I just had a chat with another local minister who is working in an urban priority area of social housing in a nearby part of town. In a previous conversation he had mentioned that running programmes the middle class way doesn’t work. Most of our resource toolkits like Alpha etc. come from successful middle class churches. His area is quite a different set of people with high rates of unemployment and low levels of education. People also, he says, have very small subsets of friends and they don’t spend much time in each others houses. Coming to a service is more likely than coming to an Alpha supper or being invited round for a meal. His big question was the balance between how much of ministry is getting the right technique – doing things in culturally appropriate ways, and how much is about people responding the Holy Spirit, or not.
Today he mentioned two ideas that I thought were interesting. One was a simple way of blessing the local businesses by inviting them to a business persons supper. The church provides the space and a three course meal where the shop owners can spend time getting to know one another and having a bit longer to hear about what is going on in their business. I like this idea because is it about the church giving back and blessing the community. I have a good relationship with the local businesses here and most of them know me by name, but there are many times when I am asking them to do something particular – to contribute to an community event or display a poster. This simple act of service reverses that.
The second thing my friend mentioned was a local shop that his church had set up. There are quite a few empty retail units on his estate and he approached the council to ask whether they could have one, free of charge, until a permanent tenant was found. They have set up a simple charity shop where people bring in unwanted clothes and other items, and can buy other people’s at a reduced rate. All the profits stay in the community and go to local projects (not the church). Because more and more of the residents are using the shop, there are increased opportunities to have proper conversations.
Two very different ideas from a very different estate.