Sara Hunter is a Licensed Lay Minister at St John's Hoxton, Choir Director and Community Organiser. She is working as the Project Manager on our Organising for Growth project at St John's. She writes:

Project Beginnings...

We kicked off this project at the beginning of 2020 not knowing what was coming!

Graham and I met with the team at CTC (Centre for Theology & Community) early in the year for our project meeting and learning community, thinking that we would be focussing on using the Copper Box Mayoral Assembly as a rallying point for our churches. We hoped it would be an opportunity to identify key leaders within our congregations and then launch the Organising for Growth project, creating our action teams whilst people are still excited about the possibilities – little did we know that by March we would be meeting on zoom and the Copper Box Assembly cancelled!

Whilst this was initially a difficult time, as it was for everyone, having to re-think how we do what we do in the midst of a global pandemic, we soon began to see the situation as an opportunity as we saw different people stepping up as leaders during the crisis and our church congregation deepening it’s sense of community and caring for one another.

At this point we still hadn’t introduced the project to the wider congregation, only the staff team knew about it. So Graham made a vlog post which was shared with everyone and positively received. Off the back of this information that was now out there we could start talking about the three ‘Action Teams’ we were planning on creating and developing some excitement about what the possibilities could be. The three different teams would be thinking about  1) working for the common good of our neighbourhood, 2) being more ‘porous’ in everything we do so that new people can be reached and integrated 3) deepening the discipleship of more people within our current congregation.

Back in February we had completed our Annual Church Survey and in it we had asked questions around these three areas which we called Outreach, Engagement and Depth. We explained what each of them meant and asked people to choose which most resonated or was most important to them. This meant that after analysing the responses we had some initial groups of people to approach to be part of each team.

Project Re-beginnings...

Froi Legaspi, our community organiser from Citizens UK, and myself then went about trying to have 121’s with this initial group to talk to them a bit more about the project, find out more about their passions and make sure they were joining the team most suited to them. These conversations are about trying to help people discern what God might be calling them personally to be involved with in the life of our church and also what God might be calling our church to be involved with in the life of our community. How do we continue to be a Beacon of Hope for Hoxton?

Each team then met for the first time in June and I am delighted that 20 people from St John’s attended those initial team house meetings which were held on zoom and all then agreed to continue to be part of these teams going forward. Co-chairs have been appointed and now each team is meeting for the second time during July to try and decide upon some action to take in the coming year.

Through this process we have been encouraging the team members to be actively having 121’s with each other to create a stronger bond within the teams and also to be reaching out to others in the congregation who they think would be a great addition to their teams.

Everyone who has joined a team has now also been invited to take part in some community organising training which will take place in early August. The material covered in this training will be taken from the Citizens UK 2-Day training curriculum but specifically adapted to suit this project.

Reflections So Far...

I’m excited at what this amazing group of people from St John’s will achieve as part of these action teams, each of them developing as leaders within our congregation and experiencing first-hand how it feels to make a difference and see change happen in our community and in our church.

Whilst dealing with lockdown due to COVID-19 has been difficult and we’ve had to change how we approach things, it has also shown itself to be an opportunity. Using Zoom for House Meetings meant that more people could participate as they could join in from wherever they were so we potentially had better turn-out than we would have done if we’d been meeting in person in the church building!

It’s also proved to be a great jumping off point in the life of the church – different people have stepped up in different ways to help care for one another and different people have participated in our on-line services, contributing videos of Bible readings or intercessions, sharing the peace or doing song actions, many of whom were more on the fringes of church life before lockdown – and because all activities have been cancelled, these teams have the opportunity to evaluate what we do and help to shape what church life looks like when things get back to normal. Each team has acknowledged that relationships are key to anything and everything we do and that we must each be intentional about nurturing relationships within our church and our community.