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There’s a certain ‘challenge’ with starting a role like this at the height of the summer holiday season.

First responses to me getting in touch with some of our Heartedge projects tended to be one of two extremes:

“Sorry I’m just about to go on holiday can we talk in September” has meant that as I enter my second month in the role my diary is already bursting with people to meet and projects to learn about. Whereas “great stuff I’ve just got back from holiday and I have a thousand different ideas to share with you” means that my notebook is full of possibilities and ideas and I really need to find time to organise them all in between visits!

Either way it’s been an exciting first month getting to know the breadth of the Heartedge network and beginning to explore how we are going to work together as the development team.

As the team member with a ‘floating’ remit to look at developing and funding projects I’m getting to see a lot of what is going on across the 4 C’s and as a team we are already hatching plots as wide ranging as: a project working with ex offenders to provide housing, support to churches going ‘beyond the foodbank’ to develop food co-operatives, a puppetry project looking to expand, a touring orchestra looking for venues in the North, and a potential model to enable communities to partner with churches in developing their buildings so that we can release their congregations to focus on the things that build the kingdom rather than worrying about keeping the roof on.

Over the last week I’ve had conversations with churches in Bradford and Hull about how we can expand the network in the North of England and there is so much energy and interest I can tell we are going to have a lot of fun seeing where the spirit takes us.

Two threads that have clearly emerged for me in the ‘C’ of Congregation are those of Creative Congregations and Contemplative Congregations.

There are hubs of creativity scattered across the country – using the skills, talents and passions of the people they already have in church to bring people together, to paint or to make music, or do woodwork or build gardens; and at the same time have the kinds of conversations that can only happen when we are standing side by side with someone creating something together. Every community has its own set of unique skills and I hope to bring some of them together in the Autumn for a webinar exploring how we tap into the assets in our communities to find creative ways to nurture our congregations – from there I hope we can establish a network of such hubs to support and inspire one and other and anyone who wants to ‘have a go’.

I’ve also been talking to the Nazareth community, which has been growing throughout lockdown, to explore how we can turn the inspiration and energy discovered in contemplation into practical action in our compassion projects, and then in return how those compassion projects can deepen our contemplative and prayer life. One very specific example I’ve noticed is the number of churches I’ve spoken with who have offered creative prayer responses to the pandemic; and been amazed at the outpouring and response from their communities. There is a real hunger in people and my hope is that our Heartedge churches can respond with compassion and creativity to it as we emerge from our shared experience over these difficult years.

There’s also been time to reflect on some of the challenges our churches are facing. Not least around funding. Part of my remit is to support and advise in this area and to help churches to articulate their needs and find the right partners to help them fly.

All in all it’s been a great start and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s interest has been sparked by this quick gallop through my first month!

Look forward to hearing from you.

To contact Jo and the team, email via jo.beacroft-mitchell@smitf.org