We have been living in Jaywick for 18 months, I’m not I’m not going to say much about Jaywick itself or tell stories of the people we’ve met, the poverty, the accounts of the latest murder, stabbing, attempted kidnap, fires or anti-social behaviour because if you google Jaywick they are the only stories the press will print. I want to tell you of the amazing community of people, the beautiful beaches, awesome sunsets and sky jewellery that appears each night (Psalm 8 The Message) over the sea.
Tony has been the main wage earner, working as a Social Worker, he is hoping to reduce his hours in the next few months to enable him to engage more in Jaywick life. Sandra has been leading the work in Jaywick and has been engaging in missional listening, reading, researching, networking, meeting and getting to know the community and is employed 2 days a week by a local youth organization.
Missional listening is about an everyday posture of listening to God and community; listening, meditating, hearing, contemplating, attending, focusing, discerning what God is doing and finding how we are called to join in. What have we heard as we’ve listened in the community? Churches and other organisations have been guilty of often coming in to Jaywick and only seeing the deficits, they come with their glossy brochures and money, deliver a project in the community to improve the situation, then having patted themselves on the back they leave, but there’s no long term benefit to the local community, they may have had good intentions but they reinforce a dependency culture and subtly undermine the self-esteem of the local community who then wait for the next group of saviours to arrive.
Missional listening in the community involves watching, listening, hanging about, often feeling like a spare part, looking for the assets locally, and truly aiming to understand the culture of the people and the place. The deficits here are clear for all to see, but as we’ve listened and tried to discern where God is at work, looking for gemstones and jewels, this is what we’ve noticed;
Being a community theologian. As I’ve prayed and been still before God my eyes have been opened to the fact that the Gospel we bring is from a foreign culture; middle class, educated, with lots of choices, and also a northern culture which is where we have lived for the past 27 years. At times over the past year even as a born and bred Essex girl it feels as if we have moved to a foreign land. My understanding of Gospel needs to be incarnated into the indigenous Jaywick culture. What would a truly Jaywick style church be like? Would they gather? The largest gathering at the moment in Jaywick is bingo twice a week at the community centre, 60+ people. What would it look like if local people led a local church, not reliant on incomers to rule and administer that church? Church and gospel as I have known and understood her for decades feels irrelevant here. We are not here to call people to an institution, but to follow Jesus, we have a lot to discern and work out what that might look like.
What are the challenges we face as we move forwards?
On Easter Monday 2021 we moved to Jaywick, Essex. Over a number of years we believe God has been calling us to live here and put down roots for the rest of our lives. After 25 years of Baptist ministry this was a different type of move as there was no call from a local Baptist Church as there isn’t one here in Jaywick, therefore there is also no stipend, we are self-financing but remain as Baptist ministers in a pioneer role.
Why are we here? What are we going to do? Well the answer to that is we don’t know! Before we ‘do’ anything else, we have committed ourselves to at least a year of just ‘being’ in the local community; praying, reading, discerning, joining in with what is going on, being a guest at their table, showing up and being deeply committed to a small geographical place, meeting people and allowing that encounter to challenge and change us.
We are both Baptist ministers, (Sandra is a Youth Specialist Minister and Tony a Pastoral Minister) and have spent the past 25 years in Manchester, Preston and Wigan working extensively in the community from a church base. This has been both fulfilling and frustrating, we found ourselves increasingly busy and exhausted (I must say I didn’t realise quite how exhausted I was until we had moved and I had the opportunity to stop and breathe). The frustrations within us had grown:
In my late teens and early 20’s I (Sandra) spent a number of years as a detached youthworker, walking the streets and talking and listening to young people. The conversations and activities were their agenda not mine, we shared life together huddled around a portion of chips in a shop doorway to escape the rain, or kicking a football around, or in a lambretta scooter workshop sitting on upturned crates. I became known as the vicar on the streets. I long for those days of simplicity; not running a big project, needing to spend hours applying for funding, coming up with new ideas to keep people entertained, but just being a presence and sharing life and faith. Our frustrations over the last 25 years have led us to the conclusion that church needs to change, needs to become lighter on her feet, more inclusive and genuinely welcoming, and for us our intention is to return to a simpler way of being and doing ministry. So, as we spend this coming year (or more) there will be no big projects, no charity started, no congregation to lead, but a return to the simplicity of just being among people, it feels a bit like being a chaplain, being available. Daily asking ourselves, what does it mean to be a Christian presence on our street? With local community groups? At the pub? What does it mean to sit at someone else’s table as the guest, rather than the host?
We are thankful to our Baptist family who have released us to be able to do this, accountability and supportive relationships are important to us and we want to remain networked locally and nationally, we don’t want to work in isolation. For both of us this means a movement away from an activist crazy lifestyle to a more contemplative place. Easier said than done. For a while this quote from Henri Nouwen will be our mantra…
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
Sandra & Tony Crawford