Daniel Stone is CTC’s Church-based Community Organiser at ARC Pentecostal Church in Forest Gate and the Catholic Parish of Manor Park. He blogs about these very different congregations, and the work they are beginning to do together:
The differences between the Pentecostal ‘A Radical Church’ and the Catholic parish churches of St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ are plain for all to see. For starters, while the parishioners at weekend mass are departing to get on with the rest of their Sunday, the congregation at ARC have just warmed their vocal chords and are settling down for another two hours of their service! You’re also unlikely to find Pastor Peter Nembhard clothed in priestly robes and I suspect that if Father Sean Connolly hollered “God is Good” in the middle of his oration, he would be unlikely to hear his congregation chime back in perfect unison, “All the time”.
Nevertheless I have found that despite these superficial differences, both churches possess a burning desire to see their faith acted out in a manner that is impactful, faithful and radical.
Both congregations have a passion to serve the East London communities in which they are based. Seven years ago the ARC lost one of their young people, Charlotte Polius, in a senseless act of violence. Since then they have worked tirelessly in Forest Gate and beyond to promote the message of ‘Stop Da Violence’, a project which seeks to provide a holistic response to issues of gang crime. For St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ based in nearby Manor Park, the questions they have sought to answer are: How can we play our part in responding to the city-wide shortage of affordable housing and how can we best cater for the needs of the elderly members of our community?
Of course these questions have at their heart quite complex socio-economic issues, way beyond what a single church could ever hope to engage with on their own. But what is common to both churches and their leaders is an understanding that change is only possible when working in unity with other institutions. In this past year Father Sean Connolly and Pastor Peter Nembhard have taken part in an exercise not too dissimilar from that exhibited by Eddie Murphy in Trading Places - with Father Sean preaching at the ARC and Pastor Peter speaking at St Stephen’s and St Nicholas.
My hope is to turn this useful cultural experience into a long term project that fuses together the passions and interests of these two congregations, and draws in other religious and civic groups in this incredibly diverse borough. At the ARC we have a group of young people who are meeting together regularly to discuss plans for developing the Stop Da Violence project and in the past few weeks we have begun to successfully integrate representatives from St Stephen’s into the discussions. The remainder of the year is likely to continue this focus on building relationships across, within and beyond these two churches – engaging with young people of other faiths in Manor Park and Forest Gate – in the hope that we will soon be able to put on our first joint event.
With the talent and testimonies I’ve witnessed over the past few months, I can promise you that it will be energetic, powerful and will be one not to be missed! So watch this space…