What It Looks Like In Stockwood Right Now
Lance Mason is the Pastor at Stockwood Free Church, a Baptist Church in Bristol. Here he shares their church community response following the Covid 19 outbreak:
“Will you give me a drink?”. So began a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman that was to transform not just her life but also the lives of all those in the town she came from. So early in Jesus’ ministry we find Jesus speaking to the “wrong” person in the “wrong” place at the “wrong” time. How many of us have preached a sermon along these lines? This single story captivates me because it flies in the face of what most of us would call “mission” or “outreach”. We tend to lay on events, programmes, projects – often, but not always,on our own church premises – we invite along lots of our friends, we eat (of course!), we sing, we talk and that’s it – mission done. Yet this story flies completely in the face of this approach. Jesus travels through Samaria – he really oughtn’t to have been lingering there – talks one-to-one with a Samaritan woman – now that will get the tongues wagging – bold as brass right in the middle of the day – has the man no common-sense?
But what really gets me in this passage is that opening line – he asks the woman if she will give him some water. Has he never read the manual on mission? Surely he ought to be doing something for her – feeding her, giving her something to drink, soothing her troubled mind, healing her body – not asking her to do something for him. Jesus is my model for mission. Rather than ministering to her, he allows her to minister to him in the first instance. Doesn’t this just overturn mission as we usually do it?
Everything about this story encourages me to partner with, rather than do stuff to, people in my community. I am not in competition with them. I am certainly no better than they. I have learned down through the years that the people of Stockwood want to work alongside the church, to rub shoulders with us, to see us warts and all, to learn what it is that makes us tick.
Finally I get round to doing what I was asked to do, to talk about what we have done locally. In Stockwood we have around 4 500 homes and 10 000 people. As the storm clouds gathered I called a “Cobra” meeting – and no, I have no idea what Cobra stands for either! – of all the key agencies in Stockwood – health centre, care homes, older people’s residences, Co-op, pharmacies, schools, children’s centre, city councillor, etc so that before lock-down we could meet face-to-face just the once and sketch out some outline plans for the community. I soon realised that our small church of 60 or so members, many of whom are in the 70+ bracket and many other younger ones who had to self-isolate for one reason or another, would not be able to serve all of the 10 000 residents on our own. So should we just give up at this point?
I had a growing concern for all of those in the community who are not on-line. I wondered how all those people in the community who wanted to volunteer would be co-ordinated and assigned safely and effectively. So I then convened a group of five “movers and shapers” – we are now a team of seven – who would oversee the response of the whole community. We meet as often as we need on Zoom. [Who had even heard of this a month ago?] We quickly set up a local help-line. We have a super team of volunteers who are helping with all sorts of things, not least befriending any who are isolated and lonely. I keep in regular touch with the health centre, care homes, Co-op, pharmacies, schools, etc. I am confident that the Post Office has good arrangements for getting pension monies out to people. We have won two substantial funding bids that will allow us, with a scheme that we have jointly developed with our local Co-op, to help those who have just run out of money. And, since the manager of the local food-bank, is part of our core team, we have been able to offer support and counsel there too. We have even found ourselves advising and supporting many other areas in the South of Bristol as they set up their own community response. Let’s hear it for Stockwood!
The headteacher, who is not a believer, of one of our local schools said to me last summer that “the church is at the heart of the local school”. My passion is for the church to be at the heart of the local community. I was deeply challenged a few years ago at my Forge training course by this question: “Would the community miss the church if it ceased to exist?” At that point, hand-on-heart, I think I would have had to say no. But in this little part of the world known as Stockwood the opposite is now true. The church and the community are now so closely intertwined that I would struggle to separate us. The church walks with the community through all the ups and the downs, in the joys and in the sorrows.
I realise that this approach is so totally different from what most churches have been doing. Some, if not all, of you will be asking, “so what?” Well, it has been a real joy to see several of those in our core team joining us – and enjoying – our Sunday morning services. I have even asked for them all to pray for one of our church members, a paramedic who has been in intensive care with CoVid 19 for over three weeks now. They have seen me at my best and at my worst. Together we are experiencing the Kingdom of God. And it is such a blessing. When this is all over – and how many times have we all heard that little phrase “This too will pass” – the church will continue to walk with the community. And the blessing will go on.
So, next time, I invite you over to our local café in Stockwood for a coffee, don’t be at all surprised if I ask you to pay for me; it may just be me “doing mission”!
A recent post on Facebook
Happy Friday Everyone!
We’ve had a great week supporting the community, here’s an example of the help we can provide:
Sylvia (one of our church members) called u the helpline as she was in need of a volunteer to pick up some shopping because she’s been self isolating. We were able to allocate a volunteer to carry out this task and they were able to do Sylvia’s shopping when she needed it.
Have a good weekend,
The Greater Stockwood Alliance Team