It is a great privilege for us to be partnering with the Diocese of Exeter in bringing ‘Stories on the Street’ to Shirwell Mission Community. This resource has been highly influenced by our first international resource for churches, ‘Umoja’ and it is exciting to hear about the connection between Shirwell Mission Community and Thika in Africa, where ‘Umoja’ has been adopted and paved the way to bring community transformation.
Rev Rosie Austin of Shirwell Mission Community was part of a vision trip along with Bishop Robert and others to see the effect that ‘Umoja’ was having on community life in Thika. They were particularly touched by the joy in the hearts of the poor; Bishop Robert reflected that ‘the people in Kenya have so little and what they have they share with such joy. I have found that deeply and profoundly moving’.
We see a similar picture in Acts 4. The early Church thrived and grew in numbers daily as a result of this unselfish living. As we look at our country, this kind of life may seem like an impossible dream, but Africa reminds us it is possible. The UK is considered a rich country and Africa poor in many ways, but spiritually they are so much richer than us. There is such joy in survival, and a love of God and people which is inspiring and gives us a longing to see the same in our own country.
Here, physical and economic poverty undoubtedly exist, but the overriding poverty is of a different kind – it is social, emotional, psychological poverty, bringing with it a sense of hopelessness. 94% of our country do not know Christ, and in some places the Church is dying. If the Church is to survive it needs to be relevant to the community that surrounds it – it needs to reach out to those who have lost hope, it needs to be a safe place for everyone, whatever they are struggling with.
‘Stories on the Street’ is all about relevant church. It is about church members being salt and light in their communities, bringing the joy of Africa to our tired streets, with particular emphasis on walking alongside the vulnerable and marginalised. The Bible studies are creatively presented to envision church members with a new passion for the Church’s role in community, and the simple effective practical tools will equip them to work alongside community members to identify the issues that exist and work together to address them.
One of those issues is undoubtedly mental health. Statistics tell us that one in four people will struggle with a mental health issue – often depression or anxiety – at some time in their life. It is alarming the number of young people who suffer in this way, but maybe not surprising bearing in mind the pressures of life in this country, including peer pressure. Mosaic Creative has produced eight films based on the experiences of individuals with mental health issues, each with advice and questions for the Church as to the best way to respond. They can be found on the Mosaic website.
‘Stories on the Street’ is an exciting opportunity to realise the Church’s potential, however small or isolated. At its core is the knowledge that we are all made in the image of God, and are invited to join in with what God is doing in our world. We all have something to give and we all need each other’s help.
Jackie Mouradian and Bill Crooks