Author: Andy Walton
Date: 11 September 2014
By Beth Green, in association with The Revd Matthew Fitter...
In this parish of 18,000 in North West Bromley, poverty largely ignores cultural, racial and religious lines. Across the board there is a high percentage of lone parents, those who receive benefits and a high population density. Matthew notes that there is a significant Afro-Caribbean community and a smaller Asian population. In terms of other faiths, Muslims represent the significant ‘other’ faith group, but only numbering around 7-8% of the population.
For Christ Church, an evangelical, charismatic congregation of around 200 people from 28 countries, the priority, therefore, is not strictly inter faith engagement, but engagement with everyone; those of all faiths, and no faith. Their context clearly reflects their values and mission, and in turn, the church body itself is a reflection of the area, a true ‘melting pot’. In this, Matthew hopes that someone could walk through the doors, and whoever they were, could feel at home. For him, this is a true picture of heaven, a church made of people of all kinds.
Christ Church seek to be an ‘Ezekiel 34’ church: “To be at the heart of our community – seeking the lost, bringing back the strays, healing the sick, strengthening the weak and binding up the injured.” ‘Weekend Workouts’ are a way in which the church seeks to live this calling out. 3-4 times a year, they meet as a church to eat and pray together, and then separate into 5/6 different streams of activities: prayer walks, practical community tasks, evangelism, healing on the streets, door knocking, visiting residential homes, and ‘random acts of kindness.’ The whole church, including the children, gets involved and Matthew hopes that this might serve as a model by which to engage the church community with the non-church community in a creative way. So far, he has found that people are warmly receptive, both inside the church and out!
From this, Christ Church has seen significant growth over the last 18 months. People come into contact with the church through the Foodbank, through the Tuesday community meals that serve 40-50 people living in hardship, and the ‘Freedom Forum’ which serves ex-offenders. Clearly, this church has a heart for the poor and marginalised – which in this context means people of faith, and also those with no faith.
They hope to become more present on the High Street – perhaps by opening up a charity shop, a place where people might be pointed in the direction of practical assistance, and spiritual support.
Matthew remembers Ephesians 4:15 which calls us to “speak the truth, in love” when he says that its not simply important that the church goes out to the community – but how they go out. His reflections end with the sobering warning that, more often than not, it is not 'others' in the community that serves as the biggest barrier, but the Christian community. Too often, the Christian community is frozen at the mouth, hands and feet. What Matthew hopes to see is a revival, across Anerley, London, and the world, to thaw local Christians into action. If the 12 disciples turned the world upside down, he says, can’t a church of 200 transform Anerley?