We love to celebrate extraordinary things, don’t we! Headlines are set by what we consider news, which by its very nature is, well, new! While I’m all for innovation and chasing exciting new things – I’m also a big fan of the ordinary. Last Thursday I found myself at Oak Grove Community Church in Norwich with Senior Leader Darren Woodward and his wife, Lynette. As churches go – it was pretty ordinary; a 1970s building with a small hall and stage, that housed several meeting rooms and offices upstairs.
Perhaps your church looks much the same.
The estate in front of the church is largely 1930s council housing. Christmas decorations still adorn one property. A grubby mattress in the front garden of another. A small group of young women sat languidly on the pavement outside the small parade of shops. Lynette and Darren paused to engage them in conversation. They quickly found common ground – chatting about kids, schools and the young women’s ‘faith, hope and love’ tattoo. On the surface – little to warrant a blog post. We arrived back at the church when the toddler group was in full swing. Chairs arranged neatly at the edges of the parquet floor to allow space for the chaos of ride-on scooters, toy pushchairs. Conversations flitted around the mundane and seemingly insignificant – plans for the holidays, potty training and the price of a food shop.
‘So what?’ you may ask.
A dictionary will tell you that the word ordinary means “with no special or distinctive features.” But it’s when we start inviting God into ordinary situations that the mundane becomes miraculous. Darren and Lynette have been at the church for longer than they’d like to remember! They’ve demonstrated what Eugene Petersen, American theologian and author of The Message Bible, would call, “long obedience in the same direction.” The hours spent building friendships and connections in the community mean the church is at the very centre of so much social action here. The modest congregation of around 60-80 church members hosts numerous Cinnamon Recommended Projects – a Community Money Advice centre, Kids Matter project and a Renew Wellbeing space.
Truly remarkable things are happening.
Through CMA – a small group of one coordinator and three volunteers are helping around 30 families to get their debts in order. “In just talking to someone about their debt, you see people physically lifted of their burden,” explains Debs, who heads up CMA at Oak Grove. Then there’s Kids Matter. “Kids Matter has been the most remarkable thing we’ve done for our families’ work!” says Lynette emphatically. The church has an enduring relationship with the local primary school, where Darren is the chair of governors. Being a trusted organisation in the community has allowed the church to bring in new programmes like Kids Matter, which is now known in the community.
A unique space.
Just a few weeks ago, with help from a Cinnamon Micro-Grant, they added Renew Wellbeing to their roster of activities. One morning a week, parents enjoy the calm of the upper room for crafts and quiet games and conversations punctuated by prayer. Jasmine, a young mum enjoying the serenity of the Renew Wellbeing space, had been befriended by the church’s Linking Lives imitative during shortly after the Covid pandemic. “I was afraid to take my boys out because I thought other people would judge me,” she told me honestly. Jasmine has completed the Kids Matter course a couple of times, taking inspiration and encouragement for the different stages of her sons’ development. She’s now a firm part of the community at Oak Grove joining the team once a week for their Renew Wellbeing space. “I don’t get much time for myself, so it’s nice to come here and do craft or play a game. It’s like a family,” she says, her face radiating with joy.
No targets, just faith.
In the midst of the routine and the struggle of life, there is something truly amazing taking place at Oak Grove Community Church. Jasmine’s story isn’t unique. Hundreds of families in this community have been blessed and continue to be blessed by the generosity of the church community. So often we want to quantify the impact and plot the graph of souls that have been won for the Lord. But God doesn’t give us KPIs and bonuses for targets. Our one call is to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and then to love our neighbors.” Mark 12:30-31.
Let your light shine.
I joined Lynette and Darren on one final walk through the community, as the school run was in full swing. A mum broke into a huge smile when she saw Lynette, rushing across the road to give her a hug. This is far from ordinary. I’m reminded of the words from 1 Corinthians 1:27: “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise.” As we seek to make an impact for God in our community we have to start with the ordinary – building relationships in the weeds of life.