Nativity with style
John Connor, Men's Shed coordinator for Upminster Baptist Church, explains how the church has used its garden to engage with the local community
As a church we are very blessed in having a good-sized front garden on a busy walkway to our local town centre.
For the last few years, we have taken advantage of this opportunity to engage with our local community. This engagement has been greatly enhanced by the installation of a bench at the front of the church, level with the pavement, which created a focal point from which we have handed out palm crosses, conducted surveys and based our interactive nativity scenes both in 2020 and this year - more of this later.
As a church we are committed to reaching out into our local community and sharing the word of God. Prayer is central to all that we do as we hope to follow God's will for our neighbours. We have community groups who use our church halls and we strive to have a more engaging relationship than 'hirer and provider'. These groups are very much a 'shop window' to our community and consist of pre-school, uniformed youth groups, majorettes, men’s shed, support and wellbeing groups and family fun days.
Making a commitment to reaching out requires an understanding of what God wants us to do as we seek to listen and understand the needs of our community. We seek to offer engaging activities for the community so that the community are aware of us and hopefully will find in our faith something they want to know more about. Usually this involves some form of interaction where members of the community are encouraged to take part. This greatly increases the impact that our activities have. This we describe as individual community members being 'creators' and not 'consumers' of what we offer.
Our latest community engagement event is a Nativity scene which sees each figure illuminated at night by floodlight. The scene tells the story of Virgin Mary being visited by an angel who tells her she will fulfil a prophecy and give birth to God’s son. Built in partnership with our Men’s Shed, and funded by church members, the installation is displayed at the front of the church with the story of the nativity featured alongside the scene. The life-sized figures were completed during an all-day painting event, attended by 21 church members, residents and scout leaders last month. In addition to working together to create the installation, we are running a colouring competition open to all members of the community, entry forms are available from our prayer box located next to the bench. Needless to say, prayer requests are also encouraged.
Church deacon, Margo Connor, said: “This project is a wonderful way of sharing the story of the nativity and a great example of what can be achieved by the community and church working collaboratively."
A way of describing the outcome of this activity is to take a view that a successful local church must prompt a number of different emotional responses in their community, this we call 'an emotional footprint'. Our outreach work enhances this, whether it's via family days, interactive community art, or accepting grandad's tools donated to the men’s shed. The Church means different things to different people.
Are we on the right track? We have conducted a community survey and this informed us that this type of activity was held in high regard by the local community. We are waiting until the pandemic situation allows us to sit with people comfortably in the local park to undertake another survey, which will show if we are still on track with our local community.
Last year our interactive nativity scene 'a message to the world' engaged with 234 individuals, mostly from outside the church. It's different this year, and has not run its full course yet - but early signs are very positive.
Try something different and have fun.
John Connor is the Men's Shed coordinator at Upminster Baptist Church.
Photos: Upminster Baptist Church
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