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29 February 2012

ACT Network: The gateway to urban mission

ACT Network: The gateway to urban mission

by Chine Mbubaegbu

In the latest of our features looking at the work of Christian organisations tackling some of society’s biggest issues, we profile the work of the Act Network – a movement equipping churches to engage in social transformation in their communities.

The Church is at its best when it’s holistically meeting the needs of those in its communities. And often those who are most in need can be found in urban areas up and down the country. More often than not, there are churches at the heart of these inner cities; churches that often see the need but do not know how they can meet it – especially with their limited manpower.

That’s where the ACT Network comes in. The charity is committed to ensuring effective social action ministries go to where they are most needed in the inner city. Working closely with inner-city churches right in the heart of areas with high social deprivation, ACT Network hopes to equip them to be the light in their communities.

Jessica Davies, the London director of ACT Network, says it’s all about equipping the Church and changing lives. “We realised that there are some fantastic churches in the inner cities, but yet the statistics remain the same year on year when you look at social deprivation. So something wasn’t working. “We know that there are some excellent ministries, such as Christians Against Poverty, Food Banks, XLP urban youth charity and educational charity The Lighthouse Group, tackling some specific issues of social exclusion. So we work to put what really works where it’s really needed – matching these ministries up with the churches.”

One of the main ways ACT Network works is through Mission Year – a scheme through which Christians are connected with inner-city churches to serve a particular area. The Mission Year participants live in shared houses where they are encouraged to build a sense of community and pool their resources within their new home, but also work alongside a particular church in community outreach. It’s similar to The Simple Way – the community home in Philadelphia founded by author and activist Shane Claiborne. Many of the Mission Year candidates reveal that it was Claiborne’s teaching on ‘intentional community’ which first attracted them to taking part in something similar in the UK. There are now 15 London churches which have Mission Year teams serving them.

Jude Padfield of St Paul’s Shadwell says Mission Year has really helped the church do what it feels it is called to do – build relationship and be Christ within the community. “It’s about building friendships – friendships that are strong enough to carry the gospel. Mission Year integrates people right in the heart of the community where they can build strong, meaningful relationships with neighbours, with shopkeepers.”

Speaking to Jesus Army magazine about Mission Year, Lord Wei – the patron of the ACT Network, said: “I’m keen to see more Christians try out this more authentic, biblical way of living. We hope that participants will feel that this is something they will want to continue in their own locality. For some, the firsthand experience of poverty and deprivation may determine their life’s choice: to live in community, to go into politics, business or church leadership, and pursue an agenda of social transformation. These networks aim to attract Christians who can be an army on the ground, working with local churches to make social change happen.”

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idea magazine spent a day meeting lots of amazing people who are showing their dedication to social transformation by getting involved with the ACT Network and its projects. We met church leaders, debt counsellors, Food Bank clients, women’s outreach works – and just ordinary Christians who feel called to live out their lives in community with each other and with those in need around them.

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