From its roots in the council estates and inner city streets of Manchester and Salford, Eden has steadily grown into a vibrant network of projects all over the UK. National Director Matt Wilson invites you to join the movement and make a difference to a disadvantaged community near you.
Every weekday at about 5.30pm I’d turn my clapped out Ford Orion round the final bend into my street and wonder how I would be greeted on my return from work. The street was never empty. If it was too quiet I’d get worried that trouble was brewing! The typical scene would be three or four young lads waiting at my gate or sitting on my front step, hoods up. Loitering with intent.
“You coming for footy in the cage Matt?” they would ask. No ‘How was your day?’ first, nothing like that. I figured they liked playing football with me because I was rubbish and they could run rings round me. But it wasn’t just that. It was clear that we dozen or so Christians who had moved into the neighbourhood were the only adults these teenagers knew who were willing to take an interest in them. It seemed like they felt safe around us.
That was over 10 years ago now, when Eden had first begun and I was just a volunteer working a job in the day and giving my spare time to youth and community work. If you’d have told me then that I’d now be heading up a national movement fast approaching 20 projects stretching the length and breadth of England I would’ve found it very hard to take in.
No more hit and run
Soon after launching the first couple of Eden teams in an outer rim Manchester council estate and an inner city Salford warren of terraced streets, I was hi-jacked by The Message Trust founder Andy Hawthorne and asked to get involved in the organising of a big idea he’d been dreaming up with Mike Pilavachi of Soul Survivor. It was the year 2000 and the plan was to relocate Soul Survivor’s summer festival, including all 10,000 teenagers, to Manchester. I recall the headline on the brochure we produced outlining the vision: ‘No More Hit And Run’. It was of course a not-too-subtle reference to the style of ‘crusade’ evangelism of the late 20th century. The message was clear: turnout for big-name itinerant preachers was dwindling and their long-term impact was deemed questionable at best. This was about mobilising a new generation who would give themselves to making a difference at the grass roots.
Looking back a decade on, it’s apparent that over those 10 days of Message 2000, something of huge significance was going on. The church, particularly the evangelical and charismatic churches who had previously been very building- and meetings-oriented, had begun to get re-connected to the community. In the years following 2000, all over the nation, the mobilisation of short-term teams for ‘mission through blessing’ became the hot new approach. I wonder how many gardens have been improved, how many acres of graffiti have been scrubbed, how many faces have been painted. Millions possibly, and we’ve heard so many amazing stories of God’s love, grace and mercy as a result!
This is where I throw in the deadly ‘but’. You see my new role as Eden’s National Director means I’m doing lots of travelling, networking and meeting new people. Every week I’m visiting the most disadvantaged communities up and down the country. And I’ve noticed something that’s started to nag at my conscience. I might describe it as loitering with intent. I use that phrase to describe the activity of churches who position themselves on the edge of a challenging community, close enough to get involved from time to time when it suits their schedule. Perhaps once or twice a year teams will be sent onto the estate to do a community clean-up or organise a fun day. There may even be a weekly group running for young mums or older people. But it’s bungee-style blessing, attached to an elastic cord, in and out, in and out. It’s stopping short of getting fully involved or putting down permanent roots.
Now don’t get me wrong, such ministry is a great start, and it’s certainly streets ahead of the old-style crusades, but I believe with all my heart that God’s call to community is much more radical. Didn’t Jesus say, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21)? And how was he sent? He ‘became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’ (John 1:14, The Message). It’s a challenge that Eden and many other similar ministries are determined to take seriously.
Willing to submerge
There’s something else I’ve been encouraged by recently and I believe it’s a new thing that God is doing. There’s a growing sense of self-awareness within churches about this current state of affairs. Hardly a day goes by without one of our offices being contacted by a church that has realised it is loitering with intent, bungeeing in and out of its community. They are sensing the Spirit leading them deeper, from dipping a toe in the community to becoming ankle then knee deep, until they submerge. Lots of the churches I’m dealing with now are at that stage and it’s a thrill to help them work out their next steps and consider whether Eden could provide a model for them.
One such church is Firwood church, located in Westwood, a very poor and racially divided area of Oldham. They’ve been on exactly this kind of journey, steadily and consistently, one step at a time, over several years. In May 2009 we helped them to launch an Eden team and they’re now feeling the difference it makes to have 24/7/365 presence right in the heart of the estate. The core members of the team are now touching lives through a wide range of relational activities. The wider congregation have worked through the often painful issues relating to integrating large numbers of unchurched teenagers into their midst. There’s a special buzz at the Sunday night services where the 40 or 50 adults will frequently be outnumbered by local teenagers encountering the goodness and grace of God.
All the evidence from the many Eden teams established over the last 13 years points to the unavoidable fact that real and lasting transformation only works in one direction: from the inside out. Isn’t that exactly how you’d expect God to work? And wouldn’t you like to be part of it?
© This material copyright New Wine Magazine (www.new-wine.org/mag) and used with permission.