I am not a fan of jigsaws particularly, however, I do marvel at the patience that goes into completing a complex masterpiece – especially when most of the pieces are all blue sky!
Jigsaws may not be my thing, but the question of which piece I might be in terms of mission has remained with me throughout my ministry. Around 25 years ago I was called to work in a new housing area in London, and more recently I have been engaging with mission as a Baptist Pioneer in the new Ebbsfleet Garden City in North Kent.
Have you noticed that around our nation there is major move to build new homes and create new neighbourhoods? Some of these will become new towns and villages, others will become part of existing communities but all of them will bring with them new residents with dreams of wonderful life in their new home.
New housing presents us with a huge opportunity for mission: one that no single church or denomination can take on alone. Working together is essential for effectively reaching these neighbourhoods. But just as every new housing development is unique, there is no one masterplan for how we work together either.
As chair of the CTE New Housing Areas group, I have the joy of hearing about a number of initiatives taking place in new housing areas across the country. There are many examples where different local churches have come together to pray, research, and make plans for how the new residents can be reached. Sometimes this has resulted in an ecumenical project where a pioneer, or house has been funded by a group of churches, in other places it has been a case of dividing up the responsibility for different parts of a development, or in some instances it has simply been a commitment to collaborate on the different initiatives and keep in touch.
As I have reflected on the ministry I lead in Ebbsfleet, I have often returned to the ‘jigsaw’ question. What shape does God want this new missional community to have? Where might we be placed so that we fit beautifully alongside the initiatives of others? To answer these questions requires that we are in relationship with those around us, and open to what the Holy Spirit is saying.
If I’m honest, working ecumenically here has not always been easy – but I am grateful for those who have recognised with me that a few odd jigsaw pieces scattered around will not complete the picture. The image and impact of God’s kingdom across these new communities will only be realised as we all come together and play our part, however big or small our piece might be.
If you would like to know more about how to reach new housing areas on your doorstep, or to share your experience with others, let me point you to a couple of helpful starting places. The first is the Churches Group for New Housing Areas area on the CTE website.
The second is the New Housing Hub which is a network that has been established to inspire, resource, and connect pioneers, churches, and individual Christians.
Rev Penny Marsh chairs the CTE New Housing Areas group, is a co-director of the New Housing Hub, supports pioneer ministry within the South Eastern Baptist Association, and is the minister of Ebbsfleet Baptist Church.