On Place, People and Possibilities
by Jessica Agboola - Local Community Organiser
It has been 2 months since I’ve arrived at St John’s Hoxton and I have found myself reflecting on what it means to work towards “how things should be, as opposed to how things are”.
The pandemic has changed things for people. For those who have little and those who have a lot. Everything is different now. Our hope is fragile and our bodies weary but I can’t help but believe something good is happening. Much of my optimism comes from the people I have come to know. The lives of the people in St John Hoxton are like interwoven pieces of thread. In my 121s I have learnt that their stories, though told separately, connect to one another and tell a combined story of hope and commitment to one another and this place. Indeed, I share the sentiment that SJH is a Beacon of Hope for Hoxton and these are my reflections so far:
- The power of a group of organised and dedicated people to a cause cannot be underestimated.
- There’s something very special going on in East London. The Church is moving collectively in a way I haven’t seen before in the UK. SJH is equally special but I opened up with that so I’ll let the wider church have this one.
- Faith institutions, in some ways, are acting as civic institutions and meeting the needs of one another and the wider community. This autumn, the Church of England’s investment in the social welfare for those in need was reported to be £12.4bn a year. The thousands of food banks, parent-toddler groups, breakfast clubs and night shelters show how the Church is collectively responding to injustice and societal gaps that should, arguably, be filled by the State.
- My experience of the Church here shows me a practice that is concerned for both the spiritual and material well-being of its community.
- Community organising for change in a grassroots and faith-based context will require you to balance being sensitive and slow to speak whilst challenging people to grow. But for the glory of God because image-bearers deserve patience and commitment to their flourishing and attention to the detail of their makeup so they can grow.
- Why community organising? Because the combined and patient practice of “listening to God and neighbour” is powerful.
- Community organising methodologies are a different but worthwhile leadership style for sustainable and inclusive change. Community organisers are harnessing peer to peer power and the possibilities of change from the ground up.
- “Sometimes the most urgent thing requires the slowest response”. Patient listening and intentional building is an act of loving one another as image-bearers.
- Organising can be a breath of fresh air to leaders who have typically been lone rangers. This style of leadership calls for ownership instead of dependency. Everyone recognises why the mission is important to them and therefore share the responsibility to see it through. This way, everyone gets a chance to participate and recharge.
- But why care or take on additional responsibility beyond those who are your own? Why love your neighbour and the neighbourhood you’re in? Because: “4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce... 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29: 4-7)
Though many of us have struck the chord of loss and grief in this season, I believe so much that we have also struck the chord for hope and the possibility of something else. So pandemic or not, my Hope for Hoxton and the world remains. While we wait for this cloud to lift, I am reminded that we must tend to each other and the emergent garden before us for an end that will be more glorious than we could have imagined.