I’m really delighted to be writing this blog to finally announce an exciting mission opportunity that our church will be involved in over the next few years. The project has been under development for over a year now, and we heard at the very end of last year that we were successful in a funding bid. The beginning of the project has naturally been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but we believe that good community organising that is attentive to the needs of those in our neighbourhood is vital work for the church - now more than ever!    

As many of you will know, our church has been involved in Community Organising work for some years now. As a member of Hackney Citizens & Citizens UK, we’ve been working alongside other institutions (schools, churches, mosques, colleges, synagogues etc) to build the capacity to act for local transformation. 

As well as winning important local campaigns, such as the damp eradication programme in local housing, or the road safety on Pitfield St, we have seen that Community Organising work has actually helped members of our church family develop and grow in their confidence and skill as local leaders. We’ve even seen people join the church because of the compassionate care and action we take for local transformation. Some have become Christians as they’ve discovered the truth about the God who inspires our work for the common good.

The Proposal
I’ve become increasingly convinced that the tools of community organising can actually help the church become a more mature and effective Christian community in our neighbourhoods. The principles of community organising - everything rooted in listening; building relational power; developing leaders who can articulate our story; working for the common good locally - are all in line with the biblical mandate to love our neighbour (Luke 10:27) and to seek the welfare of the city where God has placed us (Jeremiah 29:7).

I’m persuaded that community organising is not so much a mission or ministry venture that absorbs time and energy, but rather a methodology that underpins and supports everything we do. It’s not so much a project that is just another thing for the church to be busy with, but rather a process by which we grow and develop in our faith and witness.

The Project
Now we have an opportunity to develop this work further, and to test the theory that community organising principles and processes can lead to church growth thanks to a partnership with the Centre for Theology & Community (CTC) based in Shadwell. CTC have been awarded a generous grant by the Church Commissioners to enable them to run a 3-year study - trying to test the theory that community organising can be used for congregational development and that it leads to church growth: spiritual, missional and numerical!

Here at St John’s, we’ll be developing three ‘action teams’, comprised of 5-6 members who have a particular concern for growth and development in each of the following three areas:

  1. Outreach (Missional): developing more connections with other groups, organisations and individuals in our neighbourhood, working with them on ‘common good’ issues that affect Hoxton; 
  2. Engagement (Numerical): helping our friends and neighbours to attend worship at St John's - both physically and digitally, and helping people take the ‘next steps’ of becoming involved in a ministry team or group;
  3. Depth (Spiritual): finding ways that members of our church can grow in their faith as disciples, becoming more articulate about Christianity as leaders in the church, and become more confident in sharing it with others.

We’ll be working alongside CTC and St Mary’s Walthamstow as a ‘Hub Church’ to try and provide empirical data that demonstrates growth and development over the next three years. We’ll be supported by a professional community organiser from Citizens UK one day per week, and we’ve been given some funding to employ a Project Manager and Project Intern.

As well as the work we’ll be doing in our own church and community, we’ll also be partnering with some other churches in the Stepney Episcopal Area who are just starting out on this journey of community organising and congregational development. Both myself and Sara will be providing some coaching and mentoring for clergy and lay leaders in other churches over the coming years.  

The People
Sara Hunter will be taking a lead on the day-today work as Project Manager. She is a trained and accredited Community Organiser, having completed the 6-day leadership training programme in March 2017. She is part of the leadership group for Hackney & Islington Citizens. She has worked as Creative Director with both Hackney Citizens and London Citizens in preparing for election assemblies, and has extensive experience on local community organising work. She will be responsible for supervision of the Project Intern, as well as administration and record keeping. She will convene our local church ‘action teams’ and work with them to facilitate listening processes that lead to local action for change. She will help to provide mentoring and coaching for partner churches.

Froi Legaspi is a professional Community Organiser working with Citizens UK. He is the lead organiser for Hackney & Islington Citizens, part of TELCO - the east London branch of Citizens UK. Froi will work one day a week supporting the St John’s Hoxton team on the project.

A Project Intern is currently being recruited to work from September 2020 to July 2021. They will combine their work at St John’s with working 2-3 days per week in Parliament, alongside either a Bishop in the House of Lords or an MP in the House of Commons. The Project Intern will be responsible for facilitating the meetings of the local action teams, as well as conducting 121s with as many people in the congregation as possible.

Graham Hunter will oversee the project at St John’s Hoxton, and with CTC and ST Mary’s Walthamstow will be seeking to find ways to capture and share the learning as the project develops. He will be a regular contributor on a new podcast documenting the project, and is also currently writing a book on community organising and mission. He will contribute to the mentoring and coaching of other clergy in partner churches.

We're delighted to have the backing of +Joanne, Bishop of Stepney, as we embark on this work. In the Church of England press release about this project, she wrote:

“Growing as a disciple of Jesus means being open to a deeper engagement with each other and with people around us and being willing to stick up for the needs and rights of those who are most vulnerable.
In turn, we are also able to deepen our spiritual life. Churches themselves grow when they take this connection seriously. It's not spiritual and numerical growth or social engagement, but both.”

We’re really looking forward to seeing our church family grow and develop over the coming years as we pay attention to what the Spirit is saying to us in the church, and as we listen to the needs and concerns of our neighbours, and work together on bringing the hope, joy and peace of the kingdom of God to our Hoxton neighbourhood.