Community lies at the heart of what our churches and Christian communities stand for.
Meeting together and enjoying fellowship with each other is part of church life, but reaching out into the community and modelling Christ’s love and compassion is what drives the work of Church Growth Trust (CGT). Welcoming the advent of spring, Ruth Leigh decided to find out what three very different churches are doing in their neighbourhoods.
Judith and David Smith are the pastors at Horizon Church in Sutton. The former Assembly Walk Chapel was taken over by Horizon in May 2013, once the Brethren congregation felt it was time to hand the building on to another church through CGT.
Judith gives some background: “We’re in the London Borough of Sutton, on an estate in the highest 20% of deprivation in the UK. We’ve got mixed housing, a few shops and small businesses, but no pub anymore and no major businesses.”
The neighbourhood struggles under a huge weight of issues. “We have widespread poverty, health issues, deprivation, addiction, workless families, loneliness and isolation and one of the lowest educational attainment percentages in the borough. That said, the people are lovely and what you see is what you get. Once they get to know you and you earn their trust and respect, relationships are built.”
Horizon’s congregation are a very practical group of people. They do not preach. They do not proselytise. They believe that they are there to love the people on the estate with no strings attached. With this central vision in place, the church is there to meet needs and get alongside people. This does ultimately result in many coming to faith.
“We run lots of community groups and anyone who comes to those is as much a part of the church family as the Sunday congregation,” explains Judith. “We offer seniors’ lunches, the Family Hub, a men’s group, toddlers and coffee mornings. If you’re in the church or a community group and you have a new baby, we deliver two weeks’ worth of evening meals to you and your family.”
One of the most pressing issues in the community is low educational attainment. There are a number of practical ways of breaking the cycle for this generation as Judith explains: “Many children and young people don’t have a dining room table or anywhere to sit to do homework. They are bringing tasks home which their parents don’t understand so they feel unable to support them. We piloted a homework club for secondary school children for two years and soon found that we needed a whole family approach.
The People’s Health Trust funded the project secondary homework club and now we start younger. Parents come with their children from the early years right up to secondary school. It helps with confidence building, attainment and self-confidence for the whole family. It cuts down on detentions and supports young people in staying on at school.”
For a relatively small church Horizon are certainly punching above their weight. With the church building and a portakabin full to bursting, their next challenge is to raise funds for a second portakabin. With their generous and open-hearted vision for their community, there is no doubt they are going places.