The Church of England offers a Christian presence in every community - and some of the toughest communities for Christian ministry are social housing estates, often on the fringes of towns and cities across the country.
The new funding system under the Renewal and Reform programme will allocate significant central funds for poorer areas, including many estates. And a new strand of Renewal and Reform, focusing directly on growing churches on estates, will help support practitioners, share good practices and enable the work of estates parishes to inform the whole mission of the church.
Clergy and other practitioners on estates, whichever tradition of the church they identify with, rarely talk about growth and social action as contradictory activities. The needs of people on estates call for loving and effective responses - but without a core of faithful local Christians, there is no viable "church" to be socially engaged. This new work strand is about building up the transformative power of the church in some of the most marginalised communities of the nation - and is central to our vocation to be a Christian presence everywhere.
In 2012, the Archbishops' Council and Church Commissioners created a funding programme for developing Church growth in deprived areas. £2.9m supported 28 projects that were already proving effective in growing the Church in deprived areas, with the aim of scaling their impact across the Church. An independent evaluation of the programme by Achill Management Ltd was completed in 2016.
Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, chair of the Archbishops’ Estates Evangelism Task Force, talks about his experience of ministry in disadvantaged areas. Bishop Philip says, residents living on deprived estates urgently need to hear “a language of hope”. In this podcast, he provides advice on how the Church can achieve this.
Mark Russell is Chief Executive of Church Army and a member of the Archbishops’ Council. In this podcast, Mark offers an acute appraisal on the shortage of church leaders raised on outer estates. Mark comments that it is “important that the church is able to raise up leaders indigenously in estates, and empower them to lead”.
A leader on the estates church - [email protected] in North London – Revd Helen Shannon says her experience of estates evangelism has been “wonderful”. However, Helen who also oversees estates church planting for the Bishop of Islington, says estates work can be challenging, at times. In this podcast, she recounts speaking with residents who felt unworthy of God’s love. Helen explains how [email protected] wholeheartedly encourages residents to “come as they are”.
Dawn Lonsdale is the Chief Officer of Unlock. Unlock is a non-denominational charity based in Sheffield that supports inner-city churches in making the gospel more accessible to local communities. In this podcast, Dawn explains that Unlock encourages the people they work with, to speak about their personal experiences, and then link them “to the bigger story of God’s people in the Bible”. Dawn describes this approach as “setting the gospel free in urban communities”.
"I have the best job in the Church of England” declares Revd Robb Sutherland. Robb is the vicar of an estate parish in Halifax. In this podcast, he talks about how becoming a Christian at eighteen changed his life. And dispels misconceptions about living and ministering on an estate - “this is not a bad place, this is a wonderful place, with wonderful people who support each other”.
Rae Pears is a regional coordinator at Urban Expression – a mission agency that works in under-churched areas. With her husband, Rae runs Holy Spokes, a bicycle maintenance workshop in East Bristol. In this podcast, Rae speaks about the importance of estates evangelism practitioners collaborating more – “partnership is hugely important”, she says. And she explains why she views Holy Spokes as an opportunity for mission work, rather than evangelism.
Despite her dedication to her estate parish ministry, Revd Ruth Young left to perform more community work. She is now a community mission adviser. In this podcast, she talks about ways churches can build relationships with their local civic organisations. She explains how she prompts churches to see themselves in their communities as “salt and yeast…they need to be mixing in with what’s going on”.
Revd Canon Simon Gatenby runs the Westcott in Manchester project – an initiative that places ordinands in parishes in Manchester. The project exists to provide a diverse ministry experience. In this podcast, Simon says, “Manchester offers a variety of parishes. Parishes where there is considerable poverty, deprivation… both estates and inner-city parishes”.
After a placement with the Westcott in Manchester project, Revd Abi Thompson abandoned her plans to work in a North London church. Instead she became a vicar on an estate church in South Yorkshire. Speaking about her time in Manchester, she says she “completely loved it”. Abi appeals to ordinands to, “try going somewhere and doing something that is completely different…and be prepared to be surprised by God”.
Keith Jackson is a minister at St Anne’s Church on the Farm – a worshipping community in Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm. In this podcast, Keith explains how the church provides support to the estate’s residents – which sometimes means helping parents buy school shoes for their children. He says the church’s presence on the estate “is a real signpost that Jesus is actually there caring for people”.