Ben Lucas, Missional Listener, Charlton Down, Dorset
It was April 2017 when Ben and Emma Lucas and their four children moved to Dorset to begin a project listening to its rural communities. The project, initiated and funded by Rural Ministries and the Southern Counties Baptist Association, involved Ez and Ben immersing themselves in their community and undertaking a kind of dual listening – one ear to God, being reminded of His unchanging promises and coming kingdom and the other to the community. Several years on, Ben looks back on their story of listening.
As we listened, three questions were formed:
1 What is the cry of the community?
2 What does the biblical imagination have to say to it?
3 What does it look like for Christians to live together as if the Kingdom of God has already come?
The cry of the community became clear quite clearly – division. Everywhere was broken. Every activity begun and celebrated soon became broken, split, and ended in pain. Factions were everywhere you looked and social media community pages were riddled with conflict. Two churches that previously attempted to church plant in the community had become broken, split, divided. As a result, Christianity was ‘banned’ from the village. The biblical imagination led us to renewed emphasis of trinitarian theology – we wanted to answer Jesus’ prayer – ‘may they be one as we are one’. We saw the village covered in oil, the very presence of God coming as we, as a community, began to love each other. We heard God’s calling that as the Christians in the village, we were to demonstrate this coming kingdom by loving the other, disagreeing well and celebrating difference.
The invitations began to come as we listened. Too many to discuss here. But for this story, I will tell you about the toddler group. The group was down to very few families, tired and weary leaders, and it began to look like this club would go the way of so many others – closure. Emma was handed the keys and, with other leaders she gathered, began to revive the group. Pre-lockdown, the group had 80-100 attendees, all in a positive atmosphere where all are celebrated, all is safe, all is welcoming. It was here that we would first meet Sadie (back to that in a minute).
Through many other invitations, a few of us started to gather for dinner to learn from one another and cheer each other on our Christian journey. Then lockdown. Early on, we sensed God telling us not to rush in and be the saviours of the village but to cheer on and join in the community’s efforts. A few months into lockdown, we began a village ‘church’ Facebook page to discuss all things spiritual as we journeyed through such strange times. Some of us began to meet online for the first time, to pray, to laugh and to support. We all decided to commit to praying and studying and that our online meetings would be sharing what God has said and He is doing. It’s a wonderful place to be. It’s growing. It’s beautiful. All participate. One of the members described the ‘church’ as “a people from every different background, different places, different theologies, but somehow as we journey together the Holy Spirit helps us fall in love one another”. I call it ‘Glee church’ – all the ones who don’t fit anywhere else! Somehow, without trying, we were a group of ‘others’, loving one another, a sign to the community who were inviting us to bring the wider community together. Marvellous!
As we continued to listen, a lady came to buy a pushchair from us. It was Sadie from the toddler group. She said something in her conversation about God – and we felt it right to go back to her and ask if she was a Christian. She wasn’t sure but was keen to find out more. She joined our Glee church and joined in! We ran an Alpha Course at her request, and she was filled with the Spirit as we watched the videos meant for the big celebratory Alpha weekend that usually is part of the course. Then, one Sunday in early July, we had the privilege of baptising her.
The baptism was the first time we had physically met as a group. The first time Glee church had gathered, I was anxious, but there was no need to be. We shared dinner, we heard Sadie’s testimony and then, one after another, members of the group stepped forward to give a prophecy, a word, and pray for her. We baptised her in the pool before all the kids jumped in to join us. It was a wonderful occasion. One member on their return home stated, “it was church, how it should be!”
As I reflect, I can see that God has done so much, and it has all been done through the posture of listening and joining in with God. The community are being heard, God’s kingdom is coming, and it is being expressed by a community of saints who live counter to the world. There is only one person who deserves all the credit – that is God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All we have done is tried to listen and join in!