Helen Harwood from the CMS pioneer team talks to Baptist Pioneer Emma Nash about Church from Scratch, ‘Baptist dating’ and how God “called me to be a pain in the rear for him!”
HH: Can you tell me more about your background and calling into mission and ministry?
EN: I grew up in a family of happy, moral atheists, and basically had no experience of church at all, other than the odd school carol service. When I became a follower of Jesus at the age of 23 through some friends, I had a lot to catch up on in terms of the Bible, church life – even the language was unfamiliar. But quite early on I began to feel a call to some kind of Christian work and during an internship it became clear that evangelism was my passion – sharing Jesus with people who were totally outside the church, ie, people just like I was.
I know you currently have a church placement on the Barton estate in Oxford working in a church planting team from Headington Baptist Church, can you tell us about some exciting times, and challenges of this work?
The church plant in Barton started about two years ago and it has been really hard work, with lots of changes in the team, illness, trying to keep things going with a vision and a small band of people. Others have put in much more time and effort than I have – several team members live on the estate and have invested lots of time and energy getting to know local people and serving them. In the last few months I have been so encouraged to see people really beginning to worship God and wanting to know him more. I don’t know if they would describe themselves as Christians but they are clearly experiencing the love of Jesus on some level.
What is it that inspires and interests you about developing worship and teaching in an all-age setting? I know you work with people who know very little about the Bible or Christianity, what challenges and what joys does this bring?
I have loved the challenge of planning times of worship and Bible study for our Sunday afternoon service in Barton. We never quite know who’s going to turn up, and ages ranges from 5 to 80, with lots of unaccompanied children and young people. Most of them really know absolutely nothing about Christianity – I mean, even less than I did, and I didn’t know much. It’s been a real privilege sharing things like the story of the Good Samaritan for the first time. Sermons are very interactive and very short!
I love the name of your next placement ‘Church From Scratch’. Can you tell me what you are looking forward to in your move to Southend?
Church From Scratch is the result of a vision to plant a church… er… “from scratch” in Southend! Several Southend churches supported the venture and told Peter, the pioneer who started the church, to create something which looked totally different from them, in order to reach people they couldn’t reach. The church meets in several different community groups midweek in people’s homes (they don’t have a building). The groups usually get together once a month on a Sunday afternoon for a celebration, but many people only go to the midweek groups. Two years ago they started a social enterprise, ‘Shared Space’, a charity shop in Westcliff. Many of the volunteers are quite vulnerable people who find a sense of purpose and community in the shop. It’s an outworking of the church’s mission and some church members volunteer, but many volunteers wouldn’t consider themselves part of the church. My role this year is to develop “chaplaincy” in Shared Space – to try and encourage ‘God conversations’ in appropriate ways.
Can you explain more about the Baptist settlement system and how you will get matched with churches by a team of regional ministers?
I often say that going through the Baptist settlement system is a bit like joining a dating agency! A national team meet once a month with a list of ministers and a list of churches with vacancies, and they try to match them up. My name might get sent to two or three churches one month – I then wait to see if they get in touch. If they call and ask to meet with me, I can say yes or no. Then we proceed with an initial meeting, perhaps a meeting with the whole church leadership, maybe I go to “preach with a peep” and then if that goes well, I “preach with a view”. At that point it’s like ‘going steady’ – you’re not allowed to have meetings with any other churches and they’re not allowed to see any other ministers! Finally the church vote on whether they believe I am the right person, and if a sufficiently high percentage say yes (ideally 80-90 per cent or higher), they officially ‘call’ me. Finally, I can either accept or decline the call. It’s a long process of discernment.
It’s been wonderful having you as the first Baptist to join the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course, a real pioneer among pioneers. Can you tell us something about how you heard about the course and what it has meant to you?
The pioneer course has been fantastic for me. I heard about it through Cathy Ross, who teaches at Regent’s Park and tutors me there, as well as teaching at CMS. Jonny offered for me to do some modules on the pioneer course and my lovely college said yes – they let me miss Baptist history classes to come to CMS (don’t worry, I had to catch up on my Baptist history in my spare time…)! I have struggled for a long time to understand whether or not I am called to be a pioneer, and what that means. Coming to CMS and studying alongside other pioneers has really clarified things for me. Now I understand why I am so often the awkward one, the pain in the rear – God made me that way. He has called me to be a pain in the rear for him!
It is really good to hear that the course has helped you to clarify God’s calling for you. I want to wish you well in your placement and in your future mission. How can we pray for you?
I would be very grateful for your prayers as I go through the Baptist dating agency – I mean, settlement system. I don’t believe the Baptist Union really know what to do with pioneers at the moment. The settlement system isn’t really set up for them – it’s hard to find out about opportunities for church planting, for example, and those opportunities I have heard about tend to involve zero salary and no accommodation (which is fine if that’s God’s call, but hard to explain to my bank manager). So please pray that God leads me to the place where he wants me to serve him – to people who will love me despite my awkward, pain in the rear pioneering tendencies, and ultimately, to people who would never normally go near a church.