Helen, Alison and Peter from Widmer End and Hazlemere Church tell the story of their journey with Partnership for Missional Church and how God led them to a totally unexpected focus for mission in their local community.
When we stop to listen, our God is famously a “God of surprises”, as the author Gerard Hughes put it. It’s certainly what the church in Widmer End and Hazlemere found as they journeyed through the Partnership for Missional Church process.
As lay leader Peter Fish says, at the start of the process, he hoped “that God would open the door of the church and allow people into the church.
“In year two I suddenly realised that that is not what God’s purpose was for us.
“Yes, he wanted to open the door of the church, but in fact his purpose was to let us out of the church into the community…”
Helen Carmody, the church’s schools and community worker, adds: “We’re not involved in the area of mission which we thought we would be involved with, but this is the mission that God has chosen for us now.
“And so as we move forward with joy and expectancy we don’t know where we’re going, but we know that God does!”
In this case study from Widmer End and Hazlemere, you’ll hear how the PMC process enables churches to listen carefully both to God and to their local community to discern where their focus for action should be.
Peter Fish, lay leader Hazlemere Church
Our congregation is a small congregation and we’ve historically had very good connections with the community, with a mother and toddler group, doing carols on the green and various other initiatives in the area.
What we were always looking out for was new people coming into the church on a Sunday and we would get really excited when someone would come, but they wouldn’t always stay.
And it became obvious I think that we needed to do things differently but the question was how?
And then we were asked if we would join the PMC process.
As we’ve engaged in this process – we’re now in year three of the process – it became apparent that we really had to change the way that we were thinking of how we could be a missional church.
And one of the pictures that I had at the start of this PMC process was the hope that God would open the door of the church and allow people into the church.
And it wasn’t until we’d done the first year of listening which is so important, that in year two I suddenly realised that that is not what God’s purpose was for us.
Yes, he wanted to open the door of the church, but in fact his purpose was to let us out of the church into the community and then he would be able to work with us and through us in the community to achieve his purposes.
Helen Carmody, schools and community worker, Hazlemere Church
We’ve been dwelling in the word in the passage of Luke 10 for about a year and we felt that God was calling us to stop to notice and to really kind of begin to be more aware of where he was at work.
And when we started doing this the first thing we noticed was that we had all as a church made assumptions which weren’t correct. And when we stopped to notice we saw things differently.
For instance, we had come up in the past with an idea of how we might set up a cafe in the church, in order that parents and children could use it on the way to and from school as they walked past the church.
We then came to notice that nobody actually walks past the church at those times of day, so that’s what listening and noticing did.
But we began to notice that God was drawing our attention to Widmer End School.
And we started forming closer connections with the school we noticed that the head teacher was a person of peace, but actually when we started trying to look into it, doors were closing.
Alison Tuddenham, children and family minister, Hazlemere Church
And we were a little bit disappointed about that and we just didn’t know where to turn.
But we didn’t lose hope and we didn’t stop believing in that process that we were a part of.
And actually it was out here in the fields that we began to find the new direction that God was sending us in.
We began to bump into people and have conversations with those people from our community.
And one day I bumped into someone I’d known from toddler group from many years ago and she began to tell me about the issues that they were having as a family trying to support their daughter through some mental health problems.
And it was as we continued to bump into people around our community that those conversations continued as well.
And so it wasn’t just in the fields that we were having these conversations but we began to have them on our doorsteps and in the streets, with our neighbours and in our church.
And it became clear that there were people across our community who were struggling with mental health difficulties.
And we began to dream that perhaps we could build a community where all could come and share not only their needs but their gifts as we built a community that supported and cared for each other.
And maybe as people were shared God would begin to do even more amongst us.
So having realised that God was pointing us into the area of mental health and well-being, we organised two meetings where we invited people who were either experiencing mental health problems for themselves or in their families or those who just wanted to be a part of supporting those people to come along and share their thoughts.
So here we were – our small group coming together for the first time with two of our new people of peace.
One of those people of peace, a church member with a history of depression and someone that we might normally overlook, and the other a parent from our Messy Church sessions but with no real background in church.
Helen Carmody, schools and community worker, Hazlemere Church
Well we’re here and we’re exactly where God wants us to be.
We aren’t working with the people of peace that we thought we would be working with.
The two people of peace who joined our team were completely unexpected but God chose them. So they’re the perfect people for us to work with.
We’re not involved in the area of mission which we thought we would be involved with, but this is the mission that God has chosen for us now.
And so as we move forward with joy and expectancy we don’t know where we’re going, but we know that God does and so we are happy to walk with him partnering with him and the people he’s choosing us to partner with on a wonderful adventure.