The eleventh theme we are exploring for #MoreThanSunday is Community.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
Podcast episode 11: Community
When we first formally explored Mission Action Planning as a church, the word 'community' appeared again and again as we prayed about where God was calling us. But what did it mean and how would we create it, serve it and be part of it?
Prayer and hospitality are where we began. We explored how we could build up St John’s as a praying community. Fr George Guiver from the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield helped us develop the Community of St John: we made a commitment to pray at least the Psalm prayer in the booklet each day together, adding in the Psalm, and one or two readings for the day, moving on to a form of daily office as people wished.
Praying the same prayers, praying with the same readings built up that sense of community, and I know that those prayers have been said in the USA, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand as people lived away for a time and yet were still part of our praying community.
This has been even more important over these last few weeks during this time of isolation. The last Sunday we worshiped together in church we committed to pray at 8am and 8pm each day. A sizeable proportion of the congregation does not have access to the internet and many have said (during phone calls to maintain pastoral contact) that knowing they are joining others in prayer means they feel less isolated; they feel supported and anchored in a community of prayer.
Hospitality was key to how we sought to create community, how we served the local community and how we became a more active part of the wider community in Hurst. We set up our Place of Welcome in Feb 2017, offering free refreshments, a warm and consistent welcome, various activities and a place to be, to chat and meet new people. We would regularly get at least 50 people each week and over time local GP surgeries, local community groups and organisations like Action Together and Save the Children would socially prescribe us to clients and want to work with us on other projects. We attracted volunteers from the local community. Most of the people don’t join us for worship on a Sunday but they would say St John’s was their church. They ask for prayers in times of family crisis or with health concerns, they contribute to fundraising events, they take part in social events and they feel, and they are, a loved and much valued part of the church community at St John’s.
Through offering hospitality relationships have developed with other local groups in the community which has led to St John’s being able to quickly enter into a partnership with Smallshaw Hurst Children’s Community group run by Save the Children, Ashton United in the Community and the Broadoak and Smallshaw Community Centre to form The Smallshaw Hurst Community Action Group to support positive community action during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
Through perseverance in prayer and extending hospitality to strangers, we have been able to be alongside others in times of joy and suffering, contribute to their needs and create, serve and be part of a growing community in the place we have been planted.
Revd Liz Devall
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