This week we have been at the Christian Resource Exhibition at Sandown, Esher. It is day three and I am sitting in a tiny little triangular corner between a banner and a wall, it is a cosy and quiet place to be.
I don’t know how many of you have been to CRE before, but it is a fascinating place. This is my first time and I am surrounded by people selling chairs and modern pews, vestments and clerical shirts, sound systems and anti damp systems. Sporadically scattered between them are book stalls, Christian holidays companies and various charities.
It is basically a shopping centre for all things church. Being a clergy kid I must say the idea of such a place makes me slightly nervous however, it has in fact been an incredible opportunity to meet individuals from a range of projects, churches and organisations all aiming to help those in need.
Yesterday, I met a lady who is a vicar, working on a freshly built estate. She has been there for three years now and has no established congregation, or church building. She is a pioneer minister having to get to the very bottom of what church and community are in such a setting.
She knows a huge number of the 700 or so houses, she works with a wide range of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. She told us that when she first moved in she delivered fliers to all the houses on the estate asking what they would like to see in this brand new ‘community’. By the time she got home she had emails, phone messages and letters through the door. How often could we expect to get such a response? My experience has been that if church does a flier drop a couple of people might get in touch, but nothing on the scale that she mentioned.
It was a unique opportunity to develop community from the beginning. There were no expectations or historical demands. This is not something that would be possible in most places, but it does beg the question – what is church?
When we have clergy in brand new estates without a building, or a congregation, but developing community, relationships and living the love of God for those around to see, how do we define what she is doing?
Community and inclusion was at the heart of what Jesus did and taught. Love God with all your heart, then Love your neighbour as yourself. He spoke to those other rejected, he engaged in conversation with those he disagreed with, he taught those who wanted to learn and he loved those who needed it.