Pioneer Mission Leadership student Sue Steer talked to Helen Harwood about how listening to her local community led her into a huge project to turn unused church space into a thriving community centre.
HH: Tell us a bit about the mission work you are involved in now.
SS: The mission work I am involved in is managing the Pathways Community Centre at a Baptist Church, which is based close to the town centre of Hinckley in Leicestershire. My work is completely community focused and happens mainly during the daytime.
The centre opened in 2008 after a refurbishment to the church building and we have evolved since then. We run a number of home grown groups such as a community cafe, silver surfers’ computer club, an art group and a singing cafe for dementia sufferers. Local community groups and the Prince’s Trust also work out of our premises. There are groups that already existed such as Girls’ Brigade and Boys’ Brigade and a mums and tots group, which are thriving.
Change is an ever present part of our community and after having a big user group drop out last year we have an exciting year planned ahead as we move into two partnerships.
One is with Age UK to develop our dementia and older people’s work, and we are also joining with a childcare provider to start a provision for under 5s; oh and we’re just about to finish refurbishing another community hall. To be fair I haven’t much idea what is going to happen in there but God usually comes up with a good idea.
Add a Foodbank and shower facility for homeless people, volunteers who will help people out in their homes when home life has got a little difficult and you get a right mishmash of things to be fair but overall our aim is to love people and serve the community so we do whatever God presents to us at that time.
How did you first get into pioneering, and how you have defined your mission?
The whole pioneering thing started when I was doing a module called ‘God in the World’ with St John’s in Nottingham. This module changed my thinking on what it really meant to live out my faith everyday. At the same time I was doing the module I went to a Faithworks conference and was inspired by people who just kind of started things up out of nothing!
Faithworks provided some great resources to help us research what the needs were in the local community and I set a group up to look at that. I also worked as the church administrator at the church. It used to drive me bonkers that the church premises sat mostly empty during the day, it seemed such a terrible waste of the buildings God entrusted us with. So I did some research into community needs, came to the conclusion we needed to refurbish the rooms, raised loads of money and then opened as a community centre.
I have to admit I feel I muddled along through the whole lot, and still do to some extent. I think I talked a lot of rubbish although some of it must have made sense as people seemed to join me in it. I know I made loads of mistakes and spent hours on boring business plans for grant providers and the like but I just held on to the thought that God wants me to be out there with the people being the hands and feet of Jesus, whatever that meant.
Now we are there, being the hands and feet of Jesus can mean anything from letting someone have a shower and giving them a food parcel to providing a place to play for kids, cleaning someone’s house, as well as teaching a granddad how to use Skype so he can speak to his granddaughter in Australia. Lately I’ve come to believe that we just have to do ‘God in the moment’ – taking the opportunity to share whatever you have with the person in front of you. I suppose if I defined my mission it would be ‘love thy neighbour’.
Thanks, Sue, I love the example of teaching a granddad how to use Skype so he can speak to his granddaughter in Australia. Really amazing how you started this ministry from nothing, just as you had heard about others doing on the Faithworks conference. How do you see your mission in terms of the church you are part of?
Church, er, well… I know I’m really annoying, I drive the leadership team mad with ideas they can’t quite get their heads round as well as asking them questions like “What on earth are you doing it like that for?” and “Why not try it like that instead?” So I guess my mission in church is to annoy people. I’ve pulled back from church related stuff since starting the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course as time is a bit of an issue but I still lead worship from time to time, which I really enjoy, I also love singing so sometimes sing down a mike when the music group are desperate.
Can you give us some idea of the highs and lows, and the people who have been part of your journey?
Well, it’s certainly been a rollercoaster! Early on highs included getting funding, I can remember we were trying to find the money to refurbish the rooms and I had procured time-sensitive grants that we had to send back if we didn’t start the refurbishment work by a certain date. We couldn’t sign a contract with the builders until we had sufficient money in the bank to pay for what we had committed to. We wrote to the congregation (about 150 people including kids), told them of the situation and within a week had £60,000 which enabled us to start the work. It wasn’t just getting the money that was the high, it was knowing that the project meant that much to people that they raided their piggy banks in order to get it off the ground.
Now as the building becomes the workhorse for us, highs are much more immediate (and are why we started the project in the first place). These include people walking into the centre asking for help. I really love the fact that random people walk in to our centre and know we will listen to them and help them if we can.
The lows include losing friends who think the road you are travelling is completely the wrong one and that it isn’t God’s will. The person who has been on the whole journey with me is my husband and he is my rock, he mops up the tears, listens to my ramblings and loves and encourages me despite my annoying musings, habits and crazy ideas.
You are relatively new to the course but have really got stuck in! You are just about to head off for the Bible’s Big Story module up in Northampton; before you go could you share how the course has influenced you so far?
The course has given me so much confidence in what I’m doing in my missional work. The stuff I’ve learnt about liberation theology has really inspired me as well as being exposed to a wide variety of ways of doing mission has also been a great resource to draw from. It has already influenced my thinking and praying for my whole life not just my ‘work’ and I’ve been able to apply some of the things I learnt in lots of contexts. Finally, getting to know so many great people and hearing about the way they work out their faith has been pretty marvellous too!
Lastly, Sue, how can we pray for you? And what might we be watching out for?
To find peace in the busyness of life would be great for me and for those who walk and live alongside me. Also prayers for our new partnership work in the Pathways Centre as we explore these new relationships and how God is working his purposes out through them.