Gathering almost 100 people from across the UK at Regents Hall in Oxford Street, we were collectively challenged to recognise that this may be a kairos* moment for the churches in our nation.
Organised by the New Housing Hub and members of Churches Together in England’s New Housing Areas Group, with funding from various churches, the day brought together those working on the ground starting new communities of faith and those who work behind the scenes with regional church enablers, planners, developers and housing associations.
Bishop Guli Francis Dehqani, the keynote speaker, shared her own experience of being given safe housing when she arrived with her family from Iran in 1980 and the basic need for good quality safe housing as an issue of social justice.
Leading the day was shared in a thoroughly ecumenical manner with Penny Marsh (Baptist), Matt Finch (Methodist) and Paula Haylett (Salvation Army) bringing their own unique experiences of the new housing contexts in which they are all based. They shared stories were of working alongside new residents to build community in creative ways – listening to people’s needs and worries and devising kingdom-shaped answers. Penny helped start a community running group and Paula created a space for mums and their children who felt isolated and alone on a new estate.
Ed Moffat from the Diocese of Exeter brought the wisdom of 20 years of working with planning officers, developers and housing experts and urged church leaders to build good relationships with them; whilst noting that timings of start and end dates of developments were often impossible to predict.
I went away feeling encouraged by a day full of hope and a growing network of people who feel called to partner together to see the Kingdom of God come in new housing areas. The challenge will be to make sure that no church acts alone but, at each turn of the new housing journey, finds deeper ways to share resources together. The CTE New Housing Areas Group is looking at developing an ecumenical covenant in the next 18 months. We plan for this to be a helpful document for collaboration alongside the flexible framework for mission as churches seek deeper unity in mission.
* defined as “a propitious moment for decision or action.”