Community building at Robert Stewart Memorial URC Newcastle

Ann HoneyChurch Related Community Worker Ann Honey tells how doing ‘nothing’ can achieve surprising results

‘Sometimes, in my job, the hardest thing to do is – nothing. A recent example of this came when the congregations at Robert Stewart Memorial (RSM) decided they would like to organise a combined event for the community so that people could have fun and meet others. 

The church premises provide a home not only for the URC congregation but also for French Congolese, Ethiopian and Romanian worship groups. RSM helps to support these congregations –especially those new to the UK – and also hosts Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, a community bowls group and older people’s projects, including a monthly tea dance.

I have been working in the area for almost nine years, having been granted a five-year extension on my initial posting. CRCW work takes Church “outside the box” and it also takes congregations outside their comfort zone at times but the idea for a combined event seemed to fit with what I was doing to bring the community together. There is still tension between the different cultures who live around the church but having a good time together can make a big difference.

I can organise events, in fact I’m quite good at it and, during my time in Fenham, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. However, I only have one year left on my posting here and, given the number of people who were keen to get involved, I decided that this time I would step back and see what happened. With four congregations working together, three of them with limited English (though not as limited as my Romanian!) I wondered whether there might be problems.

However, sitting in on meetings, what I heard was a wonderful example of how people can join together and make themselves understood. I confess I did do something to help with this event, namely a bit of shopping for burgers and buns, but most of the food was made by those involved. So, we had different Ethiopian, French Congolese and Romanian traditional dishes, and some English jam and scones.

Community dayMusic was also provided by all the groups. I tried, with my organiser’s hat on, to suggest that perhaps a listing of what groups would be on stage at what time might be useful, but I was told it would “just flow along” – and it did! The day itself turned out perfectly; many from the community came along, the youth workers provided a face painter, another project brought hula hoops and balls for the children to play with, and a group of litter-pickers finished their stint by coming into the hall for refreshments and ended up staying all day. 

What’s next for this community? I don’t know but I do know that this event prompted calls for more of the same. People have been congratulating me, saying how wonderful it was and asking when we’re having the next one. I just can’t convince them I did nothing at all!

Nothing happens overnight and there is a great deal of work to be done creating relationships with community organisations and building the confidence of those in the church congregation. My theology is a very practical, “feet on the ground” theology and I believe that the people at RSM have taken that approach on board; an approach which encourages them to see how they can also be a blessing to their community.

A church must be relevant to its surroundings, Jesus told us to love one another – and that means everybody, in and out of church. Whatever you do in your community, whether volunteering, attending council meetings or whatever, that is being good news to your area. In my setting at RSM, I’m not likely to ask people how their prayer life is but I am going to ask how they are loving their community. 

Many might see discipleship and mission as bringing people to church to be part of their worshipping congregation; I see it as being a blessing, being Christ’s feet on this earth wherever I am. If, in the course of my adventures, I am asked the “God question” then I am only too happy to share my faith – but only if I am asked. Whether this makes a difference to the individual’s faith journey is up to God; only time will tell.’