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25 February 2013

This is our place: Salford

This is our place: Salford

Alongside Salford’s regeneration has been a rejuvenation of church unity, writes Chine Mbubaegbu…

In recent years, Salford has seen a return to its heyday, and so has the Church in the city. At the heart of the city’s heritage lies Salford Docks, which was opened in 1894 by Queen Victoria and used to be one of the country’s busiest ports. Before it closed in the early 1980s, the docks employed around 5,000 people. When the port started to decline in the 1970s because it could not accommodate larger container ships which came into existence, the city changed. Pride in the city was replaced by a spirit of inadequacy. 

There aren’t many people who know Salford better than Dave King, who runs Salford Stories and works to unite churches across the city. His father had been praying for the city for more than 45 years and now the baton has been passed on to him. “I was always brought up to believe that because I came from Salford, I would never become anything. I always believed that I wasn’t worth much.” 

The city is an area of high deprivation. Government figures in 2011 showed that it was in the top 20 worst areas in the country – joint 14th with Burnley – for indicators such as poverty and unemployment. 

The city sees high levels of crime and children failing in education. Dave said he felt challenged by God in the late 1990s to see the Church as responsible and that what was needed was a renewed sense of unity in order to bring hope to the area. 

“God asked me what the most dysfunctional family in Salford was. And I was thinking of big crime families,” said Dave, who spoke at our Gather conference in 2012. “But what God said to me was that the Church was the biggest dysfunctional family in the city.” 

"Unity is often hard, but demonstrates something of the character of Christ"

Churches in Salford were not functioning in unity and so the wake-up call led Dave to work hard to bring the churches together. “God had said to me that people may look to the government, but that His Church was the role model family for this city.

“God was also clearly saying that we should welcome new churches into the city because really there is only one Church. We encouraged everyone in the city not to see themselves as isolated cases, but work together in oneness.” 

Alongside the renewed sense of unity, which is beginning to bear fruit, has come a regeneration and a rejuvenation of the Salford area. The past few years have seen the redevelopment of Salford Quays, with media organisations such as the BBC moving into the neighbourhood. 

Hayley Matthews is the media chaplain based at MediaCityUK and works to build relationships with those working in the media, provide a listening ear and run events, including morning prayer, sacred spaces and monthly film nights. 

Hayley said: “It’s an amazing job. I love watching people’s minds change and realising that faith has something to offer. There are also a lot of people of faith within the media, but not many of them can wear their faith on their sleeves. Even atheists come to talk to me because they know they can do so in absolute confidence.”

Hayley said that unity is often hard, but demonstrates something of the character of Christ. “Unity is really important because we’re one body. Jesus said that by this people will know that we are his disciples. When people don’t love one another or we don’t accept each other or we don’t live it, people won’t believe it. There are some core things that we all believe.” 

Paul LloydAway from the perceived glitz and glamour of Media City is somewhere altogether different. Victory Outreach, run by Pastor Paul Lloyd, has seen drug addicts, alcoholics and gang members have their lives completely transformed through its ministry. 

Paul moved to Salford nine years ago from the east end of London to lead the church, which at the time had only a handful of people. He had seen his life completely transformed from drug addiction and a life of crime, to a passion to serve God and see others’ lives changed. “I got involved in crime and drugs and it all started to spiral out of control. And then a friend of mine introduced me to Jesus. I wasn’t even looking for him. I gave my life to the Lord in my car outside my friend’s gym.” That was in July 1995 and it took him just six weeks to be delivered from his drug addiction.

Within five years of becoming a Christian, he had worked as a missionary in India and run a rehab centre in Jerusalem. In 2000 he was ordained as a minister. 

Now, Victory Outreach in Salford is a bustling, lively church with 250 adults and 60 children from 20 different nationalities meeting on a Sunday. “We have everyone from ex-drug addicts to people with PhDs, lawyers and doctors. We also reach out to men. But our men’s outreach events are different. We climb mountains. We run survival trips with ex-commandos. We camp in the woods, but it’s not people sitting around singing ‘kumbaya’ in sandals. We have got men that have seen a bit of life.”

The church is having a profound impact on vulnerable, hurting, lonely people in the area. “Salford is always spoken about as being a dark, poverty-ridden and gangriddled place. It is downtrodden and lots of people are bound by Salford. 

“But this is a city in transition. It’s a very interesting place to be right now. We’re seeing people become Christians all the time, every week. The good thing is that the churches are co-operating with each other.” 

The unity resulted in the churches coming together in 2011 to host Party in the Park – an outreach event at Buile Hill Park. “If you change the spiritual atmosphere in the city, the church will grow. That’s God’s economy. Jesus hasn’t got many churches. We are one church.” 

For more stories on unity for mission in towns and cities across the UK, visit our Gather website: wegather.co.uk

Photo credit (top): N Harrison

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