EXPANDING THE TOOLBOX
One Sunday afternoon “Your love is amazing” could be heard ringing out of a community centre on a tough estate in Blackpool, and as I joined in the worship in that place the words rang true for what Jesus has done through our church plant onto the Mereside estate. Through the ministry of Freedom Church Mereside lives were being transformed as people came to faith and found hope and joy in what was often a hopeless life. Jesus’ love really is amazing!
One thing struck me that Sunday though – where were all the men? As I looked around a room of 30 people, only 2 of them were men and I was one of the two!
Ok, I understand that there is evidence to show that there are more women than men attending estate churches, but this balance did seem extreme. My own life had been turned from self-destruction to joy as I was led to church and subsequently to Jesus 22 years ago. And I knew that the same self-destruction was happening in the lives of men behind closed doors on this estate. It was time to take action.
I have always believed that we should use our giftings and passions for Christ. Mine is DIY, especially crafting something amazing out of something that would otherwise be cast to the scrap heap. Sure, isn’t that what Jesus does for us?!
Shed Men was born out of my garage 2 years ago. It started with me simply inviting Darryll (the one other man in church) round for a brew. Before you knew it, we had turned a pallet into a planter for his garden. In between our weekly meet ups I started to research men’s sheds and to my surprise there was a national organisation called UK Men’s Sheds Association. Their network of sheds are doing some fabulous work supporting men’s mental health. What surprised me further was that I could not find another church running such a project – “have we missed something here?” I thought. Imagine what could be achieved if we added Jesus to the concept of a men’s group supporting each other through a woodworking project… after all the perfect conversation starter is: ‘Did you know Jesus was a carpenter?’
2 Years on (and just before lockdown) I was happy to report that we have seen amazing things happen through this ministry. Not only did we have 13 men (I call ‘shedders’) coming to 2 weekly sessions. We have seen men come to faith and become part of our church family. And we have also created a safe space for men to share their troubles and support each other.
I now take referrals from professionals who are working with social prescribing to support low level mental health issues. We offer our services to the community and have helped local charities put up shelving, made park benches for memorial gardens, and constructed countless bird boxes and bird tables! If it can be made from a pallet, we will make it. Our motto stands strong and underpins our ethos: ‘We make stuff!’
Each session will end with a thought for the day from me. I have been able to share my stories of hope and salvation through these talks. They have proved very powerful and effective in supporting the lives of our men. One particular evening stands out for me; I chose to encourage their week with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. :
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
I then shared how Jesus is my light in the darkness and my encourager to share love to others. This was a pivotal evening to me as I saw a tear roll down the face of one of our men. That same night another ‘shedder’ told me that we were the only male company in his life. That night confirmed Shed Men is a ministry that truly does have Kingdom value.
Through some creative funding and support from our local councillors, the garage has been extended and the toolbox has grown into a tool locker!
Whilst we have not been able to open during lockdown, our ‘tools’ for our craft have been social media chats and weekly catch ups to continue the support that Shed Men offers. We continue to work with the UK Men’s Sheds Association to find a way of getting the workshop open again safely.
A word of thanks must go to Church Army. My training over the last few years has taught me what it means to do contextual mission and evangelism. It has also given me the confidence to try new things. I remember my welcome service during my induction week 4 years ago and I commented that I wanted to expand my evangelism toolbox to reach out to people in new and creative ways… well my toolbox has certainly grown both metaphorically and physically!
9 October 2020
Pete is a former solider who joined the army at 16 after a troubled childhood in the care system. An encounter with God changed his life. Pete is now a Community Evangelist on Mereside estate, involved in community groups, school assemblies, running Shed Men and teaching Bible study. Pete likes to try and keep fit but after 27 years of having to keep fit in the military he admits to struggling to find his trainers most days!
Leslie's doctor insisted he go immediately to hospital due to severe back and leg pain. During the hour ambulance ride, Leslie was able to share his faith with the ambulance crew!
Kelvin moved to a new area shortly before COVID-19 and so didn't have much time to get to know people. He shares how he's been able to share his faith with his barber and his neighbours even whilst the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Waterways Chaplaincy - part of the Church Army family - meets many isolated people or in financial difficulty along the waterways. This is one story of where Waterways chaplains were able to draw alongside and practically support a struggling family.