PICT1863On Thursday 30 June, The Big Response came to Thurrock. Steve Chalke and his team from Faithworks did four sessions on the theme of ‘The Church, the Kingdom and the Big Society’.

Convened by Russell Godward of Thurrock Christian Fellowship, some 150 Christians gathered at the Gateway People’s Centre in Stanford-le-Hope. Not all were from Thurrock; there were a few folk from other parts of Essex, and a couple of guys had driven over from Banbury, and there were also visitors from Kampala, Uganda present.

Finding Focus
Steve Chalke spoke in the first session about ‘Finding Focus’. Taking the images of a feigner trying to get around London’s Tube with a Paris Metro map and also of the way older generations found it hard to cope with the onset of the OHP revolution in the 70s, Steve said that the church needs new, informed vision and to understand that that change – and acceptance of that change – is required to go forward.

He explained that the Big Society concept isn’t new (it’s very similar to New Labour’s Third Way), but it is a response to the fact that the Welfare State can no longer pay for itself. So the change is actually borne out of necessity. Steve asked, “How do we do community when the state can no longer foot the bill?” This question is not just a British problem, but a worldwide one.

Steve suggested that we see church as being a business – it’s the business of building church community. Likewise, charities, and the grant system,for so long the bread and butter of charities and churches engaged in local projects, is no longer a viable means of financing. We are at the beginning of a long process that will take us into a new way of doing things – just as it took many years for the Welfare State to come into being.

How do we sustain a community project not dependent on grants? By getting one bit to pay for the other bit – by developing sustainability. Those who generate resources are those who meePICT1866t the need. Cash can be generated in a more affluent area to sustain projects in a poorer area. Just as in the early days of the church, we find ourselves in an open market. Either we join in or we give up and relegate ourselves to the fringes of society, resolutely singing songs from outdated hymn books.

Steve talked about the ‘different drum’ to which believers march. He turned to the Lord’s Prayer, and said that the phrase ‘Your kingdom come’ refers to the right here and the right now. ‘On earth’ literally earths us into the location God has placed us, right here, right now. It’s bringing heaven to where we are.

Steve referred to Isaiah 61’s opening verses which Jesus read out in the synagogue. This ‘good news to the poor’ isn’t something to be waited for, belonging to somewhere else – it’s the here and now! The Hebrew world view did not separate the so-called secular and spiritual like the Greek philosophers – the two are one, and heaven is all around us, waiting to be revealed.

Einstein said, “You can never achieve what you can’t first imagine”. Jesus arrived to set people free not only from fear, poverty and the like, but also give permission for the creation which exists in imagination to become the creation that exists in reality. This is transformational in every aspect and at every level of society – physical, spiritual, emotional and communal.

PICT1869The second session was an opportunity to put questions to Steve and local ‘Big Society’ practitioners. These were:

  • Andrea Peters (Besom in Thurrock)
  • Natalie Collins (Faith & Freedom)
  • Phil Anderson (Leader of Thurrock Conservatives)
  • John Guest (HOPE Committee, Stanford-le-Hope)

Numerous questions were put to the panel by members of the audience about the challenges of the Big Society and those facing some local community projects.

Eyes Wide Open
After a lunch were much networking was done, Steve again took to the stage and talked about having our ‘Eyes Wide Open’. This session was more about how to apply what we learned in the first. His opening salvo was simply that, “because God is love, any theology that isn’t practical, pastoral or applied is of no use whatsoever”.

Steve said that the fact the Queen recently held a garden party for representatives for the ‘nine historic faiths of Great Britain’ shows us that “the church now finds itself in a huge diverse melting pot – Christianity is now a minority report”.

PICT1864He said that the story of Daniel stands as the outstanding Biblical example of a man being God’s representative in such alien societal surroundings. Unlike the lamenting writers of the Psalm 137, Daniel was able to sing the song of the Lord in a strange land.

Steve presented to us the ‘2020 Vision’ of the Oasis Church in central London. It is not a vision of making the church bigger in number, but a vision of local community transformation. Again, ‘Your kingdom come on earth’ means we’re to be about transforming our communities. If outcomes are number-driven, churches tend towards irrelevancy for their localities.

He described the vision as being both a social and a political strategy, and based on ‘hubs’. He showed a map of south Lambeth where the Oasis Church is, and a circle drawn  around it to show everything within 500 metres of the ‘hub’. This inner city area is impoverished compared with the hugely well-off north end of the borough, which includes the South Bank, Tate Modern, Waterloo and the Old Vic. All that abruptly stops just up the road from the church.

Out of this Steve and his team developed a vision for the area. Here is some of the vision:

  • to provide 360° care, serving the local community 24 hours a day, every day
  • build a stronger sense of community… transforming it into an environment where people feel safe, happy and proud to live, learn and work alongside one another
  • stimulate a local culture of enterprise and self-help
  • reduce crime and antisocial behaviour
  • develop area into world-class tourist destination
  • encourage an environment where the public and private sectors work in deeper partnership
  • facilitate new networks (crossing boundaries to create greater social cohesion)
  • ensuring outstanding ‘joined-up’ community services
  • deliver a landmark building – the ‘Beacon of Hope’

Education was included in the vision, and the Oasis Trust has bought considerably into the Government’s academy programme, seeing opportunities to provide redeeming excellence in areas where before it was lacking.

The ‘Key Incarnational Principle’ to all this is to do things ‘with’ people, not ‘to people or even ‘for’ people.

PICT1868Steve said that when you know who you are, then you can be generous, and described how the vision had helped the Oasis Church to forge many links with people it inspired. A lot of what they do is based on consultation – a slower process than the loner going on ahead, but more inclusive, more about joint ‘ownership’. Such hubs have been set up elsewhere in the country. The Oasis Trust has gone from a £10k turnover in 1985 to a £90m turnover in 2011. He said that they have always lived ‘on the edge’, and one project becomes secure the moment you move onto another project.

Clear Sighted
The final session – called ‘Clear Sighted’ – allowed Steve to present a simple explanation of the theology of why the Oasis Trust and Faithworks do what they do. He took us to Revelation 21:1-5, which describes the New Jerusalem.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.?
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.?
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.?He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.?
He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything new!
Then he said, Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.

Steve, a Baptist minister who trained at Spurgeon’s, explained his understanding of this passage, that the kingdom of God is coming to earth, and not the other way round – we are not going to heaven! No, God is coming here – he’s coming down, but we’re not going up. God will reign on earth. ‘The old order of things has passed away… I am making everything new!’

The Greek word for new here isn’t neos, which means ‘brand new’, but kainos, which means ‘renewed, restored, recycled’. What John saw was ‘a renewed heaven and a renewed earth’. Heaven is already here – it’s God’s dimension, invading earth, our dimension.

We need to be “punching holes in the darkness”, and Steve urged us to rewrite Revelation 21:1-5 for our borough, showing us what the Oasis Church had written for the south Lambeth area. (See the accompanying article, A Foretaste (Revisited) – a vision for Thurrock, link to the left of this article.) “Tell people about your dream,” he sPICT1870aid, and not only about the one-off testimony of the forgiveness we’ve all received through Christ, but the ongoing story of our partnership with Jesus in bringing in the kingdom.

One more insight that Steve had – while the Pharisees played their tune according to the set laws of music, Jesus played improvised jazz!

Some after thoughts
This day, coming as it does during a major mobilisation of believers across the borough, presents another facet to all that’s going on as the Lord prepares us for what lies ahead. The challenge is here for individual churches, churches working together, and for Transformation Thurrock to not just do and ask for God to bless, but to do what God is already blessing, and follow in that blessing.

The seismic transformations that are taking place around us are not merely a number of disparate projects all vying for attention in some cosmic competition, but a plan conceived in eternity being outworked and brought into sharp focus before our very eyes, for the beautification of the Bride and the increase of her pure-white and seamless train.

At the Grays Leaders’ Prayer yesterday morning, before The Big Response, prayers were prayed around the whole theme of thanksgiving for the revelation that the Lord is unveiling through Thurrock. One prayer, taking into account Rock Thurrock’s amazing ability to bring believers and churches together in unity, went along the lines of, “Father, we think of how the BGEA will have sat down and strategised how to take the UK for Christ, and considered the major cities and conurbations around the nation – but in your divine comedy, they chose to start at Thurrock…”

Whereupon the speaker of this prayer burst into uncontrollable laughter and cried with unfettered joy at the truly holy hilarity of it all. Others joined in, and he could not finish the prayer, except for a squeaky “Amen”.

Ephesians 1:3-14 NIV
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment— to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession— to the praise of his glory.

MP3 recordings of the sessions are available on the Transformation Thurrock website.

Thanks to the Dave Puddle and the Gateway People’s Centre for hosting and the hospitality team who did a wonderful spread at lunch and who kept everyone refreshed and awake with copious amounts of coffee.

See also http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/23/big-society-needs-big-religion – If you want Big Society, you’ve got to have Big Religion.

And The Big Society – Jesus said: “Love your neighbours as yourself”
by Rev Steve Williams of West Horndon and the Bishop of Bradwell’s Thames Gateway and Regeneration Officer (link on left)

Pictures top to bottom:

  • Gateway People’s Centre
  • Russell Godward introduces while Steve Chalke waits
  • The Panel: from left to right – Natalie Collins, Steve Chalke, John Guest, Phil Anderson and Andrea Peters, with Brendan from Faithworks presiding
  • The delegates settle down
  • Steve Chalke addresses the delegates
  • Phil Anderson talks with Colin Baker with Steve Chalke in the background