Posted on November 17th, 2015 at 12:22PM
Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Home of steel. Except of course that was many years ago now. The decline of the steel plants in the 1980s have left their mark and it was something evident on this particular visit to two very different churches.
First I visited St. Thomas' Church Philadelphia where I was amazed at how they had transformed old steel factories into church. A conference centre, a teaching hall, a chapel from which many of their ministries to people in need in the community were run. 15 different ministries and a congregation of 700. A church making a difference. I was reminded of the Christians Against Poverty buildings in Bradford and all that charity is achieving to make a difference for people in debt.
My visit to this church was to invite them to make use of Acts 435 and get involved. I hoped they might also spread the word to others in Sheffield as well as let their congregation know about the giving side of the charity. I hope they decide to add this to their bank of ministries with which to make a difference.
My next visit was to our one church/charity active in Sheffield - Parson Cross Initiative run out of Mount Tabor Methodist Church. A small church with a small congregation - one full-time worker seeking to minister to so many people on the huge sprawling social housing estate in that part of the city. He was chaplain of two of the schools, had linked in with the Citizen's Advice Bureau and many connections besides. They ran a Foodbank and here was no warehouse, but shelves within the church stacked up with a mixture of food, alongside stuff for activities with the youth.
The Citizen's Advice Bureau team was so pleased to see me - "without Acts 435 no-one in Parson Cross could go debt free" was advocate Nick Waterfield's comment. They shared a familiar story of so few other resources or funds available to people in poverty, and those that are have such stringent requirements it can be very difficult to get the funds. Nick also shared of one lady whose husband left her and her 10 year old daughter, taking all their money but leaving her the bills to pay. The school's Education and Welfare Officer took Nick to see her. Not only was he able to raise money for her through Acts 435 to help with the bills, but a relationship was formed and she now considers Nick someone she can trust. That is significant in both a place and circumstances which are very isolating.
I was told that the division between the rich and poor in Sheffield is one of the most intense in the UK, that the North and East of the city is like one place whilst Sheffield Hallam in the West is like a completely different city (as a constituency it has the lowest child poverty in the UK). This inequality brings with it a gap in life expectancy and an interesting challenge for the church. It would seem to me that Sheffield as a city could epitomise that passage in Acts Chapter 4 where those with resources gave to those who lacked resources. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see churches in Sheffield Hallam come on board as donor churches and give to requests posted by churches working in the midst of deprivation?
Yet, Acts 435 is but a small assistance in the midst of the need for long-term projects to help people move away from the heritage of unemployment and destruction of communities that occurred when the steel works closed. This kind of transformation needs churches within the communities to show they care.
After visiting these two churches, I'm left wondering which is the type of church that Acts 435 exists for - the answer, of course, is both.
St. Thomas' Church with all its ministries sees so many people with varying needs and the fast, financial help that Acts 435 can provide could be a perfect solution for some of the people they work with. It also holds a sizeable congregation who may love this particular opportunity of making a difference for one specific person in need and further help those struggling in Sheffield.
Yet, it is surely for churches like that in Parson Cross that Acts 435 was created for - a ministry so low on resources, in an area of churches all low on resources. Where else can they hope to pull funds into the estate? How else can they hope to help people forwards where money is required?
May donor churches rise up to support the work of small churches like those involved in Parson Cross Initiative. May Acts 435 play its part in connecting them and help equip such modern-day missionaries as Nick and his team.