One of the better things that has come out of the Anglican Communion in the past 30 years has been the classifying of the Mission of the Church under 5 ‘Marks.’ These Marks describe Mission as:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God by word and deed
- To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
- To care for the poor and needy by acts of loving service
- To seek to transform the unjust structures of society
- To care for and sustain the creation
It seems reasonable to ask where Church-based Community work, such as that which I do in the Musselburgh area, fits into this scheme.
It would be tempting to locate it solely under #3, and to see Christian Community work as being just about caring for the poor and needy. But that is just what can be called ‘Community service’ or ‘Community relief.’ It is indeed true that this is a time-honoured and legitimate way of undertaking Christian community work. Indeed, the parables of the Good Samaritan and of the Sheep and the Goats lead us in that direction!
And some of my current work could be seen as falling into that category – that with Blue Triangle Housing Association, where through me the Church helps young homeless people by providing items for ‘Starter Packs’ for those going into tenancies, or that with the local Foodbank, where the Church provides foodstuffs for food parcels, or that with Dementia awareness.
But there is more to Christian community work! Part of my role is about working with groups of people, rather than just doing things for groups of people. That’s Community Development, rather than Community Service. What I am doing as part of Starfish Recovery SCIO, working alongside people in Recovery from drug and/or alcohol misuse as they seek to support others in or coming into Recovery, is more Community Development than Community Service.
And this type of ‘working with’ perhaps is closer to Mark #4 than it is to Mark #3 – it is closer to changing society than it is to caring for the needy.
And then some of what I do is clearly under Mark #4, in that it is explicitly about seeking to improve the quality of life for all in local society, particularly the disadvantaged. My work as part of the Musselburgh Area Partnership and with developing the Musselburgh Plan falls into this category. So does the emerging Scotland-wide Food Justice movement, which is seeking to move ‘Beyond Foodbanks’ to questioning why Foodbanks are needed in the first place.
So I see my work as encompassing both caring for the poor and needy by acts of loving service and seeking to transform the unjust structures of society.
The challenge,though, is how I can be explicitly CHRISTIAN in what I do, and for what I do to be part of the Mission of the Church and different from – say – ‘secular’ Community Development.
I am always up front about being a Church-based Community worker: very often I wear a ‘uniform’ – a hoodie or a polo shirt with a Celtic Cross on the breast, with the words ‘Church of Scotland Community Worker’ under it – and I always explain that I work for the Church of Scotland. It’s surprising how often wearing the uniform or saying that I work for the Church leads to people wanting to talk about God and their (usually rather incipient) faith in some way or another, either to me or to others but in my hearing. Recently, I’ve also taken to carrying a supply of the ‘trypraying’ booklets around with me, and to giving them to people who start talking about ‘things spiritual’ as a result of meeting me.
In these small ways, I hope (and indeed pray) that what I do may also fall under Mark #1, in that it does have a real element of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God by word as well as by deed. It is very much in the nature of a ‘seed-sowing’ ministry or, perhaps, even one step before that, a ground-ploughing ministry, so it doesn’t bring instant or quick or obvious ‘results’ in terms of increasing Sunday attendance in our Churches. But it does- in God’s purposes and time-scales – have a effect in people’s hearts and lives.
And surely that is what Mission is all about.