Mill Hill East Church
With its strapline of 'building community', this church has helped many individuals to rebuild their lives, and seen Jesus build up his church
It's a church with a longing to make disciples, not just connections
Long time residents in Mill Hill remember a time when our area was mostly fields and not particularly a part of a big city. It feels a long way away in 2017, when our home in North West London is a thriving, diverse community that has seen significant housebuilding and construction in pretty much every decade since the Second World War. In fact it was in this context that Mill Hill East Church was built – a new church with each brick paid for by the local community on the brand new estate of post-war council housing.
We’ve carried on that way since. Well before I came here as pastor just under two years ago, this church has been seen as a community centre owned and shaped by the people who live here. We’ve always run a diverse programme for families, as well as hosting the dozens of community groups and coffee drinkers who call our building home. Yet within our congregation is a longing not just to make connections, but to make disciples. To tell people not just that they are welcome, but that they are loved - and in amongst all the different social circumstances and needs that we serve, that there is hope.
Together as a family we felt the Spirit leading us to be even more intentional in how we share our lives with people, and how we see God at work in the hearts of those around us. We applied to the Home Mission fund to develop something new – something that was not just loving service, and not just bold proclamation. We felt that God was calling us to build upon our many relationships and programmes, and start using our resources to walk intentionally in the lives of some of the needy people in our community.
Katy* was one such person. She’d been attending some of our youth programmes for a while, and was known as someone who lit up every room she was in, usually by lighting a fire! Not literally, she was just a girl who’d been dealt a rough hand in life, and seemed to overflow with a swirl of emotions and energy. Her mum passed away when she was young and her growing patchwork family, squeezed into local social housing, struggled to cope with her. She struggled at school, mostly through focus and poor attendance as life made using her God-given gifts tricky.
It was a challenge getting Katy involved in working alongside Frances, our community pastor employed using the Home Mission grant. We offered her a job in our café and it took a while for her family and school to agree, with them seeing church as another distraction in a messy life situation. She initially found dealing with customers, taking orders and even turning up a challenge. But week by week Frances worked alongside her, offering her patience and grace, affirming all that God had made her to be. It was day to day, week to week, which sometimes felt like it had more ups and downs.
And then Katy started turning up early for work. She started to ask about the songs that Frances used to sing as she made coffee. Curious about the love she saw in those around her, she came along to church. At first uncomfortable and feeling a little alien, eventually someone known by name and welcomed by everyone. Then we started to notice that she was playing the worship songs on her phone, she was praying and engaging, and that she then wanted to be baptised!
The turnaround was a work of the Spirit in her life. Someone who was first encountered as aggressive went around smiling and loving every person she met. This insecure and unsure teenager then arranged a fun run, dragging her youth leaders round with her and raising money for cancer research, in memory of her mum. Good news indeed!
As our building welcomes in more people, not just to activities but for relationship and opportunity, we’ve seen some unexpected stories. The local single mums who have found the chance to work in a space of grace and relationship so reviving. A lady with an addiction to alcohol who was lost and lonely found not just friendship and welcome but Jesus himself, as she opened up her heart, got baptised and is on a journey to new life.
People in our community have seen some of these stories, with the local youth workers and special needs schools looking to develop partnerships and send us more people to work with. We’ve even ended up working directly with coffee farmers in Tanzania, helping communities provide education through trade justice and community support.
Our strapline as a church has been for many years ‘building community’. Over the past year as we’ve helped individuals rebuild their lives, we’ve seen Jesus build up his church. What’s been a real joy is to know that this work has been supported and grown through the generosity of other churches in the Baptist family, and we’re grateful that our little corner of North West London is a part of what we know God is doing throughout London!
Josh Kane, Pastor Mill Hill East Church
Click here to read more stories about how the money you give to Home Mission is being used to bring the love of God to communities around the country.