Imagine a Christian community that worked together to meet the needs of the people around them. Some knew how to earn more money than they needed to survive and gave away the remainder to the community’s projects. In fact, loads more money so that they could fund many different projects. So much that they gave away huge amounts of money and still lived very comfortably. Some in the community had enough money to enable them to follow the example of John Wesley and live on 10% of their income and give the rest away to make it possible for other members of the community to run helping hands projects.
Everyone had a role within the community. Some were project managers running projects. Some worked in the projects serving individual people. Some were bookkeepers. Some were IT experts. Some did the admin. They did this so that they could run a range of projects that worked together to help people in need.
Someone could come into the café run by the community. They then met people who were support workers who hung around the café waiting to talk to people in need. The support workers acted as signposts to other projects run by the community. This might be the job club or the furniture restoration project that also helped to restore people.
Over time the support workers had identified more and more needs and had found ways of meeting those needs. Sometimes they directed people to projects run by others that they had listed on a database of trusted sources of help. Or it could be that they recognised the need to set up a new project so they pointed out the need to other members of the community so that someone could do something about it.
Everything worked together. Even the housebound had a role as they were the prayer warriors and without their support, everyone would find fulfilling their role so much harder. Everyone had a role to fulfill as there were as many ways to serve others as there were people.
Where did this community gather?
The strange thing about this community was that its members did not all go to the same building on a Sunday. They had some minor differences. Some broke bread together others said Mass, some attended Eucharist, some had communion services. Like any other group of brothers and sisters, they were not identical but loved each other and worked together towards the same aim of doing what made their Father happy. In this case, it was providing a support system to the people around them.
Although their focus was on serving others there was also time and space for them to focus on who God is and what He has done for them. There were many different ways they did this. Some focused on visual experiences but those who preferred to do this with their other senses or used other ways were not forgotten. They loved and accepted each other so much that there was considerable give and take about how they connected with God.
Some Christian communities do a lot to serve the people around them but there are few if any that have managed to reach this kind of level. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg as behind the scenes is a training centre. This is where the people who have come in struggling are helped to become the people who help the next generation of people in need who approach the community for help.
As people work on creating a new life for themselves they are helped to learn to read if necessary. Any other gaps in their education are filled as well. They are supported as they learn to manage money better and find new ways of earning money. Their home goes from just orange box furniture to one full of comfortable items that are not necessarily new but that build their self-esteem. They have all they need and their home is a place where they want to live.
Life is easier because they have learned the practical skills that once made it harder for them to have a comfortable life such as doing the laundry, cooking for themselves or gardening. They even have the opportunity to experience a complete restoration so that the underlying issues that have caused them problems are resolved.
Making it work
There was no shortage of resources because people knew how to use the resources that they had. People knew that God had given them things to use. They used what they had wisely, whether it was money or experience. They knew that if they gave what they had it would be stretched to meet the needs around them.
They used biblical principles but did not put people in straight jackets and force them to do this because the Bible says so. Experience had shown them the best ways of helping people, which was not always what people expected. They gave and God multiplied. God then gave again and it was multiplied again.
They had started small doing what they could but then once God knew He could trust them He brought more and more people to them for help.
That is some community but it is the best that I can do to explain what I would like to see happen as a result of developing Lily’s Place.
I had this passion to do something to help those in mental distress. After all, I had seen so much close at hand. Nothing too serious, the diagnosis was obsessive-compulsive disorder and associated depression but it was serious enough to wreck a family and a home. That then led to a personal challenge as I ended up with shellshock. Well that was what the man who stood up in a meeting and said God had a message for me called it and when I looked up the symptoms I could see he was right.
I had been through a nightmare but had managed to find a way out with God’s help. No wonder I wanted to help others. So I started doing some voluntary work and it soon became obvious that there was not just a sea of need but a vast ocean.
The voluntary work led to part-time work but that still did not seem to be enough. For starters, this was a secular organisation where even mentioning words like church in casual conversation was frowned upon.
What could I do? I tried to run some workshops, but some crazy things happened to de-rail those. Not only that but the financial side of that venture was a disaster so I tried another direction. If face to face events did not work well what about moving into the online world..
One of the things I tried on that journey was to set up a social business. After I set it up I said God what do you want it to do. The following morning I scribbled down the original version of the following diagram.
Even if the type is too small to read there is one thing that you will be able to work out. That is a big vision. There are six areas, and there is a list of ideas for each area. So in the social area, there is a cafe and the opportunity to join in with various social activities. In the living area, there would be the chance to learn home-based skills like ironing and cleaning.
List everything together and you have a project that would supply just about everything someone facing mental distress (or just hard times) would need to help them rebuild their life and climb out of a pit of despair. The only thing it does not do is provide people with a roof over their heads.
As if that was not big enough that shape is a hexagon and hexagons tessellate. What! Well, they are a great shape to use when you want to cover a large area as they don’t overlap or leave gaps. Not only that but the distance from the centre to the perimeter is just about the same in every direction. Help does that mean that there should be hundreds of these hexagons? Covering the whole country, and even the whole world. (Yes, there is a reason behind the hexagon shape of the FC Communities logo.)
This is ridiculously big or is it?
Now, this is getting out of hand. I am one person how on earth do I do this? Jesus was one man, and He started by teaching a handful of followers who then went out to teach others and they went on to teach others who taught others who taught others and so on for thousands of years.
They took advantage of the communication technology of their time to get around. The Romans are known for the roads that they built to move their troops around but everyone else could get around better as well. Today the equivalent of the Roman road building technology is cyberspace. Communications technology has changed a lot during my lifetime. Like with Roman roads, it is there to be used by anyone who wants to use it and for whatever they want to use it for.
Hold on a minute though aren’t many of those things provided by either the welfare state or existing projects? Since that dream, it seems as though there has been a nibbling away at the level of help that people receive from the welfare state. It has become harder and harder to survive on the money the government gives the poorest in the UK. Services are becoming more and more stretched as they are expected to do more with less money.
Where am I in terms of fulfilling my dream
I believe in the concept of starting small and learning as you go. That is part of the reasoning behind setting up Heavenly Crafts. This is a church-based community project that has been an amazing learning experience. It is proof of the importance of starting small. For example, the people we first thought would be interested in what we had to offer turned out not to be but there was a very different group of people.
The concept of Lily’s Place was based on a community where there was a lot of need. Some of that need was due to mental health issues that made it harder to keep a job or severe enough for people to end up in a hospital. Other people were facing similar challenges to what I had not long come through due to relationship breakdown.
Times have changed. Life is so much easier now I have settled down into a new life. The needs of the community around about me are different. Yet that does not mean that the community does not have needs. We still need community action projects but they need to be fine tuned to the community.
There is more to the hexagon in the logo of FX Communities than you expected isn’t there?
[i] Acts chapter 1 verse 8