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Neighbourhood Chaplains – helping churches to heal their communities

Counties UK CEO implores church leaders to back new community initiative

Over the years, readers of idea magazine will have encountered numerous stories which describe how the Evangelical Alliance and its members are moved by the Spirit of God to be bold, brave, steadfast and pioneering in the UK, to make the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ known in the midst of an ever-changing culture.

If you’re anything like the Evangelical Alliance’s personal member and former volunteer, Margaret Haines (see page 23 of the September-October edition), these accounts will have excited and encouraged you, because they show that our supreme God is as faithful and active as He was when He split the red sea, enabled Elizabeth to conceive and give birth to the man who would lead the way of the Lord, and raised Jesus from the dead before positioning Him at His right side.

We at the Evangelical Alliance tend to call these stories spotlights’, as they pinpoint a particular organisation or church and its initiatives. For this special membership edition of idea, we’ll spotlight Counties UK, whose new programme, Neighbourhood Chaplains, highlights that it is God who enables the 120-year-old charity to accomplish its objectives through the collaborative work of His people. 

Counties UK’s chief executive officer, Martin Erwin, says: Partnership is essential; it’s at the heart of the gospel. It flows out of the very nature of the Trinity. Jesus calls us co-workers together with Him. It’s simply impossible for one group or church to work effectively on its
own to make Jesus known and transform communities.”

Modelling unity

Counties UK is an excellent example of the outworking of Christians’ unity in Jesus. If you go way back, you’ll find that the charity was founded in 1899 by a group of Christians who came together to discuss how they might begin evangelising in their local villages. Fast-forward more than a century and the charity has more than 40 evangelists working closely with a wide variety of churches and agencies to spread the gospel in word and deed in England and Wales.

If you look back to Counties UK’s more recent history, you’ll see that it became a member of the Evangelical Alliance in 1989, and in the subsequent years it backed some of the Evangelical Alliance’s initiatives, including Groundswell, which, led by David Spriggs, former head of the Evangelical Alliance’s evangelism division, was established to connect mission enablers’ with churches that needed help with evangelism and church growth.

Counties UK also works in partnership with Birmingham City Mission, Scripture Union, Youth for Christ, Crown Jesus Ministries, Child Evangelism Fellowship, youth workers, pastors and many others, to make Jesus known across the UK by equipping and training evangelists and funding and managing Christian resources for schools”, says Martin, who has been a personal member of the Evangelical Alliance for around 25 years.

As the Holy Spirit leads

Not so long ago, Counties UK rolled out Neighbourhood Chaplains, a scheme that links up member churches with their communities in a fresh way. A major driver for us is the loneliness epidemic,” says Martin, as he ponders on the needs that he and his colleagues believe the national programme will meet. 

Statistics released by Age Concern and Help the Aged in 2009 revealed that more than one million people aged over 65 in Britain say they are always or often feel lonely. A TNS Survey for Age UK in 2014 said nearly 50 per cent of older people see their TV or pet as their main form of company. So serious is the issue of loneliness, that in October 2017 Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, Britain’s chief GP, warned fellow doctors that loneliness can harm people’s health just as much as high blood pressure or smoking.

But God has been mobilising His people to help tackle this. Neighbourhood Chaplains came about through one of our evangelists, who was doing door-to-door work. He discovered that there’s a great need for the church to connect with people at their homes and in their communities,” explains Martin, who’s originally from Northern Ireland and grew up in a devout Christian family. Owing to some people’s reservations about evangelists, our team member found that if he partnered with his local church and described himself as a neighbourhood chaplain, locals would more readily receive him.”

Working together

What began as one man’s inspiration has been developed into a fully-fl edged programme offered by Counties UK, complete with training and resources to enable local churches to obtain the tools and guidance that they need to go out into their communities and touch the lives of the broken-hearted. Martin says, We piloted Neighbourhood Chaplains last year, and have since trained eight community workers, church leaders and evangelists to set up projects. We encourage more churches to work with us and make this programme a UK-wide success to glorify Jesus Christ the King.

We are striving for an experiential understanding of the gospel, and not simply an intellectual one, and our hope for the church right across the UK is that we all rediscover this confidence, to see an awakening, a revival in our country, where we will see the outpouring of the Spirit of God and dry bones live. We are God’s own, and God is not willing that any should perish, so let’s make a solid commitment to God’s heart to see people and places transformed by the power of the gospel.”

One the ground

Team leader and counties evangelist Beverley Bedford leads a team of 26 trained neighbourhood chaplains in North Devon. She says: I have always felt that the church should be first in line to love its community in word and action. For me, neighbourhood chaplaincy means being engaged in the community and being prepared to stand in the gap where there is a need for help and support. A neighbourhood chaplain is in a unique position to off er hope, to give quality time and to invest in people’s lives. One individual who provided feedback to Neighbourhood Chaplains said, The service was invaluable; the chaplains kept coming to visit when others stopped calling.”

She says: The work of a neighbourhood chaplain is diverse. Each time I go out into the community, there is a sense I never know what challenges I may face. As a chaplain I have held the hand of newborn babies and the dying. I’ve sat with the lonely, depressed, despairing and confused. I’ve walked alongside and supported people in the most stressful of times and in days of celebration and joy too. I’ve had the privilege to pray for and with people in those moments when they are making tough decisions in the most difficult circumstances. I have shared my faith boldly with the result of promoting many interesting faith discussions.

I’ve found people don’t really care how much I know; they first want to know how much I care. Our neighbourhood chaplaincy team serves people through befriending and by lending a helping hand when it is most needed. Just being there when no one else can be is the service we provide. My hope and vision as we step forward as a team is to see a healthy community that is spiritually awakened and transformed. We want our community to see the church without walls, without prejudice, without limits. We are praying our communities will experience repentance, healing and wholeness from an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

I am confident that as we portray the biblical model of Jesus’ compassionate servant heart, God will work and bless in exciting ways. The initiative and framework of Neighbourhood Chaplains equips and enables us to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel. Remember the gospel is not just something we come to church to hear; it’s something we live to tell. So, let us all live the good news as we proclaim in the communities God has placed us.” 

About the author

Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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