(CEN) Paying our debts - The Junction

Friday, 27 May, 2011

According to St Paul (Romans 1.14) the church owes the gospel to those who have never heard it, including those who are culturally very different from us. Churches have to ask the question, 'Who will never be reached if we only do what we are doing now?' Those who then bear the good news to others have to be good news themselves, recognisable good news to the communities to which they are sent.

The first steps taken to reach the unreached can lead to a long and challenging journey, as can be seen in the story of Hexthorpe Methodist Church, which serves an old railway community of about 4,000 people, close to Doncaster town centre. One of its leaders, Donald Reasbeck, explains.

The area has deteriorated rapidly over the past 14 years or so; we now have all the problems of an inner city area but on a smaller scale. In 1991/92, we drew a line across a map of Hexthorpe and became aware that all of our church members - except one - and all the children, came from one side of the line. Half of Hexthorpe was virtually untouched by the church. We started a drop-in in the church hall on a Thursday morning, but no-one came. So we bought an old butcher's shop to use as premises for a drop-in and appointed a manager in 1993. That's how the Junction started. In 2004 we also bought the nearby Rising Sun pub for use as accommodation for those needing a safe and secure environment and we have still got both premises.

In August 2010 our monitoring and evaluation report included details of numbers using the Junction facilities over the previous year – 1,218 enquiries were dealt with and an average of 36 people a day dropped in. Issues dealt with included benefits, bereavement, housing, crime, addictions, health issues, harassment and bullying, and form filling. Also the challenge in serving local residents of a wide range of nationalities – including Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe - is a constant one. Forty per cent of the children here do not have English as a first language and some 26 different languages are spoken at home.

In a Government survey of three years ago, Hexthorpe was 23rd out of 34,000 so-called Super Output Areas in the whole country. These measure deprivation by certain indices. Therefore we are convinced that it is essential for us to continue to provide the day-to-day facilities – a safe place to sit and meet with others and talk or just be quiet, a drink of tea/coffee, a prayer.

Our work with young people has been very challenging. Some are excluded from school and are at a loose end most days. Others when not at school would sooner be outside rather than at home. On occasions violence has been threatened against staff or property but generally they respect our discipline, although there are moments! The Junction is not a youth centre, but the need for provision for these youngsters shouts out at us because there is no provision at all in the community for young people.

We will continue to support all initiatives that seek to help the community and bring lasting benefits. The Junction endeavours to see that the community is consulted and involved from the beginning. Local people don't like to be told what they need by the experts!

Money from the Doncaster New Deal for Communities has come to an end after a decade of support. We must continue to seek funding over the next year from both private and statutory sectors. We have two paid posts, a full time manager, and – for the last four years – a managerial administrator, shared by two people. In addition there are nine volunteers. We cannot sustain the salaries without support.

We are not a branch of the social services, we have a Christian distinctiveness and that distinctiveness has become increasingly less of a barrier to the accessing of secular funding. Relationships and trust are so important in this area. The spending of grants for their designated purpose and the diligent keeping of records and accounts are appreciated by outside funding agencies.

An exciting new development for 2010 saw the starting of a weekly lunchtime service with an average of 15 of us sitting around a table. We will have a song, a reading, a talk and discussion followed by sandwiches and a cake. This complements the weekly Bible study and the occasional celebration evenings. The Junction also hosts a Christianity Explored group for men. Our aim is to continue to develop the sense of Christian community and to present the gospel in words as well as in actions. Eighteen years ago our vision was that the Junction could be a new kind of church that we found hard to describe at the time.

Some people do regard it as their church - though we are very much part of the local church. We would say it's essential to be part of the local church. We are not separate; it's not the Junction and the church. We lay great emphasis as a church on teaching and preaching but we have learned that you can't make assumptions. We learned that when after a service somebody asked, 'Who is this bloke Paul that you keep talking about?' We are not quite certain who is going to be there and we are never quite certain what is going to happen.

It would be marvellous if all of those who come to the Junction became Christians but it's not conditional. We love and serve them all. Sometimes we're asked how many people have come from the Junction into the life of the church and how many have become members. In terms of outlay has it been 'successful'? Has there been a good return on the investment in them? Thankfully we don't think in those terms. It's great when people do come to faith, but we are just called to do what we do. We can do no other. If God has called us to a work then we have to be faithful to that calling. Yes, monitoring and evaluation is important but in the end the question is, 'Have we been faithful?'