'A momentous occasion, the fruit of four years'
How a recent baptism in Southend came about through intentional partnerships among the Baptist churches there. By Dan Pratt
'Along with deciding to follow Jesus, this is one of the most important days of my life!' Damian stated before his baptismal service.
Damian had been coming to 57 West on and off for the last couple of years. More recently he was regularly engaging in 57 West's Saturday church, which involved prayer, worship, Bible discussion and a needed coffee break.
The service started. Damian told us why he wanted to be baptised - of God's love for him and his love for God. Damian spoke of how God was regularly answering his prayers while he was homeless including his prayer for a Polish Bible.
Waving a Bible to us, he shared how the morning of his baptism he had found the Bible on the street. We could see he was thrilled at being able to read in his first language.
Damian read from Matthew 16:24-25: 'Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it”’.
Serving others had become part of Damian’s routine, whether it was making a meal for some of his homeless friends, or praying for God’s healing for them (and yes a couple had been healed!). As a community we were encouraged and challenged by Damian’s faith and love for God.
On the windy Southend-on-Sea beach were 15 people from the 57 West church community, as well also people from ten local churches. It was a momentous occasion. This was the fruit of four plus years. Many churches had supported and worked towards seeing the birth and nurturing of 57 West. It is now a church community of rough sleepers, addicts and low-income households.
This church plant was made possible by Church from Scratch, who although working on the margins gave their last reserves to seed-fund the start of 57 West. Without the practical support, wisdom and prayers of the many local churches, 57 West would not have developed and thrived in the way that it has.
This partnership has not been accidental. The Southend Baptist Area Network was formed in 2012 by an initial 12 churches (including 57 West) to partner together in mission and mutuality. Intentionality in nurturing positive relationships between 57 West and other churches has built trust and greater partnership. Indeed, three local church ministers and a regional minister have served as trustees.
Other local churches have prayed, cooked meals for rough sleepers, given finances and led services at Saturday church. 57 West has been able to give back through leading services in local churches and giving opportunities for mission and discipleship among the poorest and most vulnerable in Southend-on-Sea.
‘I've been praying for a calm sea' Julie whispered to me. We entered the cold September Southend Sea, Julie clinging to me for her life as waves rocked us. Julie is a 71 year old ex-RAF nurse who joined us at 57 West as an urban mission worker. She had been sent out by the local Belle Vue Baptist Church to join our small team, church planting among rough sleepers and addicts.
During that time she had been an anchor in the midst of a fluctuating and challenging community. When imagining a church planting team, I had not pictured a 70 year old 'battle-axe' (her own words) to be a rock on which the church to be built. I've learned that God uses those available to serve and love, not necessarily the cool, young or mega-talented.
Turning to the beach we signalled for Damian and John (another rough sleeper) to enter the water and join us.
All present shouted, 'we baptise you Damian, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit'.
Julie and I submerged him into the chilly sea.
Damian emerged beaming, grafted into a new Christ-life, rooted in the church of 57 West and wider body of Christ represented by the ten churches present.
This was not only one of the most important days in Damian's life; it was one of the most important days in the life of the new church 57 West.
Dan Pratt is the minister of 57 West in Southend