UK churches reach out - Word&Way

UK churches reach out

CHALFONT ST. PETER, England — Building relationships and serving communities — even through politics — are the foundation to sharing the gospel in the United Kingdom three church leaders believe.

Matt Knight didn’t plan to become a pastor. He simply wanted God to use him to meet people’s needs. Trained as a mental health worker, Knight grew concerned about a housing area near where he lived in Micklefield. The homes were built during reconstruction of England after World War II.

Matt Knight (center) gestures as he explains how God is reaching people in Micklefield, England, through politics and the church. He and wife Katherine (left, in purple jacket) moved into the depressed neighborhood to live the gospel alongside the people.

During the 1980s, the housing complex became a haven for gangs, and drug use was rampant, Knight said. Although some improvements have been made over the last 10 years, one in three children lives in poverty and other issues still plague the community.

Knight and wife Katherine decided to move into the neighborhood about 14 years ago. “We came with the original intent — ‘we will help you,’” he said. “But we have since realized we must live alongside them and model kingdom living.”

The possibility of politics as a ministry vehicle arose about five years ago when the district council closed the Micklefield library. Housed in an old building that hadn’t been maintained, the library attracted few patrons. Residents decided they needed the library and raised enough money to keep it open. And they applied for and got a government lottery grant to replace the building.

Although not keen on entering politics, Knight realized through the experience that he could model justice. Three years ago, he ran and won a seat on the Wickham District Council as Micklefield’s representative. “The whole politics thing is uncomfortable,” he said.

He ran because he believes Micklefield is often overlooked. Now people come to him to share their problems. Meeting physical needs gives Knight opportunities later to minister to spiritual needs because his constituents now trust him.

Shortly after relocating, the Knights opened their home to neighbors, listened and ministered and hosted Bible studies. Now they lead a small congregation that meets in a facility rented from the local Anglican Church. The congregation hosts a community café each week and “messy church” — a movement of creativity and hospitality to engage people outside a formal church setting — each month.

The couple did not move to the area to start a church but to discover what God wanted them to do, Knight explained. “The gospel is a radically different way of living.”

Barry Thompson (second from right), a leader of the Baptist church at Farnham Commons in England, shares his congregation’s hope to acquire this empty car dealership to convert to worship space and a community center.

A trip to a nearby park, pushing their year-old son in a stroller and with their 4-year-old in tow, Barry and Vicki Thompson connect to neighbors — Barry with an impromptu soccer game with children and Vicki in conversation with moms.

The couple leads the Baptist church at Farnham Common. Because the congregation meets in an elementary school, ministry takes place in homes and other venues during the week. The church often offers “messy church” and special activities at the school on weekends.

The group is praying for the opportunity to purchase an empty car dealership in town to convert for space for the church and a community center. With the space, they would be able to reach out into five surrounding villages.

King’s Church ministers in Iver Village, where it shares a building with a nursery school and city government. Though the church has limited space, city leaders allow members to worship in the town hall each Sunday.

Justin Houston (left), pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Clarksburg, Mo., shares cake and a game of dominoes at King’s Church in Iver Village, England.

Now at about 160 attendees, the congregation developed a strong ministry to mature adults because of the number of retirement homes in the village. The church provides a place for fellowship and tea each day.

A ministry among women with children started when members saw the need. The church offers a “mum’s café,” offering tea, coffee, cakes and conversation.

The local school allows the church to do assemblies each Wednesday morning. And now members are looking at ways to minister to the poor. “God has been bringing the poor to us,” Pastor Graham Wakeman.

“We place Jesus at everything we do because we don’t want to be just a social ministry.”