“In Unity Progress”
The London Borough of Redbridge is a relatively new political unit within the urban sprawl on the east side of Greater London. It includes two separate and distinct older towns, Woodford and Ilford, and is severed by some major through routes. When the borough was created in 1965, instead of it being named after one of these big towns, possibly inciting more division, Redbridge was chosen as its name and a motto given; “In Unity Progress.” This fascinating historical fact was a great encouragement to us, when we were asked by our street pastor friend, Monica, if we would consider helping to bring some more togetherness into the way the church was working in Redbridge.
Redbridge has a population of around 200,000, so we knew that we could not possibly meet every church and ministry leader. However, Monica, being the coordinator of Street Pastors in Redbridge, was able to signpost us to a number of key leaders in the Borough (Street Pastors is a ministry into the night time economy of dance clubs and clubbers and has a wide participation from churches in Redbridge, good credibility and an extensive data base). Over a twelve month period, we had a lot of conversations with different ones, representing a large cross section of churchmanship. This helped us to build relationships, get an understanding of what was going on, and also test the temperature and heart-ache for working together.
From the outset we felt that prayer was the key! Everyone agrees that it is good to pray together! So we decided to set the bar quite low to begin with, and just focus on bringing church leaders together for one united prayer day before the end of the year. We wanted the largest possible spectrum of churches to embrace the idea and to have a sense of ownership. We also realized that our own role would have to be in the first stages only, as we didn’t live in Redbridge. Humility was the only way forward for an outside voice to be accepted.
An invite to an initial planning meeting brought an interested local core team together. There were surprises and disappointments, not many senior leaders, but enough representation for us to feel a ground support had been created. We gave the initiative the name ‘Love Redbridge’ and created a logo. The outline of Redbridge has a ragged heart-shaped look about it – a heart work in progress which the logo reflects. Giving the project a name immediately created a sense of identity and who could argue theologically with sharing God’s love!
When it came to choosing a venue for the Prayer Day we deliberately chose a church in Gants Hill, at the centre of the borough, located between the two towns of Woodford and Ilford. Both these towns have large churches, and we were aware that if we had chosen one of them, people might not have come from the other! They might also assume that the event was really only for that particular church. By choosing a smaller church, we sent out the signal that our event was for everyone, and we were not a threat to the larger churches.
On the day, a whole bunch of leaders came! We maximised participation by creating a variety of prayer sessions and reflection times, led and put together by leaders drawn from the whole range of churches, from high to low, charismatic to non-charismatic. This was not for novelty’s sake, but to signal that every ones way of doing things would be honoured and in the mix. Visual prayer tables (Prayer stations) around the room allowed for a personal time of reflection and prayer. Lunch was also provided- a real bonus, helping people to connect and build friendships.
At the beginning of the day the local church leader had wanted to show some early arrivals around his church bell tower! This led to an amazing cacophony of sound as different bells were rung – we were not sure what the neighbours thought but it fitted in very well with an opening thought on freedom and jubilee. We felt the bells had proclaimed this over the Borough.
That was three years ago. Since then, prayer days and prayer walks around the borough have continued. A strong locally-led core team is in place planning ongoing events, and a leaders’ prayer breakfast in Ilford– which we began at the same time–continues to meet regularly. Fostering relationships across the Borough can still be challenging but the work of Love Redbridge is a positive influence in helping churches here to think wider than just their own agendas.