Can you explain what Crossing London is all about?
Stephen: There are four strands. The first is encouraging leaders. Leaders of various kinds in London's churches – pastors, vicars elders and so on – many of them are overwhelmed by the size of the task , many of them are facing dwindling and diminishing congregations. And it's a massive challenge.
We are equipping Christians because all the surveys show that there is no shortage of belief among Christians but there is a lack of skill or a certain embarrassment about sharing our belief. Is it ok to be a Christian when the media tells us all the time that we are old fashioned, out of date, bigoted, irrelevant? Romans 1.16 tells us about not being ashamed and we are using that in our resources for discipleship.
We ran a pilot scheme in November and we will run a massive project in June next year - four weeks of equipping Christians, trying to give them a capital wide sense of confidence in their faith.
Then we are engaging communities. Since the riots in London there is a growing sense among the political classes that the churches have a very significant role to play in community cohesion. We're looking at a Good Samaritan week and helping churches to play a full part in their communities.
The fourth strand is encountering Jesus and we are looking into an opportunity at the Excel centre to proclaim the good news of Jesus and let people hear it in words and not just in deeds.
It's funny that London struggles with dwindling congregations when London is one of the places where the church is actually growing?
Stephen: Yes, although interestingly a lot of that has been because London has been blessed with a large immigration from Nigeria and Ghana, and of course a significant number of Polish Roman Catholics. To some extent the growth has been related to immigration rather than conversion and London is always a net recipient of overseas immigration. Many mainstream churches have struggled to grow in London.
What would you say is the greatest need for the church in London?
Our burden was for something joined up in London because there are lots of good initiatives in London but we've engaged the BGEA and Samaritan's Pruse as our two global partners. These guys have huge experience in running enormous projects all over the world and it means that we can combine a love in action emphasis with a proclamation of the good news emphasis. We need Christians not to be ashamed in order to share that, and we need leaders to be less drowning in instituational work and more mission minded. The four strands all lead to the same thing.
Crossing London is coming off the back of a really great year for the church with engagement in the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.
Yes, we are building upon the incredible success of the Jubilee and Olympics. There is a can do mentality and I think it's drifted into the church and the church is saying we don't have to forever be on the back foot wondering if we can confidently share our faith. We can share it and I do think the church has benefited from those initiatives.
Are there particular issues when it comes to the love in action and what you will be engaging in? Is it a case of looking at what is already going on and helping churches to do it better?
Stephen: Yes, it is certainly a case of that. Part of what we are saying is how can we be a resource to London by actually telling Londoners what's already happening. We are doing our best to find out what's already going on in community action. The broughs are very different from each other. We don't want to be a one size fits all and say do this. We want to say to the boroughs how can we help to facilitate what you actually need in community care in your borough.
Will this take a complementary approach to other initiatves in London, like Pentecost Festival?
Stephen: Yes we don't want to be in competition. We want them to be blessed and we want to be blessed. We are wanting to be in partnership with others and collegial.
The outreach during the Olympics was great and it was probably a great learning experience for the church. What do you think the church can take from these events going into the new year and Crossing London?
Stephen: There are dozens of lessons we learned about things we didn't quite get right! But the positive lessons are that people keep saying Londoners are cynical and hard and not open to things. But we saw millions of people on the streets of London waving flags at the Queen in the pouring rain and cheering on marathon runners. There was a genuine sense of community and energy and life that proved the cynics wrong. The churches can take real heart from that. Yes we live in a fallen world and yes people are cynical about the gospel. All that's true, but it's not terminal. We can share the Good News and we must share the Good News. The lessons we can take is we can do this, not just as a country but as a church. We can be Jesus to these people and we don't need to expect such a cynical response.
What do you hope will come out of Crossing London?
That there will be a legacy in London. The Olympic Committee talked about leaving a legacy and our goal is also to leave a legacy in London. A legacy of pastors who don't feel so downtrodden and discouraged but much more full of faith and vision and our vision is to leave communities that don't think of the church as some odd building that strange people go to on a Sunday but the church that picked up litter from my garden or helped my neighbour across the road. We want to reposition the church and leave thousands of Christians feeling more confident about sharing their faith, and of course thousands of new converts to populate the churches in 2013 and beyond.