24 October 2014
The Church at work
When I'm asked what I enjoy most about my role at the Evangelical Alliance, I invariably answer that I get to work with some amazing people and hear about and experience first-hand some of the incredible work the Church is doing all over the country, and indeed in different parts of the world.
One of my visits this summer took me to Sidcup in south east London. As I parked my car it was obvious that this was far from the average church kids' club. It seemed as if the whole park, right in the middle of the town, had been taken over. There were numerous marquees, both large and small, an open-air stage, cafes and so much activity with hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds milling around. I had just arrived at Lark in the Park, brought together by Sidcup churches and hosted by New Generation Church.
As I chatted to Paul Weston, the church's leader, he gave me the background. Lark in the Park started 18 years ago with a small DIY tent. It lasted for only a weekend. Over the years, it has grown to become a focal point for the community in and around Sidcup.
As I walked around the sights and looked at the programme, it was obvious there was something for everyone –whatever your age or interests. I walked past a tea dance and into a craft tent before being interviewed on an outside stage. I then visited a whole host of children's and youth activities.
For 16 days Lark in the Park had become a gathering place, a 'free gift' to the community. What I loved about what I saw was not only the sheer scale (on average 1,500 visitors a day) and the amazing number of volunteers (over 500), but the fact that, unapologetically, it was the Church at the heart of it. The Church was offering to pray for those in need, inviting people to Alpha courses and telling real-life stories about how faith had changed people's lives.In other words, preaching the gospel and doing church every night right in the centre of the park, while clearly and genuinely serving the community that surrounds them.
As I drove away late that afternoon I wanted to open the window of my car and shout at the top of my voice: "This is the Church at work". I was so proud of what I'd seen; the way the churches of Sidcup were so generously and sacrificially serving the people of their community.
I know we as the Church don't always get things right. We make mistakes and we don't always represent Jesus as well as we should, but sometimes, you know, I just want to celebrate all of the amazing things the Church across the UK is contributing to society.
What the churches in Sidcup have demonstrated is a long-term commitment to their community, and that's not just for 16 days over the summer. The work continues right through the year: food banks, park pastors, debt counselling, provision for young people, Bexley's first free school, Alpha courses and parenting courses; you name it, the Church is doing it. The Church is being church both in words and action.
As we read our newspapers and watch TV it's easy to come away with the impression that the Church is dead. It's true, nominal Christianity – the turn-up-on-a-Sunday-because-you-think-you-should Christianity – is finished in the UK. But I want you to know, as I travel the country, I am finding a Church that's wonderfully alive. Passionate, committed, Christ-centred Christianity is continuing to impact lives; the good news of the gospel is still working today.