"Doing what we can, being who we are"
Over the last decade Mount Pleasant Baptist Church has stepped up its social action work, all the while being open about the faith that underpins it
When Paul Lavender arrived as senior minister of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Northampton in 2007, he found a church looking to become more engaged with the needs surrounding it. Mount Pleasant began life as preaching centre in the late 19th century, but was now based in the second most deprived ward in Northampton. “We wanted to be a safe place for those who needed it,” says Paul.
A community worker was appointed in 2008 to grow and develop the Community Action Team, which sought to engage in activities like street cleaning and litter picks. There was both on site and detached youth work. The church set up a drop-in for homeless and vulnerable adults and significantly developed the community shop, helped with a loan from the Central Baptist Association to fund a café and drop-in area for people to sit and chat.
As it got to know more people, the church became more aware of the plight and needs of homeless people, of rising levels of inequality and economic injustice, and this led to the setting up of a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) debt centre in 2014. Community ministry was offered through the Open Door Centre – an open door for people to come in, but also for the church to go out.
The church has made lots of connections during this time, and Paul has seen it become trusted by authorities and by the community. “Other organisations want to work in partnership with us,” he says. “They want us to help with new resolutions of problems.”
One example of partnership was the local social enterprise called Good Loaf, a bakery and café that seeks to train up women whose lives have taken a wrong turn. Good Loaf has now won national awards. “In the early days we were able to promote, encourage and support the enterprise,” says Paul. He believes part of this trust is because the church will work with everyone, of all faiths and none, to see social transformation.
It has added its voice to the public square in other ways too. Mount Pleasant has been able to speak into the debate surrounding the Northampton Hope Centre, a charity and social enterprise for homeless and disadvantaged people. The centre was given 12 months’ notice of eviction in October, but argued this wasn’t enough time find suitable premises. Paul was among a number of people who work with the homeless community to speak of his concern at the move. In February Northampton Borough Council brokered an agreement between the charity and its landlord to allow Hope to stay until suitable premises could be found. Hope praised Paul for his support.
“On the one hand we were asked to help support the work, and on the other to speak truth to power. It’s important to see the bigger picture. It is good to applaud what is provided by the local council.
“We’re encouraging people to work for a common goal; for people to build bridges. The church is uniquely placed to do that because of its ministry of reconciliation.”
Paul stresses that Mount Pleasant has always been open about the faith that underpins all they do. While this can be a challenge, he encourages members to “do what you can, be who you are,” a message he shared during a seminar at the 2018 Baptist Assembly.
“We are not a statutory provider of services, we are not a social organisation, we are a church,” he explains. “We believe in justice which incorporates the whole of life. If the Gospel isn’t Good News for everybody else, it isn’t Good News at all.”
This emphasis on faith has in turn has led to many opportunities to talk about it.
“One of the great things has been able to share faith with those in authority, and explain why we are doing it. The Town Mayor heard about our work, and asked to come along to better understand why we are doing it. He was amazed to learn that we have served over 3500 people with food over the last year – and have done so with quality, kindness and compassion.”
Photo| Paul Lavender
This article appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine