Helen Shannon is one of our Islington Associates and leader of church@five, a church that meets on an estate in East Finchley, North London. Having planted church@five in 2010, Helen’s vision is to see a worshipping community on every estate in London. She shares below some of the highs and lows of living on a London estate and her church’s heart to welcome people just as they are.
Heads you win, tails you lose; sometimes it feels a bit like that living on an urban estate in North London. There’s a huge sense of community on our estate, we know each other, we say hello and take the time to chat. We look out for our neighbours and help each other out when we can.
But where my family and I live is also a 10% deprivation estate, where many of our friends and neighbours are struggling with poor health and disability, stressed by living on very low incomes and having to deal with the bad hand that life has seemingly dealt them.
Although our estate sits on the edge of two parishes, it wasn’t the physical distance that was stopping people joining their local church – there was a huge cultural gap too. So if people couldn’t go to church, then the church was going to come to them!
So that’s why we started church@five: we gather on a Sunday afternoon in our estate community centre to worship, to pray and to learn together. Our strap line is “Come As You Are,” you don’t need to dress up, you don’t have to be a Christian, you don’t have to have your life sorted… you can just come as you are.
As a church we want to BLESS the estates that we live on; we want to allow people to BELONG to our worshipping community, whatever stage of their faith journey they’re on; and as they do that we know that they will start to BELIEVE in Jesus and when you know Jesus you start to BECOME the person that God always created you to be.
For many of our church family that’s means becoming a leader in the church, whether that’s in worship, leading services, hospitality, kids & youth work, preaching or leading prayers. In a culture that says to many of our friends and neighbours “You can’t”, God says “I’ve called you, you can!”
But to sustain a church plant like this, you need good partnerships and a good team. We are blessed still to be supported by our sending church, St Barnabas North London, as well as partnering with Hope North London and Eden East Finchley. Most of our team live on an estate and are all part of the local community.
But what God has done on our estate doesn’t just stop here, we’re in the process of planting out onto two of our neighbouring estates: small steps in the big vision of a worshipping community on every estate in London.