Over the last few years I've become known for writing about current affairs and politics from a Christian perspective, but what actually gives me the most joy is sharing stories of God at work, transforming lives and drawing people into his Kingdom.
Last month I attended the second annual Christian Funders Forum Awards in London. This group of grant making trusts and foundations gives away an incredible £30 million, funding a wide range of projects from social media apps, to prison chaplaincies, to church building projects and beyond. The event is designed to celebrate and honour some of the remarkable Christian work that is going on around our country right now. As the evening progressed it was the winner of the 'Best Project Advancing the Christian Faith' that particularly caught my eye. This was the Glo Trust, where Glo stands for God Loves Offerton, a residential estate with high levels of deprivation in Stockport, Greater Manchester. It is the charitable arm of Glo Church, which was commissioned in 2011 under a Bishop's Mission Order in an area where the Church of England's presence was diminishing. Over the last few years, the church through its activities and presence has become a missional community grounded in the local community, seeking to serve and reach out to the people it regularly comes into contact with.
After the award ceremony I spoke to Glo's minister, Gareth Robinson, to find out just what they're up to that has gained them this recognition. He told me that right from the beginning, the church was never intended to be just another congregation. It has been founded on building relationships, taking care to listen to the people already living there and seeking to be a blessing in order to demonstrate God's love as faithful stewards of the gospel.
They worked to develop good relationships with the local council who, early on, invited them to hear the results of their community consultation including frustrations about abusive relationships, overwhelming debt, unemployment and addiction. By simply offering to do whatever they could to help they were given an old council-owned shop front for a peppercorn rent. This became Glo Central, a drop-in centre and community hub run by Gareth's wife, Lizzy. It offers access to the local foodbank, the church's freecycle project, parenting courses, and groups for young people and young mums. They look to work with, not just for, the Offerton community. Some of those they are in contact with have no interest in the Christian faith that drives Glo, but others find themselves journeying into faith as their lives are transformed through the projects and relationships built. One man who previously hadn't been able to leave the house due to mental health problems asked if he could become a volunteer. As time progressed he became a session leader, has been able to attend job interviews and has now has been signed off from the mental health team. As Gareth put it, "Jesus has turned his life around". Another woman had been living on the estate for seven years without making any friends. Last year she came across the church giving away £10 notes in envelopes during a 'serve day' around Easter. Curious to find out more she came along to a church event. Now, one year on, she has been baptised and runs an art workshop at Glo Central.
As a church that started with just five members, though part of its vision has been to become financially self-sufficient, Glo has had to constantly rely on God's provision to keep the charity solvent and effective in what it does. At the end of 2014 its initial funding had dried up and just when it looked as though they would have to consider making drastic changes, the Joseph Rank Trust, one of the members of the Christian Funders Forum, stepped in and offered to support them for the next three years. With that firm financial footing Glo continues to grow. At their last church weekend away, a third of those attending were new Christians from Offerton.
There are plenty of other stories of lives being impacted and transformed all through the faithfulness of this one church. This is God's people in action, faithfully working together to further His Kingdom and bring in change. But Glo is just one small example of a much bigger picture. There are many more places where the wider church is holistically delivering practical social justice grounded in sound theology, and addressing a spiritual emptiness alongside physical and emotional needs. This is Isaiah 61 in action; the Year of the Lord's favour where broken lives are restored and captives set free. Let's share these stories of God moving through His people, let them inspire and challenge us and remind us that the Christian message of God's salvation is too much of a blessing to contain within the walls of our churches.