Community Development – it’s a process not a thing.

Last week I was on a Community Development course in Stoke-on-Trent.  We spent the week being immersed in the life of a small Urban Expression Community.   Anna Ruddick and Carmel Murphy from Urban Life and Livability led it via a CMS course.  I really enjoyed being back in a learning environment and because we had the luxury of sleeping in a comfy hotel, visiting lots of different community environments and being fed all week, I felt quite relaxed but energised by it too.

I’ve been in community work for about 11 years now, I kind of fell into it initially, refurbishing a delipidated church space to return it to being a place that was at the heart of the community.  I never intended to ‘do’ the Community Work itself once we’d refurbished the building but by the time we finished the building work I began to develop a passion to see the place thrive and serve our local community.  I’ve picked up a lot of learning along the way of course, been on day courses and read books but having a whole week to reflect on community development and where I was currently, felt really affirming.  I also learnt some great new stuff!   I’m 6 months off finishing the initial 3 year contract as the Pioneer Community Worker in New Lubbesthorpe so I’m also taking this opportunity to reflect on that time and the week away has given me plenty of tools to do that.


One of the things that really struck me during the week was when Anna said how ‘community development is a process not a thing’.     I have a natural driven personality (ENFP for Myers Briggs fans) which means I do tend to work towards goals, I also come up with lots of ideas so there’s always something new and shiny to move onto.   As I reflect on Anna’s statement further I wonder whether recognising this ‘process’ will help me slow down and enjoy the process it a little more.   There is no need to rush, especially when we really want to develop relationships not things or activities.   Our ‘busy’ culture doesn’t like that of course.   There’s always a need to produce something or go somewhere and unfortunately that culture does feed my driven personality.

The words from one of the Northumbria Community Meditations comes to mind which says ‘take your time, go slowly’.   Being able to do that means you don’t objectify what you are doing, you sit with whatever is happening and take joy in it.   I re-learnt that again over the week, I just hope I hold on to it!

Sense Making

It’s been ages since I’ve blogged, mainly because I feel as if I’ve been stuck in a huge reflecting and sense making process and everytime I’ve tried to come up with something cohesive I’ve had to go back to the drawing board!

Being part of the Lubbesthorpe Development means you are in a constant state of growth and change with new people arriving all the time.   Whilst I’m usually happy with change, the long ongoing nature of this means it can be unsettling and I’m beginning to struggle to pin things down.  There are many occasions when I’ve come up with something of a way forward and the next day or week something comes in left field and you need to adapt.

A typical example of this is about three weeks ago.   I’d been in the process of trying to put in some loose structures around what we are doing, reflecting deeply on the authenticity of growing community for all faiths and none, as well as growing some sort of distinctively Christian community with some core people.     I had spent time mind mapping, talking to the different partners who are involved in developing the town, those residents and friends that have really got involved and those in my wider support network and I’d come up with some sort of sense-making diagram.   As soon as I’d settled on it I got call from the school (which will open in September) asking what I wanted to do with the community entrance to the school leading to the space we will have to use.  I hadn’t even considered this!


At some point however you have to nail your direction of travel and set off and it’s become increasingly clear that the time to do it is now.  So we do have something drawn up that I hope is flexible enough to adapt but does give us some direction as well as the ability to explain what we are doing.

It still amazes how open the different partners and residents have been in joining in with the community vibe.   It’s made me realise how, when you are prepared to truly welcome everyone and engage with them, they return the openness.   This results in people wanting to join in our vision of growing a flourishing community.

I learnt very early on in pioneering, not to hold on to things too tightly.  By trying to control things you stifle them and they fail to flourish or you try and force something to happen that has no real life in it.    Holding loosely it seems, in what feels almost a dichotomy, has resulted in people wanting to join in the vision but enables growth way beyond the capacity that we really have.   Weekly I get people coming up with ideas of how they want to engage in community.   I give them ideas of how to get things going  and they go off and do it, some things work, some don’t, many start as one thing and change into another.   It’s an exciting place to be.

So, with all this in mind and with so many residents starting different things, we’re working towards creating a Community Development Network.  It’s a network because it offers everyone the chance to belong and be encouraged to part of growing a flourishing community but without having an overall leader.  I might act as a facilitator at times but that is all.   It also means I can release the community development side of things and let it take on a life of its own.     In addition to this we’re exploring a ‘Heart and Soul’ network which incorporates a number of groups people want to see happen.   This includes including wellbeing, the development of some sort of Christian Community for Young Families’ and our Tuesday evening Missional Community.   The plan is I can then drill down a focus on one or two areas rather than be spread too thinly.

It’s still all a work in progress but it feels like I have begun to make some sense of it all, today anyway 😂










Wrestling with God

Over the last month or so I have felt God disturbing me. I’ve learnt to recognise the signs now, I never know immediately what God wants to say to me or what He wants me to do. (I struggle with people who announce ‘God told me’ like they were visited by an angle and she blew a trumpet and proclaimed something.  That never seems to happen to me!) I have to wrestle with God to work it out. One of my go to passages when this happens is when Jacob wrestles with God – Genesis 32. It’s as if, like Jacob, I’m physically wresting with God, trying to extract out of Him what I’m supposed to be doing and yet He won’t quite reveal it.  It’s as if He wants me to work it out, probably with others! So now I accept there’s no great proclamation, instead there is a physical knowing in my body that’s it’s time for change and it’s time to work at it.

Looking back I think this feeling started just as the pace of development sped up, the school is being built, the next phase of houses are starting to be moved into, the landscape is quite literally changing before our eyes and new stakeholders are coming on board. I seem to be the ‘go to’ person, not only for the residents but also for the stakeholders. It’s an amazing place to be, church at the centre of this growing community, however capacity wise I only can do so much!

The first Primary School taking shape.

Managing stakeholders expectations of how much time I can give them is important, because my main concern is the residents but stakeholders certainly have a place in residents lives so ultimately it’s all tied up! Also a number of community issues have arisen and I’m trying to work out with organisations who can help resolve them. The job is growing, do I need to let go of some stuff, if so who to?  As I reflect I wonder am thinking terms of scarcity and singular rather than God’s providence and opportunities to multiply. What about growing indiginous leaders, what organisations will we partner with further to help this community emerge, what will we let go of, what capacity have we as Churches Together to resource this further?

It’s timely therefore we have a strategy day planned for in November. We are recognising how big this thing is and know we need to plan for what happens next.  Time to research, explore and contemplate our future and what God wants for us in this place.

Morphing ….

We’ve been meeting for a meal and prayer on a Tuesday night in The Hub for about 5 months now. Originally it was about developing a rhythm of prayer and being available for anyone who wanted to join us. There were three of us for a couple of months with the occasional visitor joining in. Another couple of residents came along around July time followed by a family a few weeks later, inquisitive to know what we got up. We’ve had others join us sporadically too. Some are ‘signed up’ Christians, some are at the beginning of their journey or maybe spiritual seekers. We’ve now morphed into more of a discussion group trying to imagine what healthy community might look like as we grow, we’ve been giving thanks for new friendships and looking at stories from the Bible about adventuring into the unknown, community and creation.

Last night we morphed again and had a ‘meal with meaning’ celebrating Harvest. We fused lots of different traditions and festivals; Rosh Hashanah, the story of the first Christian Harvest Eucharist Service, our own memories of Harvest from childhood as well as exploring Equinox and how that can remind us to seek holistic balance in our lives.

Might this be an emerging church? Don’t know but it’s fun, messy and thought provoking all at once!

Planting seeds, cultivating community



I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds and cultivation this past couple of weeks with the parable of the growing seed and the mustard seed (Mark 4:26-34) being part of that reflection.  The parable of the growing seed is about the kingdom of God and the mustard seed parable tells how, whilst being the tiniest of seeds, it produces the biggest tree.   There is an agricultural theme running though the history of Lubbesthorpe.   We are building on farming land so that’s no great surprise really but since I’ve been here I’ve wondered how that story will continue and how we will become a part of it.  Early on, with the farming theme influencing my thought process, I started talking of cultivating community rather than building it.  Cultivating feels like it continues the farming story and it also feels more of a ‘growing’ community activity.  To me cultivation is about giving something time to grow, perhaps at times it will need trimming or reshaping, cuttings may be taken and new plants grown.  It may even need to die and be reseeded.  

With all this in mind Jesus’ story of the growing seed really grabbed my imagination, if we are wanting to see God’s kingdom come about in Lubbesthorpe then we must firstly scatter seeds and see what will grow.  A great example of this was a recent Friday night out.  One of the residents had suggested we go out for a meal as a girls night out.  I’d asked about 10 people quite randomly.  We ended up with 6 of us.  It was a great night, most people knew at least one other person beside me but other than that a bit of a blank canvas, there wasn’t an aim to the evening it was just about having fun and getting to know one another.  We ended up having a great conversation around food and faith (it was the Eid festival).  One girl told us about fasting as a Jain and one who had just had a go at Ramadan to support a Muslim colleague at work.  We also talked about fasting through Lent in Christianity too.  Different traditions, different ways of doing a communal activity that expressed our faith within our different faith traditions.

As the evening went on one lady suggested a walking group and a few days later we find that, having advertised it on Facebook, a walking group has started.  From this small seed who knows what will happen, maybe a huge walking group will grow, maybe it will just be a few, maybe lifelong friendships will be forged or people may even discover faith together.  Whatever it will be it was lovely to see people run with an idea and me not needing to be involved at all!   

With all this, I’m left wondering is this what the kingdom of God is like?

“[Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”  Mark 4:26-29 NIV




The Medium is the Message?

Over the last few weeks in our fledgling missional community we have had a few discussions around language and how we communicate the good news of Jesus. We think that finding the right words or a way (that may not always be words) to do that isn’t always easy. ‘Jesus loves you’ doesn’t go down well and actually what does it even mean to someone who is struggling with depression, isolation, debt or just life in general.

yellow tassel
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I believe Jesus’ Good News always has to come with actions, offered by us. In recent months we have seen a backlash against the ‘prayers and thoughts’ that are always offered at times of big disaster with people saying ‘we need more that thoughts and prayers’.  I get that, for anyone to whom God is an unknown or distant figure they need more than words, we must show them practical ways of helping, we must stand up against things that are unjust and wrong.   Of course that’s a biblical thing anyway, just read James to know that faith without works is dead!

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There are of course those for whom the sermon is always the best form of communication for the gospel. Now I love a good sermon and there are those brilliant communicators that have preached sermons that have changed countless lives (to be fair I’m pretty sure God had something to do with it too). Most recently there was that Royal Wedding sermon. I listened to it and was wowed by it, it was the best sermon I’d heard in a while. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of Christians who were also wowed by it, marvellous!   The following week I asked a few people in my community (who weren’t Christians) if they watched the wedding. Lots of people did but only one of them mentioned the sermon, most loved the celeb watching and what Meghan wore. The one time the sermon was mentioned the comment was it was too long….. Christian friends reactions to that comment was, ‘well that was short by comparison to normal sermons’. Mmmmmm that response is hardly going to encourage people to go to church is it!

And yet in churches every week 20 or 30 minute sermons are preached, mostly to the converted.   I could concede that maybe it’s helping those who have already found their faith but I’m not wholly convinced that argument, after all how many people can remember a sermon 1 hour after it is preached, or maybe that is just me?  I’ve felt myself asking the question do sermons still continue to change lives or should we consider preaching less and taking more action by being out there sharing the gospel in different ways on a Sunday morning. If I’m honest I’m not a regular Sunday morning attender and seek to do church differently so I am bias.   I just find by interacting with others and sharing my faith more practically, it teaches me a whole lot more than being sat hearing another sermon, especially the ones that seem stuck on repeat and tell me I’m very sinful and need forgiveness (seriously I know that, please don’t shame me anymore!) Maybe ministers might come up with more great sermons if they could preach less but were able to ‘mull’ longer or even spend more time out in their communities!! Maybe churches should take the church out to the people on a Sunday once or twice a month, not to preach but to share the Good News in other ways, you never know it might bear more fruit, after all Jesus didn’t preach much in synagogues he was out there talking to people and ministering where they were.

crowd of people gathering during golden hour
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With so many churches in decline and Sunday congregations dwindling, new approaches are needed and judging by the response I found in my community to the amazing Royal Wedding sermon, we really do need to work out other ways to communicate the message of Jesus. After all if even the best of the best sermons aren’t having an impact on Joe Public then something’s broken and we really need to fix it.





Last week I had the privilege of being part of a group of practitioners who were doing some thinking around wellbeing. Bringing together a group of community practitioners, Livability were exploring the subject of wellbeing specifically in churches.   (I love this charity, they do some fabulous work around dementia, community and mental health, amongst lots of other things!)  Wellbeing is something they are starting to dig into, no wonder really as it is something we hear about a huge amount but the question was, is this something we should be a part of as Churches?

For me definitely, it is a really positive cultural theme and one that should be naturally ingrained within churches as it is part of our Christian heritage and, to be fair, I think it is in lots of cases it is, it’s just we haven’t ever really called it ‘wellbeing’.   We do have something really insightful to offer in the wellbeing stakes however I’m also aware that sometimes churches can get stuck into just one area of ‘wellbeing’, the spiritual element and forget that God is interested in the whole of us.   Why is that, how have we got railroaded down one track?   Maybe because we can get stuck into dualistic thinking that church is just about spiritual stuff and anything that doesn’t seem obviously ‘spiritual’ happens beyond church. The result is we think the two aren’t really linked.   Yet that wasn’t the culture or way of thinking when Jesus was around.  Jewish culture had a much more rounded approach to life, faith was ingrained into every part of it.

If we are to follow Jesus in His approach then shouldn’t we be reacting to the wellbeing agenda and jumping on board, saying hey Christianity has some really great stuff to say on this subject?   If we were I feel I would hear more within sermons and conferences about how we are taking care of ourselves physically and mentally as well as spiritually and the theology behind that.   (Having said that I just attended a Christian Mindfulness Conference which was delving into mindfulness for mental health and giving a great theological background to it.)

I think the sacred / secular divide ultimately has a lot to do with our lack of interest in a holistic gospel and certainly this has led to our dualist thinking.  I’ve wondered when this holistic thinking disappeared in recent times? Was it when the state took over things like health and education services, not that that was a bad thing but the result was we lost a part of the gospel and we disappeared from the table.   Faith became a private matter not one of the public square.   That is changing thankfully, we just need to recognise that and be ready to jump on board.  If we don’t we will struggle to be relevant in our culture if we continue to box our faith into one element of wellbeing.   It seems to me Jesus had a ministry of preaching, healing and ministering and that holistic story had to operate in synergy with one another.  When Jesus healed he didn’t just pray for people he touched them, met them in their homes, ate tea with them, got alongside them.  If that doesn’t happen in our ministries then we simply don’t tell the whole gospel story, do we?

I’ve a lot more thinking to do around this and I’m beginning to wonder how in Lubbesthorpe we can ensure that holistic ethos will woven through whatever it is that grows here!