Glimpses into International Ministry in the North East

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By Tom Bryant.

At the moment I have the privilege to be involved with a group of people who run international cafes with universities in Britain for overseas students. It is remarkable! In a world where there is more and more disputes and wars between countries, we have the honour of gathering students of all ages, from all backgrounds and nearly every continent to have a meal together and share each others’ cultures, stories and to celebrate them. Its very rare you will find a Geordie, Iranian, Saudi and a Mackem bonding over a game of UNO.

I’m pretty sure this is a small glimpse of heaven.

This happens in churches across the North East, but more importantly across all of Britain. There are at least five cafes that I am aware of in Newcastle for overseas students ran by different groups of churches and I help lead one in Quayside, the beauty of these cafes is that it is going against the stereotypes that are put on different people groups that come to Britain and by doing this destroys the roots of racism which are creeping back into 21st century Britain. We are all aware of certain newspapers and websites which use terms like cockroaches and vermin to describe refugees.

Being all-welcoming is probably always underestimated. It’s obviously very hard to judge the true impact of relationships you have with others in your life, say apart from those closest to you. But what we can say is that the biggest impact on the human history has been through the later part of the life of one man, Jesus. From a worldwide movement that went faster and further than the Roman Empire, to inspiring the first hospitals (Holy Jesus Hospital in Newcastle City centre is over 700 years old) and the first education centres and universities.

Jesus’ impact and influence is, of course, immeasurable.

Back to cafes (sort of)… Jesus was all-welcoming. Those he chose to help were meant to be untouchable lepers, who he healed with touch. Spending time with a promiscuous woman and treating her with dignity whilst putting his reputation on the line. But apart from these bible verses the most challenging thing is that Jesus was always All-Welcoming: Those he chose for his team and closest friends were disgusting fisherman and corrupt tax collectors who would betray and deny Him in His hour of biggest need. Not just those He saw and helped for his ministry but some of His best friends were some of the least in the eyes of the religious and governing groups of the time.

I know you are probably thinking that this blog post is about two very separate things, one being about work in Newcastle with internationals and the other a rather preach-like encouragement of being all-welcoming which didn’t really land anywhere?!

But the two should be almost inseparable.

What are you involved in? What’s it against? Inclusion or Exclusion?

Does it come from the movement and impact of Jesus?

Disclaimer: people that would consider me a friend, I have not sought you out because you are disgusting or corrupt, though some of you might be.

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Loving the North East… in Jesus’ Name

 

 

 

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By Rachel Peters, an undergraduate student doing a BA in Theology, Mission, and Ministry at Cranmer Hall on the Free Church Missional Leadership Track.

“There are large and desolate places, certainly up in the North-East, where there is plenty of room for fracking…” – Lord Howell.

This area of our country can often be overlooked and spoken badly about so let us take a brief look at the rich history of the North East, its beauty, challenges and hope.

The North East is rooted in a culture that speaks of community founded in the mining villages and families of steel workers, which has created a unique sense of pride, identity and community for the people of this region. This area of the world is steeped with beautiful countryside, as observed in the Yorkshire Dales, and the majesty of the Lake District, places that attract people from all over the world to enjoy. The North East has also been a large contributor to global history, for example, we have made our mark with the Sydney harbour bridge, the invention of the match, the first railway line from Darlington to Stockton and many other significant influencers in history.

As well as the North East being home to some significant inventions, it also has a rich history of faith. The spread of Christianity throughout Britain was significantly contributed to by Holy Island being central to this. St Aidan, the first bishop of Lindisfarne, along with other Celtic monks went out and shared the Gospel throughout the North. Although the North East has changed significantly since this time, this period in Church history was undeniably influential for the development of Christianity across the country.

What does this mean for our region in the 21st Century? Our history has shaped us into being a robust, passionate, hardworking, community-centred area, rooted in the values of Christianity. This is reflected in the work of a number of charities based here in the North East, for example, ‘Away out’ providing services for vulnerable women, ‘Safe families for children’ providing support for children and families and ‘Cornerstone’ a local Christian adoption agency. There are many more community building charities that could mentioned in that list also. Although this is the case, the identity of parts of the North East has been challenged in different ways, funding has been cut all across the country but most recently has had a detrimental effect on SSI steelworks in Redcar, and in turn has stripped people of their jobs, a great source of pride especially in this industry as it has been a significant part of our identity. This is among other factors that have shaken the roots and challenged the faith of this area.

However, I don’t not believe that God has forgotten the North East. There is life springing up here. It is claimed that the Church is declining in our region however this is not the case. I see churches that are booming, with inter-generational congregations, history makers in our towns and cities – people who are seeing injustices and are responding to them with passion and creativity. This has proved to be evident in the research accumulated by David Goodhew, who drew together a document called, ‘New Churches in the North East’, including promising statistics. It is stated, “125 new churches have been founded in the North East of England between 1980 and 2015.” He goes on to say, “of the 12000 people who usually attend a Sunday worship at ‘new churches’ in the North East, around 2500 are under the age of 16.” This shows how the Church in this region is sprouting up with new hope, along with a new generation.

Yes, we have our problems and we come with challenges but we were born into a region with a deep well of Christianity, God is moving, he has not forgotten us.

I started with a statement of hostility about the North East, but now I want to end with a proclamation over the North East.

They will be called the Holy people, the redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called sought after, the city no longer deserted.” – Isaiah 62:12.

Detroit, the North East of England, and the Gospel

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By Adam Gray.

Last year, The Guardian published an article that asked “The north-east of England: Britain’s Detroit?” It was deliberately provocative with images of decaying buildings, graffiti-covered signs and that infamous shot of Margaret Thatcher wandering through the wasteland by the forlorn Head Wrightson plant.

The piece caused some consternation amongst my Missional Leadership track colleagues when it was set as pre-reading for a seminar. How dare the author of that article pillory the North East like that? Sure, there was a photograph of the Sage Gateshead, but nothing of the North East’s other jewels: Newcastle’s handsome Grainger Town, the rugged Northumbrian coast or the retail oasis of Gateshead’s Metrocentre.

I was less offended. Frankly, I recognised the dilapidated shop front that could have been along the road from me and the impression of an area that hasn’t quite recovered from the loss of its dominating industries. The success of Northern Rock in the mid-2000s seemed to symbolise the glimmer of returning Geordie pride but that was snuffed out when they overplayed their hand in the poker match of capitalism, just as the first Conservative government to be elected in a generation saw the North East’s political stronghold in a progressive Labour government disappear.

The analogy with Detroit also sparked a memory. Every year, a group of leaders from our church attends the Newcastle satellite of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. The mix of top international business leaders with some of the most influential US church pastors is inspiring, if somewhat removed from the daily reality of the British provincial church. At my first GLS in 2009, one particular speaker had stood out, as much for what he was doing as what he had said. A slick video introduced Harvey Carey, a man who had “brought hope to Detroit”.

Turning down the offer of a doubling of his salary to continue to lead a prominent youth ministry, Carey had moved into the poorest suburb of the poorest city of the poorest state in the US. His theology may be orthodox but his methods certainly aren’t. As the only staff member, Carey was adamant that every member of the church should be empowered to get involved and set about retooling Sunday services recognising them as the best opportunity to get outside the building together. They decided to personally distribute Bibles to every home in their community and prayed on the doorstep of every house, whether the owners were home or not. They sent out teams to work with girls in the red light district. By 2009, his church had shut down eight of the local crack dens simply by camping out on the lawn, 100 deep.

Detroit has ingrained issues that will take years to resolve, but God is at work restoring the fabric of the city as well as the souls of its inhabitants, through a group of a people prepared to look beyond the traditions of church.

I’m no Harvey Carey, but I’ve a feeling that the same God who has called his people to the forsaken suburbs of Detroit, can revive the backwaters of the North East. That’s why I moved last year to North Shields, a stone’s throw from a former shipyard.

The North East of England: Britain’s Detroit? I hope so!

Mission in a “Done-to” Culture

By Ellie Cook. Ellie worships at Christ Church Gosforth in Newcastle and works for UCCF—The Christian Unions in Durham and Stockton. She blogs at ellidhcook.com and tweets from @ellidh.

In our second Missional Leadership seminar of the year we were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the history of the North East and introduced to the idea of the area as being a ‘done to’ culture. Tribalism, invading hordes, industry, unemployment, poverty, pollution and so much more have all contributed to a feeling of being abused or misused by the rest of Britain.

The questions that have been raised for me are: what difference does that make to ministry and mission? Does the history of being ‘done to’ lead to an inherent suspicion of motives amongst North East communities that makes it hard for the gospel to get a hearing?

I wonder whether the real problem is not so much suspicion of the outsider or the unfamiliar, but more of a weariness about how long anything will last. Factories, office parks, houses and churches lie empty because the money has dried up and moved away. The ‘done to’ culture is lonely and abandoned and wary of having its heart broken and its hopes dashed.

Surely that is the kind of culture that needs to hear the gospel! A message of restoration and community and hopes realised is very good news indeed when that’s everything that you want. The question is, how do we persuade those who are disillusioned and disappointed, that it really is true?

As I’ve reflected on it over this term I wonder whether one answer to that question is to call people to commit to the region for the long term. Since moving to the north east five years ago I have lived and worked in university cities, with an inherently temporary and transient group of people. Many students move from the south for three, four or five years, and then disappear back down south again to be replaced by another temporary, transient group, and another and another, and much of the time Christian students fit into this same pattern. I wonder whether working to persuade some of these students to commit to the region might do wonders for seeing the gospel gain a hearing amongst this ‘done to’ culture. Persuading students to settle in to jobs and houses and church’s and communities, and to make this region their home for longer than just a couple of years.

John’s description of the Word in the opening chapter of his gospel are striking:

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” John 1:14

Jesus becomes flesh, becomes human, he tabernacles, he pitches his tent, he joins the community, and in doing so he makes a mysterious and invisible God known to us.

Being a Christian – a ‘little Christ’ – means that we’re called to do something similar. Pitching a tent, joining the community, settling into stay, and living in a way that shows who Jesus is, and invites others to come and know him too.

It’s not the be all and end all, and it’s never going to solve every problem, but perhaps it might be one way to further the growth of the gospel here in the north east.