Connect

Recently had a bizarre and very full week. From Saturday 10th November through to Sunday 18th my church, Dundonald Methodist, worked with the other 2 main churches in Ballybeen, namely St. Mary's Church of Ireland and Christ Church Presbyterian, on an evangelistic outreach programme, which we called "Connect". It was underpinned by the idea of the 3 churches 'connecting' together, to 'connect' with the wider community and encourage people to 'connect' with God. You get the picture.

We were supported in this by 3 evangelists: Roger Murphy, from Through Faith Missions, Paul Hoey of CPAS and Paul Woodman, an illusionist who is also a pastor in City Life Church in Southampton.

There were a range of events in different venues around the estate all week, reaching out to all ages and interests, a men's health event, a seniors' tea dance, an evening of salsa aerobics for women, a beach party for teens (which is a novel idea for Ballybeen in the midst of winter), a praise party for kids and much, much more. Each event culminated in a straightforward presentation of the gospel, and an invitation to commitment. All of the publicity made it clear that this would happen, so no one was there under false pretences. The settings and the technology employed may have been different from days gone by, but the format wasn't really that far removed from the tent missions of a previous generation. But then again, the message of the gospel is timeless. All in all it was a success, with a good arrendance at most events and an encouraging level of response. However, what was clearly evident was the shallowness of our connections with the wider community, as most of those attending and responding generally attended other church activities.

However whilst all of this was going on at a local level, I was also involved in a number of meetings and conversations that, at first, may seem to be a million miles from this unapologetic evangelical outreach. One of the hats I wear is as chair of the Churches Community Work Alliance here in Northern Ireland, which seeks to promote and support Christian community development work. Three mornings were taken up by meetings under that banner; the first with the national trustees discussing the future of the organisation here; the second meeting with the local reference group, a body of Christian community activists and church representatives who, we hope will take over running the organisation here; and finally a meeting of the CCWA Forum with the local Minister for Social Development, Margaret Ritchie. Two further mornings were spent in chaplaincy work at the local general hospital.

Then finally the Friday morning was taken up by an informal meeting of local ministers and church workers with Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, otherwise known as the Rev. Leslie Griffiths, minister of Wesley's Chapel in London. He was sharing with us on his experience of urban ministry, which he described in terms of a series of interfaces:
City - Inner City
Local - Global
Action - Reflection
Present - Past
Church - World

It was this reflection that helped me to regain a sense of perspective in what was an insane week, because central to my sense of call to ministry has always been that interface between evangelism and social engagement: both unapologetic; both done because they are the right things to do; both expressions of the grace and mercy of Christ.

If the church is to live up to its high calling it must take seriously both of these dimensions.
It is only when we, as churches take seriously the issues that are important to local people, that we can expect local people to take seriously that which is important to us.

More than that, we must recognise that whilst we encourage people to connect with God in Christ, Jesus himself encouraged his followers to connect with him in other people and their needs.

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