For the past 22 years Eden has been sending and supporting urban missionaries to some of Britain’s toughest neighbourhoods, but there’s still more to do says Sarah Small, head of the Eden Network.
Last Spring I took a walk around Blackpool with Steve, a local Vicar. Prior to joining the ministry, he had been a policeman, patrolling the beat that he now served as his parish. As we briskly walked the terraced streets he told me stories of visits that he had made; crimes committed, victims and perpetrators and his own reflections of the area. Many of the stories were sadly familiar. And yet as we walked and talked, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of the injustice that was present in this town.
Blackpool is a place where many come to party, drink and indulge their senses. They come to get their fill, leaving chaos in their wake. It’s a place where people are moved temporarily while awaiting somewhere else to go. A place where some make their fortune, while many struggle to make ends meet. A place recent Government figures showed as having 8 of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England. As I prayed and listened to God my overwhelming sense was that many people had lost sight of the true value and worth of this place. Seeing it as somewhere they could exploit for their own purposes. I don’t know about you, but this is something that stirs me into action.
Across the UK there are many other places like Blackpool, outer estates, inner city neighbourhoods, seaside towns and valleys. Places that our government ranks as deprived, our media portrays in a persistently negative tone and even our churches have been guilty of overlooking. And whilst this happens, the gap between the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ continues to widen.
A middle-class church
In 2015 ‘Talking Jesus’ research reported that the British Church is overwhelmingly middle class. 81% of churchgoers hold a University degree (compared to 27% of the entire British population). While some would see this as a cheering statistic, it is also troubling. Our predominantly middle-class church needs to work harder to reverse this! We need to be deploying our resources to the margins, to those areas where the church is weakest and the need is greatest in order to see the church truly flourish.
Eden is working to change this. We believe that God’s view of these places and of their people is significantly different. He operates an upside-down kingdom in which the last will be first and the least will be greatest. These are the places we must focus our attention and give our best to, for the growth of his kingdom.
At its heart Eden has three core values…
- The transformational nature of the gospel
- The imperative to live sacrificially
- The necessity of building and being part of authentic community.
To see that worked out we form teams of up to 12 people, mostly volunteers, who commit to living long-term in the heart of tough communities. Partnering with a local church, our teams run youth work, prayer groups, community clubs, cafes, church services, Alpha courses, mums groups, men’s groups, art classes, environmental groups, Foodbanks, debt counselling and all sorts of other activities. They run these in order to meet the needs in their specific communities but more than that to build relationships. At the heart of all this is the desire to truly love our neighbours and to see our communities flourish. To reverse the decline and to bring in a new hope in our areas. Our cornerstone verse is found in Ezekiel 36:35
‘They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.”’
This vision of the reconciliation and restoration of all things is compelling, and our hope is that in time all things will be made new, and that we will have some small part to play in God’s plan to make that happen.
Our workers are a mix of characters, ages and stages.
They choose to either relocate, return to, or remain in an area of deprivation. People like Lewis who joined a team in Salford as a new Christian, fully assured that his faith was a light, a small light he would say, but one that would shine most brightly in the darkest of places. Over the next decade he saw neighbours come to faith, crime rates fall and the launch of a church. Last year Lewis and his family felt called to relocate to Bradford to launch a new Eden team.
We also have those who are called to return to the places they thought that they had left behind. Emma was happily living with her husband and children in the South East when God called them to move to Netherton in Liverpool. This was the estate where she had grown up and still had family members living nearby.
And then there are those who have always been there…
People like Paul who came to faith through a combination of receiving debt support from CAP and getting to know a local evangelist called Pete. Pete went on to lead the Eden team in the estate Paul lived and had grown up in. Over time Paul got involved in the work of the team, deepening his faith all the time. When after years on the team Pete stepped down, Paul was his natural successor. A leader with an authentically local voice, but who has been transformed through his relationship with Jesus. Pete and Paul have set up a community centre called The Shack and regularly run community meals, men’s ministry and a church plant. Even more powerful than their activities is their own passion and presence in their community.
All those who join Eden make a clear prophetic statement to their communities – that there is hope and that transformation is possible. Our constant prayer for our work is Luke 10:2, ‘He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”’ Please do join us in praying this too.
Taking Eden to Blackpool
In September 2020 we plan to launch an Eden team in Blackpool, based in the Revoe area in partnership with Christ Church All Saints. We’re looking for people to join us to be part of changing this story. By living long term in the community and sharing their faith with those who live around them. We’re motivated by John 1:14 beautifully paraphrased by Eugene Peterson who wrote, ‘The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.’
If you’re interested in exploring the call to Eden, in Blackpool or in one of over 40 other places where we’re working in the UK, then get in touch. You can email us on [email protected]and you can find out more about applying to join Eden on our website joineden.org