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Book review: Jesus in Town

This is an remarkable story of what can be achieved when local churches work together

Barking Churches Unite is one of many unity movements which have been formed in recent years to bring the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus to communities around the UK and to engage Christians in social action projects to demonstrate the love of God.

Elizabeth Mednick, the author, is well qualified to tell this story, as she is married to Michael, the instigator of Barking Churches Unite and a pioneer of inter-church cooperation in the boroughs of east London.

The book begins with short biographical sketches of the author and her husband, and brief accounts of their early lives as Christians, before describing their pioneering work in encouraging united church action in the London Borough of Newham. 

After being involved in this work for several years, however, Michael felt a strong sense that he was being called to move into the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, where an existing unity movement had fizzled out after key personnel had moved out of the area.

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Not one to hide his light under a bushel, Michael made contact with various local church leaders in Barking and explained his vision for re-establishing inter-church work in the town. He received a positive response to his proposals and Barking Churches Unite was born.

It soon becomes apparent from Jesus in Town that the Mednicks are born activists, but I was impressed by the emphasis that they have always placed on prayer in their various endeavours. 

Their work in Barking, for example, began with a strong emphasis on prayer with regular prayer meetings arranged in participating churches and opportunities for prayer walking around the borough. This emphasis on prayer has continued until the present time and must be a major factor in the later success of their work. 

Elizabeth describes the practical projects that emerged from these early prayer initiatives, among them a local foodbank and a Kidz Klub, which brings Christian activities and teaching to children who might otherwise remain untouched by existing church programmes and Sunday schools. A music academy, meeting in church premises on Saturdays, was also established to provide tuition in musical instruments to young and older people in the borough.

I found it exciting to read how the work expanded further with the launch of The Source, a shop in the local shopping centre which offers information, advice, counselling and prayer to local residents. 

Perhaps testament to God working through His people’s unity was the fact that the shop premises were originally offered to the churches for a nominal rent but the need to pay even a modest sum was later dropped when new management took over the shopping centre. 

The Source became the chain that linked the various ministries of Barking Churches Unite together, providing them with office facilities and enabling and expanding the scope of its work by offering hot meals to homeless people in the borough. There have been additional forms of outreach at Christmas and Easter and a business chaplain has been appointed who regularly visits the shops and businesses in the shopping centre.

Michael’s deeply felt concern for homeless people led to the creation of a night shelter for homeless people which now operates all the year round and is based in a number of church buildings throughout Barking and Dagenham. 

After describing the various projects maintained by Barking Churches Unite, the second half of the book offers advice to churches in other towns and cities who may be interested in beginning similar ministries. 

The author responds to various obstacles to inter-church cooperation that have been offered by a few church leaders and admits that at times it has been difficult to find sufficient volunteers to take part in different projects. 

Jesus in Town has been welcomed by Roger Sutton, director of Gather and organiser of the Movement Day conferences, who describes it as a passionate call to the unity of the body of Christ”.

Dr Jonathan Oloyede, organiser of the National Day of Prayer, suggests that the book has been written with humility, vulnerability and clarity” and will help many believers engage more widely with the world in the true love and spirit of Jesus”.

I have to admit that I have a certain interest in this book as Michael and Elizabeth Mednick are former members of my own church in Barking, and it was at my suggestion that Elizabeth offered her manuscript to publisher Instant Apostle. 

I am pleased to welcome Jesus in Town as an inspiring account of what can be achieved when churches work together at a local level, and I would recommend it to Christians in other parts of the country keen to begin similar ministries.

About the author

Graham Hedges is the Secretary of Christians in Library and Information Services and a trustee of the Christian Book Promotion Trust.

See more from Graham Hedges

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