Saturday, 22 June 2013

Building hope in Glasgow

One of the many privileges of my job with Bethany Christian Trust is to see some of the amazing things God is doing around Scotland.  Yesterday I was through in Glasgow visiting Stuart Patterson who planted a church in Easterhouse over 2 years ago.  I met Stuart when he was sharing his testimony at a prison bible study 2 weeks ago.  He shared how he had been drawn into the gang and drug culture of Easterhouse on the 1980's but was wonderfully saved.  After a period in Teen Challenge Stuart has returned to Easterhouse to set up a church in an old bingo hall in the Shandwick Shopping Centre.

Like so many large housing schemes people immediately associate Easterhouse with poverty, gang violence, unemployment and addiction.  Built in the 1960's Easterhouse, at its peak, housed 60,000 people.  It's hard to believe but the older residents testify to the fact that the scheme was built in the 1960's without shops, schools, leisure centres or any other amenities.  By the 1960's and 70's there was territorial battles and the scheme was made famous by the intervention of Frankie Vaughan.
Easterhouse had a strong gang culture in the ‘60’s and 70’s, mainly amongst the boys but in some sections of the girls as well…You learnt how to do three things. You learnt how to fight, make people laugh or how to run really fast! I was known as Artillery because I stood at the back and threw bricks, and when things turned sour, I ran.             2000 Glasgow Lives interview with A McSherry

Today the population of Easterhouse is around 26,000 with many of the same social problems as it had 40 years ago.  Adult male unemployment is running at 60% with high levels of addiction, poor health indicators and high levels of deprivation.

Stuart has found a fantastic location for Easterhouse Community Church.  Situated right in the heart of the community in the Shandwick Shopping Centre its great to see an old bingo hall being used as a place of worship.  The church has a job club running on a Tuesday and Thursday and is trying to reach out to some of the people that even some of the core funded job agencies won't touch.  Stuart spends a lot of time talking to shoppers in the shopping centre and all like all successful church planters realises the importance of relationships and a long term commitment.

Stuart took me to see some of his old battlefields from the 1980's and it was good to see that peace had broken out!  There is still some of the old territorial battles going on but it has reduced from what it was even 20 years ago.  Stuart is keen to harness this fierce local identity as he seeks to create different worship locations around Easterhouse.
It was also good to see the offices of Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse after hearing so much about them over many years.  Bob Holman has always been one of my heroes in social work and deserves a huge amount of credit for what he has done with FARE.  Well done to Duncan Bannatyne for investing some of his wealth in the work of FARE.
After a hearty fry up with Stuart it was time to head off to see Shirley Berry at the Findlay Family Network.  Started 7 years ago the FFN are doing some great work around Maryhill and Possilpark.  Working in partnership with Findlay Memorial Church and Clay Community Church the FFN are supporting different levels of community support.   Their focus is on families and are doing a great work with some of the most vulnerable families in North West Glasgow.  They are respected partners with both social work and education who see them as competent providers of excellent family work.  It was humbling to visit The Grove in Possilpark and hear from staff and volunteers about the various community projects that were running.  The Grove is a partnership between FFN and Clay Community Church and they use shop front on Saracen Street.  It is great to see the church right in the heart of the community.

A great day in a very warm Glasgow!  God is doing some great things though some amazing people.  The church in many parts of the country is reengaging with the community and making an increasingly significant impact.  I was reading yesterday from Joshua chapters 1 and 2 about the children of Israel being commanded to go across the Jordan in to the promised land.  There was anxiety about going in to a new place where there would be new challenges. Three times in chapter 1 the Lord says 'Be strong and of good courage' (ch 1 v 6, 7 and 9).  We need a similar courage to engage with some of the most hard to reach communities in Scotland today.  We need to pray for pastors like Stuart Patterson who are willing to plant a church in an area with huge social issues. 
While there are many challenges, there are also many promises is the bible that if we reach out to the poor, God will bless.  In Isaiah 58 v 10 God says; 'If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom as the noonday.'  We need to put aside the denominational divisions that are hampering so much of the work in Scotland today.  Out of the 26,000 people who live in Easterhouse Stuart estimates that there only 300 who attend church.  The need is huge and our great priority needs to be the gospel of redeeming grace.  As Thomas Guthrie once said 'Let each select their own manageable field of Christian work. Let us embrace the whole city, and cover its nakedness, although, with different denominations at work, it should be robed, like Joseph, in a coat of many colours. Let our only rivalry be the holy one of who shall do most and succeed best in converting the wilderness into an Eden, and causing the deserts to blossom as the rose' (The City its Sins and Sorrows, Guthrie, 1857, p 111).

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