Over Lent 2021, 40 ordinary disciples across the Diocese told their stories of how following Jesus has led them to action.
Serving communities; challenging injustice; loving their neighbour.
Here are stories from Alex, baking and blessing elderly neighbours; Ben who has welcomed aslyum seekers to share his home; Jackie who’s been changing the landscape of affordable housing in her borough; Wayne who offers debt advice and hope to those in his community; Enid who has been championing the cause of the environment for decades; and Nicky who has been accompanying street sleepers through Covid lockdown.
Day 7: Alex’s Story
“I just really like cooking and baking and sharing that with people because I recognise it is probably not wise to eat a whole cake by myself!”
When Alex first had her son two years ago, she began attending a group for older retired people in her community.
“I thought it was excellent as a new mum to be fed tea and cake and have loads of epic friendships with this group! They loved me and my son”.
During the first lockdown, Alex would bake cakes at home and then take them round to the doorsteps of her friends from the older people’s group.
“I knew that some of them were struggling to connect with things particularly online because that wasn’t really their world.”
For Alex, visiting her friends with her son has been a highlight for her during lockdown.
“It feels like interacting with extended grandparents and that’s really joyful”.
Alex’s faith motivates her to connect with people and help them feel that they belong, especially in this season where they may feel very isolated.
Day 8: Father Ben’s Story
“When I moved into the vicarage, I thought: right I must do this!”
Ben takes part in “Clergy Hosting” a scheme run in partnership with Housing Justice, providing a room in his house for asylum seekers.
When he made the decision to become a priest, he knew that he wanted to use the space in his vicarage to help house people.
Over the last three years he has housed two people who were waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. With no recourse to public funds and no rights to work, the “Clergy Hosting” scheme, through Housing Justice, has seen 16 clergy across the diocese welcome in people going through an extremely difficult season.
For Ben, his Christian faith is a clear imperative to help people.
“I’m always reminded of when Jesus said: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food,… naked and you clothed me’ (Mat 25:35-36).
Both my guests have previously been homeless and moved through the night shelter system.
Enabling them to move into a proper house where they would have some independence, and autonomy, feels like what I should be doing with all that I have been given”.
Best of all, Ben has been able to build friendships with his guests.
“There’s lots of time to have dinner together, I’ve been introduced to Eritrean cuisine, which is lovely.
There’s this fluffy pancake called Injera which is just delicious!”
If you have a spare room (whether you are clergy or not), and think this may be something you could do, for a short or longer time, please get in touch!
Day 9: Jackie’s Story
“Social justice issues have always been a big part of my faith.”
Jackie’s church, Christ the Saviour in Ealing is a member institution of West London Citizens – a chapter of Citizens UK.
Wanting to put her faith in Jesus into action, Jackie and her team engaged in a listening exercise to identify the pressing needs in their area.
“It gave me the opportunity as a person of faith to go out into the community and build those relationships but also put my own life into perspective.”
Through engaging in these one-to-one discussions, they heard numerous stories of challenges related to housing in their borough – from street homelessness to emergency accommodation, sofa surfing to rogue landlords.
They forged links with other faith institutions to collectively run a housing campaign.
An assembly attended by 200 people resulted in their asks to help tackle some of the housing issues being included in the local political party manifestos, and the council are now committed to working in partnership with West London Citizens on these issues.
“We have a reciprocal relationship with key influencers – those that can effect the changes we want.
We generate potential solutions to the issues identified, and we hold them to account on those they agree with.”
Together with Ealing Council, they have identified a piece of land to build affordable housing on - homes that are affordable to buy and remain affordable to buy in perpetuity – in collaboration with London Community Land Trust.
Other positive outcomes include the introduction of Renters Rights workshops providing advice on dealing with rogue landlords; the increase of Selective Landlord Licensing in the Borough; and a commitment to 50% affordable housing requirement in all new building developments in the borough on public land.
Jackie has found participating in Citizens UK campaigns deeply rewarding because they target policy change, resulting in a long-lasting impact.
“We can influence those in power to make the changes that are needed. We are giving people a voice and people’s stories are at the heart of everything we campaign for when it comes to effecting change.”
day 10: Wayne’s Story
“I heard a knock and tentatively opened the door and God has done something amazing with that”.
Wayne is a volunteer debt adviser for Crosslight Twickenham.
He helped gather the team in St Stephen’s Church seven years ago.
“We meet with people who are struggling with multiple debts, facing enforcement actions through courts, bailiffs, even eviction. We come alongside them and work out strategies to help lift them out of debt”.
The team is also trained to support clients by acting as an intermediary with creditors which provides respite from feeling constantly harassed.
“It’s about going on a journey with people and helping them see there is light at the end of the tunnel”.
Wayne and team offer this free service to everyone because they want people to experience something of God’s unconditional love. For them, it’s important that people who use their services feel they are not forgotten and know they are important in God’s eyes.
“I feel this is something God has put on my heart quite explicitly”.
Before Wayne became a debt adviser at Crosslight, a friend asked him to consider a similar opportunity but he said no.
A short time later, he found himself in a conversation with a small group at St Stephen’s about offering debt advice, and he was reminded of the seed God sowed through his friend.
“I think God heard my internal dialogue when I said this is not for me and two years later, he put in place the structure needed to overcome my objections”.
Wayne received training and mentoring by an experienced debt adviser through Crosslight, giving him the structure and experience he needed.
“God has taught me so much about compassion for people and not being judgemental.
By offering a little bit of my time he has actually shown me so much about his heart for people”.
Day 11: Enid’s Story
“I cannot bear to think of my grandchildren growing up in a world which is not as lovely as the world I grew up in”.
Enid has been campaigning for environmental action in the Church for over 20 years. Starting locally in her parish church, St Stephen’s, in Ealing, she has been able to spread environmental awareness across her community initially by running courses and setting up groups.
She has also held environment focussed evening services and quiet mornings and liaised with her local MP.
“My concern for other human beings and knowing that climate change and environmental degradation is going to hurt the poorest people in the world worst motivates me.
I don’t see why these people should suffer because of our actions”.
Enid’s dedication to environmental change has made an impact in the wider Church.
Becoming a member of the General Synod has enabled her to steer through a motion establishing a tool for measuring the carbon emissions of Church of England cathedrals and churches.
Though she was met with hostility when she first proposed this motion, after a second debate the following year she was supported by a huge majority. The resultant Energy Footprint Tool is now up and running.
“Over the years I have been able to see two strands of my life come together, my work and my faith”.
Enid worked as a civil servant in the Department of the Environment on a range of subjects including greening the Common Agricultural Policy and later worked at The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.
For Enid, nature strengthens her faith in God. The details in tiny insects and flowers like the daisy remind her of God’s amazing works.
“I think most of my generation in this part of the world have had a very privileged life.
We owe it to the next generation to support them in caring for God’s creation”.
Day 12: Nicky’s Story
“I know what God has done for me and being able to share that with other people feels like the pinnacle of being a disciple.”
Nicky volunteers weekly at a night shelter in a hotel in East London.
His church St Pauls Shadwell (SPS) have partnered with the charity ‘GrowTH’ to provide temporary accommodation for people in need of home.
“Prior to Covid, SPS would host people on a Thursday evening with breakfast, lunch and dinner and I loved it! It was a chance for the church to offer our time and space to serve the wider community”.
Through their partnership GrowTH, SPS have been able to offer Covid-secure hospitality during the lockdown in a local hotel.
The team takes turns to cover various shifts throughout the week where they provide meals and interact with the guests.
“What is nice is the times when people come out of their rooms and want to chat about faith. I see a real hunger in that and how there is a yearning for hope”.
For Nicky, volunteering at the night shelter has helped him to be generous with the gifts that he has been given during the pandemic.
“I think right now it can feel like time has kind of stopped, and all these limits mean we have nothing to offer.
But actually we all have gifts we can share, and for me right now that gifting is time. I have time to serve at the night shelter.”
His faith has also motivated him to serve in this way because he has received a lot of joy from following God.
“God has blessed me in many ways, and I wish other people could experience this joy too and love that comes from Him”.