Building a church with glass walls

UK stories

After returning from a visit to Uganda a number of years ago, church leader Rev Jolyon Trickey knew he needed to spread the word about what he saw there. He’d witnessed thousands of people living without access to clean, safe water; families suffering from ill-health and life threatening diseases; farmers who could not work, and children who could not learn, because of how far they had to travel to get water.

In an inspiring example of churches breaking down boundaries and connecting with their community, Jolyon invited the entire town of Nailsea to join them in supporting the Muhabura Diocese through Tearfund’s Connected Church initiative. Today, they have raised over £50,000.

Last month, Jolyon took a group of Nailsea residents out to Muhabura to see exactly what their money and compassion had done for families there. One of those residents was Alan Cook, an atheist who got involved with the water project because of his work with Bristol Water.

Watch some of Alan's reflections on the trip...

We asked Jolyon what it was like to take someone not involved in the church out to see the church in action, and how others can help to change perspectives on church within their community.

You recently travelled to Uganda with fellow Nailsea residents, some of whom were not Christian, to visit projects you had been funding as a community. How did you find that experience?

One of the unique aspects of our project is that it is explicitly church and community in the UK as well as in Uganda. This is both exciting and challenging. Several of the Nailsea team are atheists who have to take flack from their friends for working with Christians, especially when we come across as judgemental, strange and exclusive in the press.

It was great to travel with and get to know all the team, but especially good to live alongside one atheist friend for a week. I was anxious about how he would cope with the Christian culture: so many Christians and praying all the time. He did! He is a great guy, spins a marvellous yarn and won many hearts in Uganda. I enjoyed his company and am proud to count him as my friend.

Did you find it easy to talk about the role of the church in the world?

Yes. This happened very naturally. When you are driving for hours on rough roads there are many accidental conversations and encounters. All the time we were seeing the Church at work. Some of that needed interpreting and explaining. We talked about the Church (including his early church experience), what makes a Christian, how I came to faith, the preaching my wife and I did on the Sunday. We discussed our different motivations and he offered me advice on how what parts of the Church's message sell well and which do not!

Did you find you were able to change people’s views of church?

One evening we sat and talked about this for an hour. We have clearly learnt from each other. I have grown in admiration for his deep commitment to the project and come to understand his issues with the Church and Christians. He has read the Bible, the Koran and the Torah since we met and he has been in church and church buildings. Knowing and working with Christians has made him see and value the care, compassion and motivation of ordinary Christians. However the institution of the Church and the inexplicable and judgemental attitudes are a real barrier. 

What would be your advice to other churches thinking about how they can engage non- Christians in fundraising and development?

It is much harder work to negotiate and involve the community in a project, but the benefits are enormous. There are many good-hearted people outside the Church and it is a privilege to work with them and talk about stuff that matters. Going on a journey of shared compassion is a very strong basis for good relationship and conversation. This is especially true for men and young people who need to see faith at work. I often come back to the verse in 1 John which says: 'those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them'. My friends in the community are people of peace, directly involved in God's Kingdom work: they just don't know it, or Him, yet!

How has Tearfund's Connected Church programme helped you to engage the wider community in the work of the Church around the world?

Tearfund have been very supportive and flexible: they are experts in sustainable development and we could not do this without them; plus their media and fundraising team have great insight and ideas. They want us to communicate well and widely with our community.

At the same time full church and community partnership in the UK is a new venture. In Uganda and elsewhere church and community partnership is the watchword. However it is rare in the UK. I would love to a see an arm of Tearfund that is ‘Connected Church & Community’, not just 'Connected Church'!

I believe that church and community working together can tackle Millennium Development Goals and change people's lives. I believe that compassion in action offers a natural common ground for relationship, strengthens the local community and brings out the best in everybody. When we go on a journey in this way with those outside the Church we overcome many of the barriers and prejudices that keep us apart: people discover a faith in action behind what they often see as irrelevant religion.

Contact Tearfund's churches team on 084 5521 0021 or to find out how you can start connecting your community.
Peter Shaw

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