He called me a midwife. It was an interesting phrase and one that I have had resonance with, so it was affirming when a friend made that observation themselves. It was a comment made as I explained a new job that I have just started.
Two weeks ago I started a one year, part-time role as the Launch Leader of St Mark’s in Marks Gate, which will complement my continuing work as one of the co-ordinators of Urban Expression. This Anglican church on the outskirts of east London has taken a great risk and bulldozed it’s run-down, high-maintenance building, and entered a partnership with a redevelopment group to build a purpose-built complex which will seek to serve this community. More than 50 flats will be used by the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham to provide much needed accommodation in our capital, 1 home will be used specifically to house those who have been homeless and 3 flats will be available for other church use, perhaps by a team of volunteers or a ‘missional community’ maybe. The ground floor will be given to the church and includes a large central community cafe area, large and smaller meeting rooms (one with a sprung floor and one that might become a fitness room), staging for theatre productions, new pre-school/nursery facilities, sanctuary and garden.
The recently retired, hard-working and long-serving vicar has worked diligently to bring this into being to ensure a long-term, effective, generous Jesus-centred presence in this community which finds itself pushed and pulled between boroughs and therefore in the lowest 10% of deprivation. Because the vicarage is also part of the redevelopment they have been unable to appoint a new vicar as yet, so this exciting baby initiative needs a midwife to try and bring it safely into existence while the process of advertising for a new priest gets underway.
So my midwifery bag is packed with a willingness to listen to the church and the community, a growing understanding (through my project management of The Fishermen’s Chapel) of helping a church take risks and grasp opportunities that come their way, and a belief that communities that have frequently felt marginalised have immense strength and heaps to teach wider society. But this is going to be a big baby, so I am also a little nervous!
I increasingly recognise that I enjoy starting things, imagining new possibilities and building teams… and then get itchy feet and a little bit bored! So this opportunity to walk with this church through this year of transition really excites me. Some may know that I am not usually a fan of church buildings – I have had people walk out and others call me the spawn of Satan for suggesting we might become more effective followers of Jesus if we close our church buildings! – but I have said publicly that IF you are going to invest in a new building, for goodness sake make sure it has a cafe, children’s facilities and a gym! So making this work is something of a personal challenge for me!
It is only a temporary role, so I will not be moving to the neighbourhood. The church will be advertising for a new vicar very soon and she or he will have the incarnational task and privilege of continuing to contribute to, build and serve community. If you are an Anglican priest looking for a multi-cultural congregation who have shown immense courage by embarking on this adventure of pioneering, and are passionate about urban, outer-city estates, keep your eyes open for the ad 🙂