A day of prayer for church growth on England's social housing estates

(Photo: Unsplash/Ivan Bandura)

The Church of England is holding a day of prayer to mark the first anniversary of an ambitious drive to expand its presence across social housing estates.

Its parliamentary body, General Synod, passed a motion a year ago on Saturday committing the Church to the aim of establishing a loving, worshipping and serving Christian community "on every significant social housing estate" in the country.

The Church of England publishes a daily prayer to its website and social media channels, and to mark the occasion, its prayer for today is for those living on estates and those who serve God on them:

The Church of England has been committed to expanding its presence on social housing estates for several years.

In 2016, it established the Estates Evangelism Task Group (EETG) to renew the Church on estates in both words and service.

The group, which includes estate practitioners, is inspired by the Nazarene Manifesto in Luke 4: "I have come to proclaim good news to the poor."

Underpinning its work is the belief that the renewal of the Church will come from the margins, and from the nation's poorest and most forgotten people.

Nearly 30 million people live in Church of England parishes that have 500 or more social housing homes within them - designated 'estate parishes'.

Yet half of these estate parishes do not have any Church of England worship centre within the social housing areas or immediately adjacent to them.

The EETG works with diocesan leadership teams and para-church partner organisations, especially the National Estates Churches Network (NECN), to support Christians working in estate contexts. Part of its vision is the planting and re-planting of worshipping communities, and the raising and training of leaders from among those living on the estates.

The Rt Rev Philip North, Bishop of Burnley and chair of the EETG, said: "Many were delighted when the Synod voted so decisively for a motion to recover church life on our urban estates, and there has been a great deal of progress in the past twelve months.

"Particularly exciting have been some of the new church plants on our outer estates and I am always inspired by the faith of those who lead them.

"However we have a massive way to go, and it will take real sacrifice and tricky decisions on behalf of the whole Church if our goal is to be realised."

Jill MacDonald is minister-in-charge of St James Church on the Lion Farm Estate in Birmingham, one of the churches that has been supported by the EETG's work.

She says that "apathy, drug abuse and financial problems" are just some of the challenges on the estate.

In 2011, the church was on its last legs with only 23 members and £1,000 in the bank. It had also suffered from graffiti and vandalism, with broken and boarded up windows. At the same time, the church seemed to be part of the problem and not the solution, with its doors often closed and the windows hidden behind grilles, giving it an unwelcoming appearance.

Jill MacDonald, 70, is passionate about providing a place of welcome on the Lion Farm Estate in Birmingham(Photo: Church of England)

After Jill took over, she used grants and loans to completely revamp the church building from the inside out, with a fresh lick of purple paint behind the altar and even pink chandeliers in the toilets.

It was important to her that the church be a place of welcome.

"People thought that the place was shut for years," she says.

"The grass wasn't mowed. The glass in the doors had been broken so many times that they were boarded up. The windows were opaque glass with wire over them. However much we cleaned, it looked grotty. It was vile."

Now that's all changed thanks to the renovation.

"Painting the church has made such a difference," she says.

"The whole feel of the place lifted people's spirits. I've even put pink chandeliers in the toilets, and you don't see that often. They're a real talking point."

Prayer is an important part of the EETG's work and it has recently partnered with the Neighbourhood Prayer Network that aims for each of the 260,000 streets in the UK to be prayed for regularly.

Bishop North said: "Without prayer this would be impossible. With prayer we can do anything! So I hope that people will get praying on Saturday and then spring from their knees to ask, 'How can we be Church for the poor?'"

Carl Brettle, CEO of Neighbourhood Prayer Network, said: "Neighbourhood Prayer Network is passionate about seeing every street in the UK prayed for, whether that be in the urban or rural.

"To mark the first anniversary of the Church of England General Synod motion commending ministry on estates, we are delighted to champion the Day of Prayer for Estates this Saturday.

"We are believing together as a network for every street to be transformed and delighted to see the Church of England leading this project to do that! We want you to pray for the difficult people in your community - that's where real change happens."

The Day of Prayer for England's social housing estates is taking place today, 22 February, and is part of the Church of England's ambitious Renewal and Reform programme of work, which seeks to provide a narrative of hope to the Church of England in the 21st century.

Find out more about the Church of England's work in social housing estates at churchofengland.org/estates.