Urban mission gives boost to whole church

An ecumenical urban mission initiative backed by the Methodistchurch is producing results. The Methodist Church and theEvangelical Coalition for Urban Mission (ECUM) jointly sponsor anUrban Mission post, with an office at the Church Army College inSheffield. Erica Dunmow was appointed Urban Mission DevelopmentAdvisor in 2004, and has been working in a low- key way toencourage better support for mission practitioners in urban areasand more joined up working by congregations in those areas. Ericahas been tasked with working as a catalyst, and during the firstyear the work was mostly about consulting with a cross section oforganisations and mission practitioners across the UK.

A website has been created to support this work explaining whaturban mission is and outlining the aims and progress of the projectat www.urbanmission.org.uk. The initiative is ecumenical, conducted by ECUMand the Methodist Church on behalf of the 23 other bodies thatsponsor and endorse the Urban Mission project. Visitors to thewebsite can find these groups listed in the 'Partners' section,with links to partner websites offering further opportunities forlearning and involvement.

The Yorkshire and the Humber region, which has been a pilot areafor some of Erica's work, will launch the York and the Humber UrbanMission Network later this year. If successful, this will provideone model for joining up urban mission across the whole of thecountry.

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

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

'Having lived and served in inner city and estate churches for over20 years I know how exacting and exciting the work can be,' saysErica, 'and how frustrating it is that the fruits of that work donot get harvested as effectively as they could by the churches as awhole. That's partly because urban ministers are often so busy.It's also because so often the wider church does not incarnate theunderstanding that our Gospel comes from a lowly, hitherto unknownGalilean Jew.'

The Project is concentrating on creating networks of urban missionpractitioners via which churches can be helped to understandrelevant government policies and gain access to fundinginformation. The other main task is identifying key urban missionissues and how to best deliver training for mission in urbanareas.

Erica: 'There is so much that is good and exciting to share, butalso a lot that can be done to help the churches in urban areasmore able to respond to the moving of the Spirit. The work thatgets done in urban areas has got so much to offer to the widerchurch.'

Network development has initially concentrated on the area of theYorkshire & Humber government region and will now focus onWales and then the North West. Discussions about how best tonetwork nationally continues with a range of Christian socialaction and community development agencies, and exploration willtake place as to whether the model can be meshed in with theChurches Together and Churches Regional Commission structures. Asecond important thread will be increasing the inclusiveness ofnetworks. Work with mission education institutions nationally willform the other main thread of work during this period.

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

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