Learning from London: Day 6
Here’s a question for you: how do you develop a congregation in a brand-new residential neighborhood, when none of the residents have ties to the place, and turnover is high?
Question two: what do you do when that new neighborhood consists of multiple populations, including students, public housing and very high-end homes?
If you’re the priests for East Village or Tottenham-Hale, you start with food.
Both of these London neighborhoods began development under 10 years ago. The East Village is what became of the Olympic Village after the 2012 games. Tottenham-Hale is a brand-new development right where the London Riots began in 2011. Both are on the outskirts, and both give new options in a market that is critically short of affordable, accessible housing.
Priests Annie McTighe and Andrew Williams each began their current ministries within the past five years. Though experienced priests, both were starting with nothing. No building. No vestry. No offices. No congregations.
They needed to build relationships quickly, and one of the best ways to get to know people is over food. Thus, Annie and her fledgling congregation in the East Village meet at an Italian restaurant on Tuesday nights. They have dinner together, and then Annie gives a presentation on a theme from the scripture. On the night we attended, there were people there of all ages. They hailed from the US, Hong Kong, the Carribean, and other parts of England. The longest anyone had lived in the neighborhood was 6 years. However, they support each other with prayer, weekly get-togethers at the café, and various social events.
For Annie, the question is how to minister to those who have left one culture and are now living with strangers as they seek to create a new community. This section of London will grow from 12,000 original residents to more than 40,000 in the next few years. Where to even begin in ministering? Begin simply, and where the people already are. For more information, see www.churche20.org.
Andrew began his ministry at Tottenham Hale with food as well. In his case, there was a very strong fear because of all that had happened with the Riots. The new development sits across the road from a run-down public housing neighborhood. Signs advertising new 1-bedroom apartments for the equivalent of $400,000 make the contrast between the two neighborhoods clear. Both neighborhoods have persons on public assistance, high turnover, and a very high percentage of immigrants.
Andrew decided to provide a pop-up café on Thursdays in a community room at the school in the housing project. When they could be outside, they moved the café there. Andrew and volunteers provided tea, cake and juice. They also provided games and activities for the children. They quickly grew participation to more than 100 people per week, many of whom are Muslim. Andrew’s only goal was to build relationships. In fact, he didn’t hold a religious service for the first 18 months they were there.
They also built a community center back in the new development. They put a permanent café (and wine bar!) into the community center building, as well as meeting rooms and a large room used for religious services. They call it the Engine Room, in honor of the industrial park that once sat on the site. The congregation is called St. Francis. To learn more, see: https://www.engineroom.org.uk/st-francis
The congregation is in the process of incorporating a church now that they have established a foothold. Fun fact: did you know that creation of a new parish in England requires an act of Parliament? Very different than here in the US, where it’s a decision at the Diocesan level.
In both cases, it is clear that as communities grow and evolve, the first and most consistent way of making an impact is by getting to know people over food. Think of how Jesus did that, whether with the wine at Cana, or the feeding of the 5,000, or the Last Supper, with bread for the disciples on the Emmaus road, or with fish on the beach after the resurrection. Food and fellowship are always at the core.
It gets me to thinking about our own relationships in the community. Whom do we need to know better? Whom are we not talking with now? How do we use what we have to help others build relationships? My first thoughts drift to the Parish House, and how we might use that better to create and sustain some relationships. I also think about ways we could go out into some of the new housing developments around us…how do we help them become community for one another…? What about relationships with those at Pinehurst, who often come to Honeoye Falls without knowing a soul? We have lots of opportunity in this area.
My head is spinning. It’s only Thursday. I’ve lost count of what I’ve seen, as well as how many cups of coffee I’ve had. The good news is that I had a version of “Eton mess” for dessert tonight. It’s a traditional English dessert usually having strawberries, broken meringue and whipped double cream. Worth every calorie, and the perfect thing to bolster me up for the show "Book of Mormon!"
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