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22 December 2011

Bowled over in Carmarthen

A Carmarthenshire church has recently embarked upon an ambitious community project that will involve developing a bowling alley, a conference centre, a foodbank and a café, while at the same time creating much-needed jobs for the local economy. 

This is the latest example in what is becoming a welcome development among some evangelical churches in the UK and Wales. One such example saw Bethlehem Church Life Centre in Cefn Cribwr, near Bridgend, receive the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in 2007 for its contribution to the local community. 

Unfortunately, Towy Community Church's venture, while endorsed by the executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, caught the attention of two local bloggers who seemed to have an axe to grind against evangelical Christians. 

The church and its pastor, Mark Bennett, were put in an awkward situation when the bloggers picked up on a link on their website to Mercy Ministries, a Christian organisation that works with vulnerable women aged 18 to 24 and based in Yorkshire. 

The work of Mercy Ministries in the UK has been widely praised and a girl from Towy Community Church had her life transformed while spending a gap year with them recently.  Unfortunately, though, the Australian branch of Mercy Ministries was linked to a financial scandal while their American founder features on YouTube, where she talks openly about the need of some young women who come to their centres for deliverance. 

The bloggers, followed by the national Wales on Sunday newspaper, picked up on the deliverance statement and the Australian scandal and sensationalised it, portraying the church as being 'linked to exorcism'. Following the article, the church was forced to make some sort of response. 

Legally, churches in such situations should be judged purely on whether or not they have complied with the terms and conditions on whatever public loans and grants they have received, not on their religious beliefs. The UK government produced a myth-busting guide in 2010 to cover just these types of issues, underlining the credibility, legitimacy and ability of faith groups as providers of public services that are of benefit to all (see http://tinyurl.com/d48sjt3).  

Christian belief on deliverance is spiritually discerned and stems from our worldview. When non-Christians talk about exorcism and deliverance, they often think of the appalling examples that have appeared in the UK press in recent years. Evangelicals should rightly distance themselves and speak out against any form of abuse that takes place under the guise of exorcism or deliverance. However, exorcism per se is practised by both the Anglican and Catholics churches while deliverance - the act of being rescued or set free - is a mainstream Christian belief. 

The media coverage meant that the project needed to be debated by the whole of the council before being ratified, which it was by some 80 votes in favour with only three against. Please pray for Towy Community Church and their pastor Mark Bennett as they enter into the next phase of this venture.