The Springfield Project

Monday, 1 June, 2009

Early in the 1990s, St Christopher's, Springfield, Birmingham, experienced a period of renewal and growth. A small group of mums thought that this excitement within the church should make a difference to the surrounding community. They take up the story.

As with so many churches, a commitment to serve was translated initially into the setting up of a stay-and-play session for local parents. What makes St Christopher's different, though, is that the local parish is predominantly Muslim and other-faith.

The stay-and-play group met in someone's home and numbers were so small that the venture was nearly closed after a year. By 2010, however, what is now The Springfield Project had become the primary mission arm of the church.

It provides a professional nursery, family support work and after-schools clubs linking in with local statutory provision from health workers, midwives and social services. Each week, a purpose-built children's centre and adjoining interlinked church host dozens of local families, the majority of which are Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch talk of the need for 'proximity space' as we engage with other cultures. The Springfield's Project's practical vision of service provides a good example of church holding the ring as a very public place of encounter between Christians and those of other faiths.

The project has blurred the dichotomy between 'evangelism' and 'social action'Its strapline of 'God's love in the community', a message that was emblazoned on a banner in the hall, points to an appreciation that the majority of the local community actually recognise a belief in God.

Although Tony Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, may have said that they 'do not do God', most of our neighbours do in fact do God! They are not a a clean slate, on which the church can write answers to questions about eternal destiny. For many in our neighbourhood, God's purposes, moral questions and prayer already figure highly.

This means that for the significant numbers of Christians working in The Springfield Project, their faith is very public. There are regular prayer meetings, information is given about Christian festivals and beliefs, and there are staff days away to affirm and talk through the Christian value-base and how it ought to drive our services. All of these are available for, and discussed with, our non-Christian staff and our users.

The church's determination to see the Christian faith distinctively shape its outreach in a multi-faith context has not led to inter-religious tension and suspicion. Rather, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus have respected the church all the more.

We have been seen to be serious about our spirituality, to pray, read the Bible and be confident Christians. Muslim staff have said that they feel more comfortable, being people of faith themselves in an often threatening, secularising age.

For St Christopher's members, then, church does not stop when the vicar dismisses the congregation with a blessing on a Sunday morning. Monday through Saturday, there is prayer and worship around and alongside very practical provision for our local community.

We have had the privilege of praying with and for those of other faiths as we have openly shared our lives, while always rejecting the manipulative exploitation of vulnerable users of our services.

St Christopher's is not ignoring the very real differences that exist between faiths. It is paying attention to context so that our engagement with the community is able to respond to some of the vital connections and similarities that exist.

On any given day, St Christopher's and The Springfield Project are vibrant hubs of conversation, service, interaction and prayer between Christians and those of other faiths: good news in an age of inter-religious bad news!