The President and Vice President Visit to the London District
From Thursday 20 May to Monday 24 May, Richard Teal and Carolyn Lawrence, the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference took a tour of the London District. Over the course of those few days, they met and lunched with Supernumeraries, got an insight into Chaplaincy in the capital and met with various circuits and projects to discuss some of the work that's going on within the life of the District.
It's impossible to document it all, but here's a taster of what they came across.
Hackney and Stoke Newington Circuit
The Listening Place - Discipleship in Action
Across the Connexion, each church, circuit and District offers something unique in the deliverance of its ministry. For the Hackney and Stoke Newington Circuit, one such uniqueness can be found in the structure of High Street Methodist Church and Green Lane Methodist Church – two churches united in one building; together yet separate and catering for distinct groups. And it is within this unique site that you will find the Listening Place, a project dedicated to offering support to those in the local community.
As part of their visit to the London District, the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, Revd Richard Teal and Carolyn Lawrence, met with the circuit leadership team and some of the volunteers at the Listening Place to find out more about the project and the people it supports.
Currently led by Revd Paulo Bessa da Silva and supported by the Church Trustees, the Listening Place was created in 2012 by Revd Cathy Bird, then Circuit Superintendent. Its beginnings lie in conversations that took place with St Ethelburga’s; between people working in safeguarding and survivors of sexual violence and abuse / exploitation within churches in England. It was these conversations that led to the development of the Listening Place as a haven for those who have experienced this type of abuse, allowing them to share their stories and find reconciliation and healing.
Over the years the goals of the listening place have remained to be a welcoming, non-judgemental place of acceptance, a place for storytelling and a place for restoring, of healing and hope.
There was much discussion about the impact of the pandemic on the service users, with the group reporting that whilst it had not been possible to maintain contact with people during the pandemic, the project’s local context gave many of the volunteers the ability to come across people and offer their support within the community. Some service users expressed anxiety about the Listening Place and were keen for it to restart.
Carolyn was keen to explore the idea of evangelism within the Listening Place, and how that appeared in practice. The group shared that prayer, music and often just allowing people to inhabit the worship space uninterrupted, formed an integral part of their evangelism. Although given space people were also made aware that there were people nearby able and willing to offer support if needed.
Deacon Theresa Sam who had previously worked within the Listening Place, offered some insight into the types of people the service supported – those with addictions, survivors of abuse, and many others. She raised a question that was both central to the thoughts of those seeking help from the Listening Place and also central to its work and ethos as a place of non-judgement: ‘Society continues to judge us; will the church do the same?’
Richard and Carolyn were also given an insight into future plans for the project. In the months and years to come, the project and its team hope to offer more advocacy work, allowing them to be able to provide more hands on support for those they serve.
The dedication of the leaders and volunteers was commended by both Richard and Carolyn; and as a District we look forward to seeing the continued growth of the Listening Place as - in the words of District Chair, Nigel Cowgill - ‘discipleship in action’.
Bridging the digital divide:
During the pandemic the disparity between those who were technologically able and those who were not became all the more clear. The Circuit worked closely with Citizen’s UK of Hackney and Islington to galvanise community organising and campaigning to be able to provide the resources necessary to help bridge that gap.
The President and Vice-President were told of the huge achievement by the circuit of obtaining 160 laptops (the goal was 200) and a number of 12 month internet contracts allowing people to access the internet via a dongle. A significant campaign involving 25 organisations which would go a long way to improving the lives of those on the poorer side of the technological divide.
Richmond and Hounslow Circuit
Urban Mission in Roehampton - Changing the narrative
Roehampton Methodist Church sits right in the middle of Alton Estate. It is surrounded by underused green space, housing in need of repair and has been subjected to on and off plans by the local authority to rejunvenate the area; which notably means tearing down existing housing and rebuilding.
In conversation with the President, Deacon Kathy Johnson talked about the ways in which the location of Roehampton MC places it in a unique position to be able to engage in urban mission and to be at the forefront of community interaction. To be a physical church in the heart of the community emphasises the church as part of the community, as opposed to ‘parachuting’ in to offer services and made church in itself, less intimidating.
When asked how she saw her ministry, Kathy shared the basis of her ministry as being presence-based, and emphasised that although it was an estate, one of the most prevailing things about it was its lack of people being out and about, and of community. The feeling of isolation was, and is, very present with many people identifying that they felt ignored.
Here, therefore, is a great opportunity for the Church to do its work and show people that they aren’t alone and that the church stands with them; not just in proximity. If those who live in the area can be shown, and can see this then there is a chance to change the narrative, moving from seeing their home and surroundings as a place which is flourishing and where good news is at work; rather than seeing a place of deprivation.
West London Mission Circuit
Kings Cross, welcoming church and Hong Kong migrants
Over the next five years, the UK is set to welcome a significant number of migrants from Hong Kong in response to moves by the Chinese government that effectively ends the one country, two systems principle.
In touring the London District, the President and Vice President got to spend time with the West London Mission Circuit to gain a deeper insight into the challenges and opportunities that can be found in the arrival of new migrants.
For the UK’s Chinese churches the movement of thousands of people into the country represents a great opportunity – the chance to welcome people, not only to new homes but also to new communities of faith. Of the 132 Chinese churches across the UK, there are 32 in London, one of which is Kings Cross Methodist Church.
The President was keen to know about work done not only on a local and Connexional level, but by churches across the UK in response to the situation.
Over the past few months there has been a concerted effort by organisations such as the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission to build awareness and ensure churches are well prepared to receive potentially new congregants.
Across the Connexion, the North East District have produced videos for the Chinese migrants to help them understand the local context in the UK. On Kings Cross’s part the leadership team has agreed to set up an independent committee to work amongst the new arrivals; however, these plans are currently being delayed by staffing issues.
Richard and Carolyn were told of the importance to the church of ensuring accessible resources and it was noted that one of the biggest constraints for an international church is a lack of translated materials. The church are having a number of items translated by others, including a retired minister, and this has served them well.
The President and Vice President were also introduced to the identity complexities that may play a role in meeting the needs of this group of people. For many people from Hong Kong, their identity is very much intertwined with the Chinese state and they will consider themselves to be Chinese. For others, their identity as a resident of Hong Kong is tied in with the principle of two systems, and they will subsequently identify themselves as Hong Kongers.
As one member of the group noted; perhaps the key to welcoming migrants is to focus less on where they are from and concentrate more on being a church that welcomes all, and is welcoming.