To be community...
So says the last clause of our vision statement: God’s transforming people in our parish: To love Jesus, to serve and tell others, to be community. As we approach our St Mary of Bethany Community Day on Saturday 20 July, I’ve been thinking about how church is at the centre of local communities all over our country.
Suburbia is a harder place to find community than a village. In Horsell or St John’s you find a much stronger sense of local community than in our Mount Hermon neighbourhood; even though you are still in suburbia, there is still a village feel. But scratch the surface in Mount Hermon and you find a very strong community: neighbours who know each other, roads which host street parties, warmth, welcome and friendship.
SMOB is a key part of this community. Walk around our neighbourhood and you will see many homes where children have been through Bethany Babes, where young people have been to Friday Night Club or FX, where older people have been part of CAMEO, where we’ve read a couple’s banns of marriage or who come to church at Christmas and Easter. Our vision is to use both our church family and our building to help define local community in this part of town where it is less obvious.
We have just appointed architects to help us think through how best to develop our premises in line with our vision. We’re not the biggest public building in our parish (that would be either the Pool in the Park or Morrison’s), but I think we are the largest multi-purpose community space. The work we are planning will help us in our vision to grow our family and be more of a community hub.
None of this is a new or radical idea; it is the bread and butter of what churches everywhere have always done. It is often said that the church is the only organisation which exists for the benefit of those who are not members. Every community in England has a parish church. The church is defining community in many villages which have seen their local shop, pub and post office close down. The church family is where you find people who care about justice and vulnerable people. Here in Woking, both the York Road Project for homeless people and Woking Foodbank were set up by Christians. We would rather neither project was needed, but we care about people who are struggling and we won’t stand by and ignore them.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, a prominent atheist cabinet minister went out to see the relief efforts. He was moved by the number of Christian agencies helping, and reflected wryly that he did not see any groups representing atheists or humanists. Faith gives you a framework to care for people you don’t know.
So join us 11am-4pm Saturday 20 July to experience the warm heart of Mount Hermon. Experience our church without walls, God’s transforming people of all ages and stages of life.