18 April 2006

Urban mission gives boost to whole church

An ecumenical urban mission initiative backed by the Methodist church is producing results. The Methodist Church and the Evangelical Coalition for Urban Mission (ECUM) jointly sponsor an Urban Mission post, with an office at the Church Army College in Sheffield. Erica Dunmow was appointed Urban Mission Development Advisor in 2004, and has been working in a low- key way to encourage better support for mission practitioners in urban areas and more joined up working by congregations in those areas. Erica has been tasked with working as a catalyst, and during the first year the work was mostly about consulting with a cross section of organisations and mission practitioners across the UK.

A website has been created to support this work explaining what urban mission is and outlining the aims and progress of the project at www.urbanm ission.org.uk. The initiative is ecumenical, conducted by ECUM and the Methodist Church on behalf of the 23 other bodies that sponsor and endorse the Urban Mission project. Visitors to the website can find these groups listed in the 'Partners' section, with links to partner websites offering further opportunities for learning and involvement.

The Yorkshire and the Humber region, which has been a pilot area for some of Erica's work, will launch the York and the Humber Urban Mission Network later this year. If successful, this will provide one model for joining up urban mission across the whole of the country.

'One of the best kept secrets in many churches' says Erica, 'is that mission in urban areas has often been at the cutting edge of ministry, developing new forms of outreach and expressions of church in an often under- recognised way, and quietly being alongside the outcasts with whom Jesus builds his kingdom.'

Over the last few years several different initiatives have been developing across the spectrum of Christian activity in our towns and cities that have been about re-stimulating the interest of denominational decision-makers and mission educators in the demands and rewards of ministry in challenging city centre, inner city and outer estates. The Commission for Urban Life and Faith has been the highest profile of these, and reports in May 2006.

'Having lived and served in inner city and estate churches for over 20 years I know how exacting and exciting the work can be,' says Erica, 'and how frustrating it is that the fruits of that work do not get harvested as effectively as they could by the churches as a whole. That's partly because urban ministers are often so busy. It's also because so often the wider church does not incarnate the understanding that our Gospel comes from a lowly, hitherto unknown Galilean Jew.'

The Project is concentrating on creating networks of urban mission practitioners via which churches can be helped to understand relevant government policies and gain access to funding information. The other main task is identifying key urban mission issues and how to best deliver training for mission in urban areas.

Erica: 'There is so much that is good and exciting to share, but also a lot that can be done to help the churches in urban areas more able to respond to the moving of the Spirit. The work that gets done in urban areas has got so much to offer to the wider church.'

Network development has initially concentrated on the area of the Yorkshire & Humber government region and will now focus on Wales and then the North West. Discussions about how best to network nationally continues with a range of Christian social action and community development agencies, and exploration will take place as to whether the model can be meshed in with the Churches Together and Churches Regional Commission structures. A second important thread will be increasing the inclusiveness of networks. Work with mission education institutions nationally will form the other main thread of work during this period.

'I'm really heartened by the fact that many Christians who might have trodden separate paths in the past, are seeing common ground in Jesus' mission and talking and praying together more, and sometimes working together too', says Erica. 'And there is a better integration with the community and voluntary sector as well. It's a bit ironic that a government requirement for agencies to work more closely with faith communities has sometimes been the stimulus for this, but good that it's happening more.'

A full copy of Erica Dunmow's 'Next Steps Report' is available from: w.evans@churcharmy.org.uk.

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