One bright spot of 2020 was the resurgence of community spirit during the Covid-19 lockdown. This is still required, not least this winter. It is churches which, in a wider partnership, can help recapture this spirit, embed it for the long term and invest in new and fruitful links with their immediate neighbourhood, especially when we emerge from the Covid crisis.
A couple of years ago, a Christian-led Birmingham initiative captured the imagination of the UK’s second city. Under the title ‘Permission to Smile,’ 158 organisations joined the campaign to encourage greater friendliness. Local churches used the high-profile branding to invite neighbours to a tea party to boost friendliness in their street. It worked, and church members were then part of starting Street Associations on the streets where they lived, creating ongoing links, generating real community, lasting friendships and a new way of ‘loving your neighbour’ in practice.
Now, that tried-and-tested approach is beginning to gain traction in other parts of the country, under the heading, ‘As-one.’ Dudley churches, working in partnership with the Borough Council and other local stakeholders, are at the forefront of those taking the campaign forward by launching it on a large scale in February 2021. There are four steps to what is proposed. The first is to fill the county/town/city with hundreds of large banners with a message to reaffirm community engagement on every street.
Second, when possible (hopefully next summer?), participating churches each put on a simultaneous ‘Memorial Service‘ for the local community, coming alongside those who mourn and helping to bring peace to all dealing with loss, anxiety and trauma – as a community, gathered together. Third, a ‘Back Together Celebration‘ in the form of a tea party. Each church invites all residents from about ten local streets and sets aside a table for each street, so that near neighbours are able to sit together, get to know each other and discuss starting a Street Association.
Finally, on the back of consistent prayer of blessing for their own streets, church members help form these fledgling Street Associations, using things like a BBQ, quiz night or children’s party to bring neighbours together. Then watch the relationships develop, spontaneous help flow, smiles and chats flourish and loneliness retreat – with the churches and their members at the heart of all that happens, bringing something of the love of God and finding new fruitfulness.
The Right Revd Martin Gorick (pictured), Bishop of Dudley, says, ‘I’m delighted to support the As-One campaign. We need to keep looking out for each other as we seek to build a better future for our Borough of Dudley. So let’s go forward, As-One.’ Adrian Lowe, Chair of the Love Dudley group of churches says, ‘Friendship, fun, belonging, a helping hand on each street – what’s not to like? We can do this and together bring lasting good out of the most difficult circumstances.’
‘As-one’ is ready to help groups of churches approach the local authority, provide banners and other key materials, mentoring, advice and written guides on how to do all this. This will be supported by a paid local coordinator, who will take much of the strain, so there is little work for busy pastors. Church leaders are facing many challenges, but now is the time to prepare for what could be done in partnership, grasping a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Watch a two-minute video from Churches Together in England President Hugh Osgood about As-one via THIS LINK. Visit the As-one website HERE. As-one coordinator Martin Graham would be delighted to discuss the vision with church leaders. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.