The Junction

Monday, 16 May, 2011

The Junction, drawn from the work of Hexthorpe Methodist Church, has much to celebrate but it faces many challenges too. Donald Reasbeck explains.

Hexthorpe is an evangelical Methodist church in an area close to Doncaster town centre, and is in the Doncaster Circuit and Sheffield District. We also have strong links with Methodist Evangelicals Together (MET). Hexthorpe is an old railway community of about 4,000 people.

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. Surprise, surprise, no-one came. A church building is threatening to many people. 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 opened the Rising Sun pub nearby and we have still got both premises. Previously we did try to go out and about; after Hexthorpe's evening service we'd sing in the streets and one of us would speak. Very rarely did we see anybody. Then we started knocking on doors and asking if people would like us to pray for any problems they might have. We got various responses and then we thought, 'It's alright praying, but what are we doing?' We knew the message was getting through when the Junction manager opened the door to a woman with two children, who was clutching a carrier bag containing all her worldly possessions. She had been given a house to stay in which was no more than a hovel and she said, 'Can you do anything for me?'

The Junction - drop-inIn 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, form filling, relationships, domestic violence, child protection, unemployment, letter writing, homelessness, work permits, CVs, education, food, debt, anti-social behaviour, violence, utility supplies, asylum matters and bogus callers.

The challenge in serving local residents of a wide range of nationalities – including Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe - is a constant one. We have good links through one of our volunteers, who also works with the church's Farsi congregation, and our Careforce worker, who has a weekly session in the local school. Forty percent of the children 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.

An exciting new development for 2010 saw the starting of a weekly lunchtime service which 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.

We have been strongly supported by the Doncaster Circuit. They are most generous in the grant they give towards the salary of our operational manager's salary.

Our funding raft continues to consist of contributions from the Methodist Church - local, town and district level, the private charitable sector and the statutory sector. We still draw in an income from the rents of flats above the Rising Sun pub, in which we provide accommodation for those needing a secure environment. For the foreseeable future we have to look for external funding to help with salaries for staff. Therefore the continuing support from the Methodist funds is essential if our work is to have a firm financial base.

Money from the Doncaster New Deal for Communities has come to an end after a decade of support. An initial grant towards renovation costs of the Rising Sun has since been followed by financial support towards the provision of computers, various goods and, vitally for us, two contributions towards the manager's salary.

The Junction - coffee

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.

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 keep the provision for young people under constant review because resources - human and material - are limited and we must be careful not to overreach ourselves by spreading too thinly. However, the situation is really critical.

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!

During the coming year the Hexthorpe Methodist Church hopefully will have begun their major scheme for building new premises. We must develop our thinking so that the Junction can fully utilise the new facilities.

People should beware of using terms such as success or failure. 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?' What is success or failure? The world thinks in such terms. Jesus healed 10 men with leprosy and only one came back to praise God. Was there then only a 10% success rate? Obviously that can't be the case. There was a 100% compassionate heart. Encouragement is essential. Yes, talk about encouraging signs, but if none is forthcoming, still be faithful. Headline success stories have a habit of coming back to bite you. If one is asked to talk about the work, tell it as it is – warts and all.

Planning is essential. Working towards objectives is helpful and necessary, but there has to be flexibility. New challenges emerge and we have to be prepared to take them on board. If necessary we have to be willing to change course. Care must be taken not to overstretch; resist the temptation to get involved in empire building.

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. Resist the temptation to compromise on your Christian emphasis in order to attract grants – it usually doesn't work anyway and can have a negative effect.

Catch the vision first. Don't say at the outset we can't afford it. Dream the dream, put flesh on it, and then consider the costs and possible sources of finance. If you begin with finance then that could be the end of the dream. If it is of God then the way will open up; but only after much prayer, thought and hard work.

The Junction - puppets

Any project must be an integral part of the life and ministry of the church. The prayer and support of the whole church is essential. It is not just for a few enthusiasts.

Leadership must be anchored in and responsible to the local church. We have learned that what we do must have a scriptural base and that many times events drive us to reflect in Scripture. There are many social schemes around. The church should not provide yet another one. Any outreach must be part of the life of the church. We are not just another project but we are the living body of Jesus; we offer life in all its fullness.

You have to listen and respond but we have learned from our mistakes. Our belief in the gospel and the power of Jesus to change lives has not changed whatsoever, but we have discovered that there are various ways in which people come into that truth.

Over the last 18 months we have developed a regular 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.

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.

We should never stand still. Once you do that you become institutionalised, then fossilised, then closed. We are constantly looking to see the direction we should be taking.

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.