The 5 Marks of Mission and Christian Community Work

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:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God by word and deed
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To care for the poor and needy by acts of loving service
  4. To seek to transform the unjust structures of society
  5. 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.

Religion and Politics DO mix

It is often said, usually by those who are not Christians, that ‘The Church should keep out of politics,’ or that ‘Religion and Politics don’t mix.’ It shouldn’t come as any surprise to you to learn that I totally disagree with that view! Here is the text of a piece I have contributed to the theological and ministerial journal The Expository Times about this whole matter. It is for their ‘And finally … ‘ column, which is the back page of each month’s issue. This column is limited to a maximum of 600 words:

And finally ….

It was one of those providential moments. I had been in post as Church and Community Development Worker with the Church of Scotland in Musselburgh, East Lothian, for just a few weeks. As part of my getting to know and establishing links with the local ‘community,’ I decided to ring up the office of the East Lothian Community Planning Partnership. When I was working in Newcastle as the Churches’ Urban Regeneration Officer, I had got heavily involved in my Local Strategic Partnership, the English equivalent of the Scottish Community Planning Partnership.

When I rang the East Lothian Partnership office and introduced myself, the voice on the other end of the line said, ‘That’s extraordinary! We’re just setting up the Musselburgh Area Partnership, and were wanting to ask the Council of Churches to be involved, but we couldn’t find any contact details for them.’  As a result of that conversation, Musselburgh Council of Churches is indeed a full member of the Musselburgh Area Partnership, with me as their representative, alongside the local Ward Councillors, local Community Council and School Parent Council representatives, and a limited number of representatives of organisations from the local community – the Sports Hub, the Conservation Society, a local charity working with vulnerable and marginalised 14-21 year olds.

So the Church is present in and involved with the Musselburgh Area Partnership. The Partnership is developing the Musselburgh Area Plan, which seeks to improve the quality of life for all who live in the town and area. It has three  themes – sustainable economy, resilient people and strong and vibrant communities. For each of these, a series of things that the Partnership can do is being drawn up, with a timescale and a note of who could make it happen. The Partnership will also have a budget, devolved to it from East Lothian Council – £250,000. Not a huge amount, but not nothing, either.

And it seems to me that it is important that the Church is explicitly present in and involved in its local Area Partnership, in seeking to improve the quality of life of local people and communities. The transformation of the world is as much part of the mission of the Church as leading people to accept Jesus as Lord and receive eternal life is. We pray that God’s Kingdom may come ‘on earth as in heaven,’ and God’s command to the Exiles through Jeremiah, to seek the shalom of the city where he has sent them, and to pray to the Lord on its behalf, surely applies to us today in our places as it did back then.

And that transformation of the world is not only about Christians offering direct care to the vulnerable and needy, vital though that is. It is also about working to change the structures of society to make our communities, countries and world more equitable, more just, more godly for all people. That’s where Christian political involvement – in every sense of the term, and at every level – comes in. For politics, at its best, is also about seeking the transformation of society for the good of all, and embraces local Partnerships and Community Councils, not just ‘Party Politics.’

Of course, the Church should not support any one political party, and I’m glad that there are no mainstream UK parties with ‘Christian’ in their name. But it does mean that Christians should get involved with all that seeks to promote the good of society and human flourishing, while never forgetting that that is not the whole picture or the whole purpose of the Church.

I don’t know when this piece will be published in ExpTim. Some time in the coming months I imagine. It’s a journal that I always find interesting and useful, and to which I have contributed numerous articles, sermons and book reviews over the past 25 years.

Looking upwards, outwards and forwards

Back on Trinity Sunday 2012,when I was Rector of the Episcopal Churches in Kelso and Coldstream, I preached on Isaiah 6, the first eight verses of which were the set Old Testament reading that day. I suggested that Isaiah looked upwards to God, outwards to the world and forwards to the Kingdom of God, for he saw the Lord high and lifted up, he was told by Lord to ‘go to this people’ and he asked – and was told – ‘How long?’  I further suggested that this was the calling of the Church today, to look upwards to God, outwards to the world and forwards to the Kingdom of God. What I did not say, but strongly implied, is that the temptation for the Church and for Christians is to look downwards, inwards and backwards, that is, to be overwhelmingly preoccupied with its own life and not with God or the world, and with maintaining things as they ‘have always been’ and not with furthering the coming Kingdom.

Three years later, the Lectionary has brought us round to Trinity Sunday Year B once again, so this Sunday we will once again hear Isaiah 6.

And the call and the challenge to individual Christians and indeed to the whole Church remains – to be looking upwards to God, outwards to the world and forward to God’s Kingdom and to resist looking downwards,backwards and inwards.

Dementia Friendly Musselburgh

Right from when I started working in Musselburgh, I have been involved with people living with dementia, their carers and with seeking to raise awareness about dementia and with making Musselburgh – and its Churches – more dementia friendly.

My own father lives with dementia, and my mother is his carer, but my work with and around dementia in Musselburgh arose from the fact that one of the pieces of work that the Mid and East Lothian service of Alzheimers’ Scotland does in East Lothian takes place in St Andrew’s High Church, where my office is. They run a monthly ‘D Cafe’ for those with dementia and their carers. I came out of my office on my second day in post, and there they were!

So I’ve got heavily involved. I attend the D Cafe every month and, through the AlzScot local Dementia Adviser, have trained to deliver their Dementia Friends one-hour awareness raising sessions, and have done so 3-4 times, and am booked to do it again another twice, with Church and ‘secular’ groups. I was also one of the first members of the Dementia Friendly Musselburgh steering group, which now includes a wide range of stakeholders – AlzScot, the Church of Scotland, Carers of East Lothian, the Hollies, Eskgreen Care Home, STRiVE, East Lothian Council’s Social Wortk and Community Learning and Development, the Council of Churches, Tescos and more. We are passionate about seeking to make Musselburgh a place that is better to live in if you have dementia and a place where very many people understanding what it is like to live with dementia and turn that understanding into action.

We’re planning an afternoon event – ‘D in the Park’ on Saturday 27th June, 1pm-6pm, in the grounds of St Andrew’s High Church, High St, Musselburgh, and in the Church itself. It’s a day for everyone – for those with dementia and their carers to tell us what it is like for them to live in the Musselburgh area and how we can together make things better, for the wider community to learn more about dementia and to commit to taking action and to start to integrate the whole community better.

There will be entertainment, stalls, refreshments, consultations and the opportunity to become a Dementia Friend. Come along and support us!

General Election Hustings

While the Churches quite rightly refuse to endorse any one of the political parties in our land, they are also concerned to allow voters to hear from and put questions to their candidates and to encourage informed and prayerful voting in the forthcoming General Election. Indeed, the Joint Public Issues team, which has representatives from several denominations, has produced an excellent resource called, ‘Think, Pray, Vote.’

In many places also, Churches are playing a part by organising Hustings events. And Musselburgh is no exception. I have organised a Hustings at Northesk Parish Church, Bridge St, Musselburgh this coming Wednesday, 29th April, starting at 7pm. All seven candidates for the constituency will be there – an Independent, and candidates for the Conservative, Green, Liberal Democrat, Labour, Scottish National and UK Independence parties. All will speak about why we should vote for them, and then answer some questions, before giving a very brief closing statement.

Alongside this, I am also organising a Day of Prayer in Musselburgh on the actual day of the Election – 7th May. Across the Churches, buildings will be open and prayer offered for the election, for the candidates and for the Government that will be elected. Venues are as follows:

7am-9am Musselburgh Congregational Church

9am-11am Wallyford Living Room Church

11am-3pm St Andrew’s High Church, High St and Millhill

3pm-6pm St Michael’s Church, Inveresk

6pm-8pm St Anne’s Convent Chapel, Ashgrove

8pm-10pm St Peter’s Episcopal Church, High St

Folk are invited to drop into one of these venues at any time to pray for our Government and for our nation.

Thus, in Musselburgh it will indeed be a case of, ‘Think, pray, vote’ over the next week or so.

Starfish Recovery

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to write a Blog post as I’ve been quite busy of late. One of the organisations I’m heavily involved with is Starfish Recovery. This is a group of folk who are in Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction who want to offer something to support others in or coming into Recovery in East Lothian. There have been Recovery Cafes in Edinburgh and Dalkeith for a while, but nothing in Musselburgh until Starfish Recovery got going at the start of this year.

Actually, we had been laying the ground since early last year. My involvement began in about May when one of the steering group members rang me up and asked me to help them, which I have been glad to do. I’ve done a lot of their paperwork, including the application to OSCR to become a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO). I also help in the cafe when I can.

So far, the main thing we do is to run a ‘Recovery Cafe’ in Hope Church, Bridge St, Musselburgh, on Wednesdays 10am-2pm. Most of the volunteers are in Recovery, and we are there for others in Recovery, their families and friends, and the wider community, as a safe and drug and alcohol free place. We hope to expand our work to offer more Recovery-specific activities, and tomorrow (Friday 23rd) we are making a presentation to the Commissioning Group of the Midlothian and East Lothian Drug and Alcohol Partnership for funding to sustain the current work for the coming year and to do some of the other things we want to do. We are supported both by MELD (Mid and East Lothian Drugs) and the NHS Lothian Substance Misuse Team.

Our strapline is ‘Making a Difference’ – and we are.

To find out the significance of our name, look up ‘Starfish Story’ on Google and you’ll see why we have called ourselves what we have.

Musselburgh Area Partnership

The Musselburgh Area Partnership was formed in 2014, as one of the geographical area Partnerships that are part of the overall East Lothian Partnership. The Musselburgh Area Partnership comprises the six elected Ward Councillors for the two Musselburgh Wards, representatives of the three local Community Councils, of the Parent Councils of the local schools, or local Tenants and Residents Associations – and 5-6 ‘community representatives.’ These community representatives are named people from local organisations that don’t fit into any of the other categories – currently they include Musselburgh Conservation Society, Musselburgh Sports Hub, the Bridges Project – and Musselburgh Council of Churches.

it was my initial contact with the East Lothian Partnership office that led to the Council of Churches becoming a member of the Musselburgh Area Partnership, and I am the Council of Churches rep on the Partnership, with the Chair of the Council of Churches as my substitute.

The Partnership is currently developing the Musselburgh Plan, using the three themes of the East Lothian Partnership – sustainable economy, resilient people and strong and vibrant communities. A number of ideas have been put forward under each heading, but the actual specific actions, and who will do them, is still being worked out.

As part of that process, there is a workshop for Partnership members tonight (13th April) on the sustainable economy theme. Over the coming weeks there will also be sessions for the other two themes, and a seminar on Area Partnership budgets (for we have some money!) and on health inequalities.

I’ll be attending all of these sessions, as well as the next meeting of the full Partnership, showing that the Church is indeed interested in what’s going on locally, and is concerned to see a better quality of life for all in the Musselburgh area and wants to contribute to seeing that better quality life being established.

Welcome to my Blog!


Welcome to my newly-created blog. It is one of the ways in which I am trying to keep the Church and the Community in Musselburgh and further afield up to date with all that I’m doing as Church and Community Development Worker for the Musselburgh Parish Grouping of the Church of Scotland.

I’ve been in post since the start of April 2014, so just over a year, after nearly 25 years working as an ordained Anglican or Episcopalian minister. So in one way it’s been quite a change of direction for me, but in others it isn’t such a great change – between 2004 and 2011, I was Priest-in-Charge of Scotswood, in the west end of Newcastle upon Tyne, an inner urban deprived Parish going through a process of substantial regeneration. As a result, I was made the Urban Regeneration Officer for the broader Church of England on the west side of Newcastle as well. In those two roles, I became heavily involved with all sorts of ‘secular’ and ‘community’ organisations, as the face and the voice of the Church – and what I am doing now in Musselburgh isn’t really so very different from that.

The key things I’m involved with in the town are: Starfish Recovery; Dementia Friendly Musselburgh; Blue Triangle Housing Association and the Musselburgh Area Partnership. I’m also part of the committee of the Musselburgh East Community Association and of the Community Forum of Queen Margaret University.

More details about all these – and more – in future posts.

All good wishes and every blessing,