Cross Cultural Ministry in Woking (Across) brings together Christians from churches in the area, focusing on sharing faith across cultures. CTE’s Lucy Olofinjana caught up with Rev Phil Simpson to hear more about their work…
How would you describe the work of Across?
Across sees many churches working together to reach out to the community and connect with people of other faiths. Woking has a large Pakistani Muslim population – in fact Woking’s Shah Jehan mosque, built in 1889, is the oldest purpose-built mosque in the country.
Our aim is to reach out with Christ’s love, building bridges across the community, with a particular focus on sharing faith across cultures.
We emphasise gentle invitation, building relationships with people of other faiths and being respectful and full of grace. Prayer is also central – every month for past 20 years Christians have gathered to pray on a Friday, the Islamic day of prayer, and every couple of months we host a prayer breakfast.
Each Christmas we hold an International Carol Service, bringing together different cultures to share the story of Jesus’ birth through readings and songs in multiple languages. At our recent Carol Service, the theme was ‘Seeing Angels’, and a local Syrian refugee played his oud instrument beautifully, while a member of Woking People of Faith came and brought greetings from the Muslim community.
How have people in the community been impacted?
We’ve seen many friendships develop, with Imams, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and local mums to name a few.
At Eid we’ve taken gifts to the local mosques, and members of the mosque have reciprocated at Christmas time. After the first London Bridge attack, we wanted to stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbours, so we visited the mosque with little cards saying simply ‘You are loved’. These were given to the congregation as they left, with women also giving flowers to the women there. They were so encouraged and invited us all to share a biryani meal with them.
We’ve also run craft activities for women, and mixed groups such as ‘Prophet Stories’ and the ‘Holy Book Club’ which bring people together to talk about stories and texts in the Bible, Qu’ran and Jewish Torah.
In the face of growing Islamophobia, fear and terror, we try and stand with our Muslim neighbours, who also fear the terror. We’re also engaging with the Refugee Crisis, with Woking committing to welcome 12 families a year over five years – some of our people have been able to help with simple things like English conversation.
How are you helping Christians become more confident in sharing their faith?
We encourage people that faith-sharing and bridge-building go together.
The Friendship First course used by Mahabba is very popular, helping Christians overcome fear and reach out in love to their Muslim neighbours. People have said it has helped them feel more confident in engaging with people locally. We also invite people from different faith backgrounds to come and share their story.
Prayer is also key in building people’s confidence – we have people of all ages who pray with us regularly, and some of our older prayer-warriors are so passionate, finding opportunities to talk and engage with people of different faiths.
What are your top tips when it comes to sharing the gospel with people from different faith backgrounds?
It sounds so simple, but the most important thing is simply greeting people and smiling. It’s about intentionally relating with people and overcoming your fear. We often refer to the passage in John 20, where the disciples were locked in fear in the upper room and Jesus came and breathed his Spirit of peace on them. Then they go out to engage with others.
Eating together is also very important; offering and receiving hospitality is a wonderful way to relate. In the Mahabba network we talk a lot about “G&T” – grace and truth. It’s about a graceful approach, being deeply rooted in our own faith and sharing truth in an uncompromising manner, but also being profoundly open to other people and listening to them.
Why is it so important for Christians from different churches to work together?
The heart of all we do together is unity, and that is a witness in itself. Some say that different denominations are a witness to the disunity of the church, but I think they allow differences to flourish, and we can then come together in unity – not just representing a better image of the Church, but actually doing stuff together to bless our communities.
None of us can do it on our own. Across Woking is not a one-man-band, it’s about churches working together for the good of our community and for the glory of God.
Find out more about Across on their website, www.AcrossWoking.org.uk