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Sandra and Tony Crawford

Year 2 Update

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;

  • The friendliness of the community and the fierce protectiveness local people have over this unique place
  • Our neighbours are already good friends– we’ve had BBQ’s and parties, cared for one another in illness and bereavement, shared cars, tools and building equipment, and a pint or 3.
  • The Community Resource Centre –a place of connection with police, fire service, other statutory agencies, there’s always a friendly face to chat and have a brew, a friendly and welcoming toddler group where parents and carers are genuinely supported.
  • There’s a myriad of small community groups which try in one way or another to serve the neighbourhood, they remind me of the small boats which sail past most days, bringing joy to those they engage with.
  • But the jewel in the crown has to be Inclusion Ventures. A local charity working with children, youth and families.  Tony and I have been involved with youthwork for over 30 years but this is a different level of challenging behaviour than we have experienced before.  For Inclusion Ventures inclusion not exclusion is their aim, running children’s groups, youth groups, bike kitchens, one to one mentoring and therapy for families, food provisions, and genuinely looking for the potential in every person.   This is where Sandra is employed 2 days a week.

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?

  • Not to become overwhelmed by the deep needs and poverty that we live amongst
  • Not to fall into the temptation of starting something to satisfy our longing to be useful and to fulfil the expectations of those supporting us
  • Not to fall into the temptation of adopting a saviour mentality and doing things ‘to’ the community rather than ‘with’ them
  • Not to fall into the trap of selling people’s stories to organisations in return for funding (we have been asked by numerous organisations to consider their funding, the problem is that comes with headlines in their media about Jaywick)
  • To remain a contemplative activist and prioritise prayer over busyness
  • To remain vulnerable and willing to learn from those who live here.
  • To remember as incomers we bring a culture with us and therefore we come as guests of a host culture, we need to learn the values and priorities of those around us,  the definitions and rules of the context in which we live, their patterns and procedures for working and playing.

Year 1

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:

  • success was frequently judged only by ‘bums on seats on Sunday’, rather than community transformation.
  • funding for community work was becoming increasingly hard to find, resulting in the need to make staff redundant and closing community centres in high need areas due to lack of resources.
  • Constant worry that paid ministry and buildings are not sustainable in the long-term, and also the increasing struggle to find people able and capable to take the role of trustee and all that entails.
  • We often found that new believers or those searching spiritually didn’t really find their place in the local church, our heart was to reach out to the marginalised, to those who been left out of society, but even if they did come to church they often found themselves on the margins there too.
  • The expectation that the person at the front was there to teach and pour information into others about their understanding of God, rather than grasping that we had as much to learn from those around us. I wonder when you last asked yourself the question ‘What can I learn from a child at Messy Church this week’?  Or ‘What can I learn from Liz who comes to community lunch each week (Liz is non-verbal, a wheelchair user, and strokes your ear to communicate you’re her friend)?

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

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