministry have been providing a growing forum for churches and ministries to share their experiences in how to be more welcoming across the cultures in a community. Our next one is on November 15th at Highway Church, Stratford. You are warmly invited to come along and learn more.